Saturday, June 28, 2008

Deserving of a point New England 2 Toronto 1

The road performance of TFC is still the problem that won't go away. TFC fans turn on their TVs with far more concern than swagger for these away games. Just squeek a tie was my fondest desire as I settled down to watch. As it turned out, that was almost the result, but the bounces were not going Toronto's way. When you consider that last year's team was twice clobbered in New England, the contest being this close tonight is a large indication of the progress that Toronto has made.
Here's hoping that the solution can be found before it becomes the downfall of the season. You don't have to be a genius to note that a striker who can finish continues to be the top item on the wish list. It is a healthy team that has two keepers that can be called upon. I remain a fan of Brian Edwards, a rookie with real promise. Sure it is my bout of hindsight, but perhaps Greg Sutton could have handled at least one of those goal area scrambles better. A win in New England is on the horizon, I can just feel it.
New England Revolution were the most economical of teams. Nothing flashy or fancy. They were able to strike quickly and take advantage of the two Toronto defensive confusions. They happened too quickly to fully call them breakdowns. Steve Ralston of NE scored twice. Maurice Edu scored the late Toronto goal.
Besides the flurry of late game opportunities (the most notable Jarrod Smith had a header stopped on the goal line late in the game) Toronto had many stretches of alert offensive play. All TFC players made attacking contributions (well, not Carl Robinson beyond some long range passes, one learns not to expect shots from a deep playing midfielder). Guevara was distributing the ball to the wings and making some runs through traffic. He even made smart plays to Rohan Ricketts. In the first half you could see the central role that Ricketts is starting to play on this team. I am puzzled as to why he was replaced by Julius James in the second half. Injury ? Did he blow a defensive assignment and caused the second goal? (I am guessing, I did not see that on the television)
The Cunningham for Dichio switch was only a bad one because you know that Cunningham is not going to contribute much beyond speed. Dichio had battled well and had some touches but no scoring opportunities.
Edu had an encouraging game, his passes were improving and he was moving into the attack more and more. It was good to see him score. Here's hoping that the goals will continue to come.

Negatives ??
Very few...and all related to the goals. Credit to NE for making the most of their opportunities, but on the first Marshall, Edwards and Brennan managed to mess up on the defending basics. The second one saw a hit crossbar shot inspire sloppy defending.
The other concern to close with is the collection of yellow cards (Robert, Edu, Marshall, Guevara I think). Jim Brennan gets the award for best swearing on a televised sports event in a long time. No delay and sideline microphones turned up high could be the next slogan for the MLS.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

TFC 0 KC 0 - Dichio a half step short of victory ??.

It was a cruel end to a game that had Toronto misfiring offensively in a way that obscures all of the defensive positives. This continuing rise of TFC strength and success in 08 is a wonderful thing indeed. Yet, it has created an air of expectations (both from the fans and judging from media comments, the team as well). At the end of the Saturday afternoon game, which saw Kansas City wrangle TFC to a goalfree draw, the crowd seemed subdued. Gone forever are the days when a tie was looked upon as a step up from a loss. That "called back for offside" Danny Dichio goal contributed to this bewildered feeling in the air. The split second of joy was cruel indeed. Walking away from the stadium I was thinking that we should have been celebrating goals all afternoon. The continued lack of scoring punch is a pain and a concern. KC could have been defeated with only the smallest increase in coherence and luck. Or only the smallest of personnel changes (hello DP, goodbye Cunningham).
Yes,TFC remains undefeated at home. Two goals against in eight home games is an incredible statistic with no signs of change ahead. Toronto has talent,depth and potential in the back four and talent and depth in the goal keeper department.
To make the next step forward, solid at the back is not enough. Goalless home draws will get you nada. For a team with potential, a tie at home is a squandered opportunity and Toronto now has three of them. John Carver commented after the game that the result could have a playoff impact ahead. Now road ties through the long hot summer will be a different matter...bring them on !!
So what is the problem with the offense ? Possibly too many combinations in the attack that do not seem to connect or create opportunities. The team gets tentative and The Cunningham lack of finish is a long running story. My willingness to say after every game that this was his last appearance in a Toronto uniform has become a long running joke.
Wynne and Ricketts seldom seem on the same page when they share the right side. Rohan Ricketts breakthrough two goal performance was from the left wing. Wynne does not run overlaps effectively when Ricketts has the ball. You would think that Ricketts' turn on a dime skills should mesh well with Wynne's incredible speed. Give them more time....

When Guevara was substituted in the second half he added some energy, but KC soon figured out that it was selfish energy and were able to close him down. Clearly Guevara missed the memo on the emergence of Ricketts as a part of the attack. It seemed he only supplied the ball to Ricketts on his left when most or all other options were already taken. I guess we are seeing the flipside to the wolf (Lobo) nickname for Guevara. The lone wolf approach is a great one when his drive produces goals. It is not so great when he is holding the ball too long and ignoring his options.
Danny Dichio had his usual workhorse of a game. He was even showing surprising speed and stamina in the second half. I fear that the KC defenders (Conrad and co) present the same high level of physical strength and size as the Columbus defenders(Marshall and co). Dichio was in a tussle for position all afternoon long. I think that the calls for a new striker are not meant to take away from Dichio's role on the team. It would be great to have Dichio come off the bench fresh against tired defenders. We remember to well the summer of 07 and the consequences of wearing Dichio out and losing him to the injury list. The qualifying against Montreal and Vancouver is increasing TFC games already. If TFC gets to the Concacaf Champions League the need for strikers is going to grow. Ali Gerba looked strong for Canada Friday night (against a low quality opponent, I know). I have liked the idea of adding Gerba, based on last June's Gold Cup showing, for some time now.
Back to Dichio. My upper deck seat should meant that my position was perfect for the offside call on Dichio. I was sure that he stepped to the side at the moment of impact and then went forward, but the CBC replay clearly showed him out forward. I guess my eyes were those of a fan, not a ref.
Carl Robinson continues to grow on me. He played his role perfectly, always in the right spot and creating tempo of tackle- pass, tackle -pass. He does need to step up and contribute to the shot totals however. Especially as Maurice Edu continues his tentative ways. I suggest that TFC will play Robinson or Edu as the sole holding midfielder at some point in the season. Will that also be the time that the strikers are Gerba and the long awaited Designated Player ??
Now onto New England where a tie would be ample reason for singing, flag waving and general euphoria.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

TFC 3 Colorado Rapids 1 Rohan Ricketts Rules

Rohan Ricketts' fully arrived in Toronto the other night. His performance Saturday night was a wonderful treat. He turned all those recent flashes of potential and promise into the real deal in a dazzling night at BMO Field. His two second half goals were the difference as he sparked a victory over the visiting Colorado Rapids. More than the great goals, he was a wizard with the ball and was turning the Rapid defenders into pretzels time and time again. Ricketts has had been adjusting to his new surroundings and made an impression on the telecast from Houston last week. When Carver replaced him with Dichio in the early second half last week, you were left wondering why. He has made his claim for staying on the field for 90 minutes with this performance.

This offensive burst was unexpected and welcome indeed. TFC has been a revolving international duty door lately, as the team was missing Maurice Edu, Greg Sutton, Jim Brennan, Amado Guevara and Tyrone Marshall as they were with their respective national teams. So it was a makeshift, patchwork lineup (and you suspect that combining makeshift with patchwork is not the greatest recipe for footy success). So there was a tentative mood to the start of the game as all of the new player combinations began to shred their newbie stage.
The back four of Dunivant, Tebily, Velez and Wynne were fighting the ball in the early going, but they settled down and did a solid job. What a luxury to have this quality without using Brennan, Marshall and James.

The ref tonight was G.W.T. Wind of Barely There, Ohio (okay he was Jair Marrufo, but I like his assistant's name, Kermit Quisenberry better). It was hard to get a grip on how Marrufo saw things as he swayed throughout the game. He was Toronto's kind of ref in the first half as he watched a shoulder charge from Marvell Wynne upon Colin Clark and said play on. It was a sideline challenge and Clark made a meal of it. From my vantage point Clark was pounding his feet into the turf in either total agony or the sort of elevated petulance that signals Mom to suggest a nap. I was expecting him to start tearing at his own clothes in exasperation that this performance was not going to be rewarded. The crowd anticipated the miracle health recovery and kept up the boos when he touched the ball well into the second half. Later when the ref gave Jeff Cunningham a yellow for simulation, it would have seemed more just if Clark had picked one up in the first.. It also seemed to me that the Colorado goal was a gift from the ref. The Rapids were being let back into the game so that the trouble that was brewing at midfield, after a foul there was some words and pushing, would not boil over. So glad it was just too little, too late.

TFC has now allowed two goals in seven games at home this year (Sutton against New York and now Edwards against Colorado). This is beyond all expectations. A great feeling to go from the team that cannot score to the team that cannot be scored upon.

Observations from the Upper Deck

Danny Dichio's having an incredible season. His work and energy coninues to improve. The skill and anticipation that produced his goal was of the highest quality. Jeff Cunningham is another story. Maybe the entire team has a fixation on getting him his 100th goal and that does not help him. It seems that he is trying to hard and his scoring touch is too often vacant. It might seem odd to be writing this about a player who has scored in the two prior games, but the relationship between goals and opportunities is a worry.

With the MLS coming out against streamers that interfere with play there will be a little dance between TFC authorities and the fans on the issue of streamers. The club will make the announcements and the fans will boo and the corner kick streamer showers will slowly ebb away. TFC fans have enough energy that a new and creative way to distract the opposing players will be found.

Fans with brains know that banning streamers because it encourages other objects to be thrown is convoluted at best. Then the rare, but brainless, throw bottles and beer cups at the Rapid keeper and you feel let down about taking the high road on the issue. I counted at least three objects thrown at Burpo. It is time for a clear statement and clear action that squashes this stupidity.

I am still shocked, like all of us, at the sudden unexpected death of Brian Budd this past week and the moment's silence for his passing was both appropriate and touching. I am old enough to have seen him play for the Blizzard. He was an entertaining character on The Score's EPL Sunday morning coverage. Media has a wonderful way of making a community out of the disconnected souls. His voice was important to us. He will be missed.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Dynamo 3 Toronto 1

Houston unleashed their goal scoring firepower against Toronto Sunday night and both the weaknesses of TFC's offensive attack and shoddy road game performances were totally exposed.

No surprise when DeRosario ended the first half with a goal on a break off a long pass. DeRo has been overdue for success against Toronto and he was dangerous all night. Houston was always breaking forward with their speedsters, but Sutton and the back four had been holding the fort in the first half, up until that final minute. Then the second half saw Brian Ching score two and it all fell apart. Julius James had his first start, Velez was replaced Marshall at half time and Wynne kept battling until the end.

When TFC was in the game, in the early going, there was extended moments of ball control and intelligent passing. Rohan Ricketts was contributing from all over the midfield. Ricketts did seem to have less to offer in the second half and gave way to Dichio when it was time to throw everything into a comeback. It was great to see Danny D., but why Ricketts is not bringing it for 90 minutes is a concern. Jeff Cunningham continues to confound. He scored the consolation goal, although it was too little, too late.

The Houston announcing team has to be the best local announcers in the MLS (south of the border). Yes, that may be damning with faint praise, but they know the game and know enough about Toronto to allow you to focus on the game instead of hurling things at the tv. Although were they starting to call Jarrod Smith "Brown" in the second half ??
The next chapter of the TFC climb to respectability has to come with new offensive talent. The trade of Pat Phelan last week for the right to add another international player seems to point to offensive talent. The talk surrounding the return of Brian McBride to MLS and the possibility that Mo will be compensated could also end with scoring being added. Next two games are home games. It would be a wonderful time for a debut or two..