Friday, October 31, 2008

Tried the playoff game and was pulled away ....

by the arrival on my television of The Office and 30 Rock.
I was watching The Fire vs Revolution first leg of their playoff on streaming video last night. Yes, I have a beef with MLS, although I pay for their online video service, they do not deliver the games that are on ESPN2. Hey MLS, Canadians do not get to watch ESPN2.
This was not an attractive game. It seemed like a foul fest. Nothing quite red card worthy, but staying close to the line.
Scoreless in New England must give a huge advantage to Chicago in the second leg at home. A very ugly game from what I saw.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

San Jose 2 TFC 0 cloudy sunset on a season

So the season ended with a whimper and a sloppy effort in San Jose. It was as if the adrenaline that has been fueling TFC since the disaster in Kansas City expired at the same time for the entire team. I would pair the SJ and KC games as required viewing when making decisions about next year's team and beyond. The plucky efforts in New York, Dallas and at home against Chicago would not supply the correct perspective as to our strengths and weaknesses.
Let me outline the events of the final game briefly. The briefer the better.
Toronto was lucky to get to the half with a scoreless tie. San Jose had all of the early scoring chances. Sutton and some klutzy luck kept the Quakes from scoring. Any hope that Toronto could change the nature of the game expired early in the second half when Ryan Cochrane scored a header off of a corner kick from ol' Ronnie O'Brien. Sure Sutton misjudged the ball, but you knew it had only been a matter of time for the Quakes to connect. San Jose seemed to ease up with the lead and Toronto crept back into the game. There was never any sustained pressure, the rare attacks only inspired hopes for a lucky, undeserved goal. In the late going Kevin Harmse reminded us of his weakness for rash moves (a weakness that I thought he had been able to limit in his recent run as central defender). He lunged and clearly fouled Shea Salinas who then scored a screamer on the penalty. San Jose 2 and Toronto no show. The game and the season ended. It is hard to put a finger on my mood at that point. Empty would be too harsh, hopeful would be too optimistic.
Marvell Wynne did not play as he is recovering from concussion. He was missed. Danny Dichio was substituted early in the second half. Dichio's willingness to return as a role player coming off the bench should secure his TFC future. Re-read that last sentence a few times if you are out there Mo. Johann Smith and Jarrod Smith split the game out on the right wing and neither amounted to much. Jarrod Smith had a chance at a shot late in the half, but he tried to set up the player he expected to be heading for the far post. Silly Jarrod, that was Carlos Ruiz and he was not going to expend any effort. He had already squandered a scoring chance by looking more interested in buying popcorn from a vendor than making a play for the ball near the far post. The highlight of the game from a TFC fan perspective was watching Ruiz being substituted so that Ibby could have ten minutes of action. Ruiz was angry, very angry. He refused the towel and drink from the trainer and then shoved the gatorade container and stormed to the bench. I thought that he made better contact with the gatorade container than he did with a soccer ball in scoring range these last two months. It is fair to say that his anger in San Jose pales in comparison to the anger I felt when we picked the bum up in September. Get out of town fella, as a rent a striker you were not worth a Canadian dollar.
The speculation season now begins for TFC. Who returns and who is to be acquired? The need for improvement is clear. We could argue all night if Toronto the second year team is a better squad than San Jose the first year team. Either way there is not much between them and that reflects badly on TFC progress. Now Seattle arrives on the 2009 scene and their early signings indicate strength. They have a veteran keeper in Kasey Keller and the rumours are that they are about to announce the signing of Freddie Ljungberg. Wow, that is a player with potential. If Huckerby can have a positive impact on a MLS team, a healthy and active Ljungberg comes in with a potential that no player in TFC history can match. Seattle has also signed some young players, S├ębastien Le Toux and Sanna Nyassi who have been playing for the USL version of the team this year. So they begin with a solid base. It will be interesting to see if Seattle uses the expansion draft to seriously weaken Toronto. They also get the first pick from the NCAA crop in the Superdraft. So it is not a stretch to say that Toronto will have to make a number of player upgrades just to stay where they are in competitive terms. It is a tough spot as a TFC fan going into the offseason fending off such strong feelings of Seattle envy. I may need a Starbucks to calm me down.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

TFC 3 Chicago Fire 2 - going out with heads held high

Guess it was a roller coaster game to cap off a roller coaster year. I went down to BMO Field today determined not to feel that it was the end. As long as a playoff game was possible I was going to avoid contributing to a negative vibe. It was a beautiful October day, the sun was bright and the temperature was in the single Celsius digits. There was not much wind. A neighbour commented that there was a CFL feel to the air. Growing up watching the Argos play in this part of town (Exhibition Stadium-the old mistake by the lake), I had to agree. It was a good day to be in the lakeside air.
Many hours later I write this knowing that both Kansas City and New York won tonight which eliminates Toronto from the playoffs. As this proved to be the last home game of the 2008 season, well, it wasn’t a bad way to finish up. I had expected TFC to come out blazing as the up-tempo momentum of those recent road games could provide the fuel to ignite the home crowd. Toronto scored early on a well-crafted curler by Amado Guevara. Then TFC was awarded a penalty kick (and how rare was that this season?) Rohan Ricketts’ shot was stopped by Chicago keeper Jon Busch, but then the rebound race was won by Ricketts and he put it away.
Justin Mapp scored for Chicago to make it 2-1. Sloppy defending by TFC on that one, Mapp was so wide open that Sutton never had a chance.

Then TFC played alert football and caught Chicago in injury time with the winning goal. A throw-in from Wynne went to the middle of the pitch and a pass to the wing (from Robinson or Guevara ??) found Ricketts who made a little move and boom it was in. It was wonderful to see Ricketts have a great game. He is maturing as a player, pays enough attention to the defending side of life and seems more comfortable with his part of the attack.
Blanco scored a solid goal for the Fire in the second half, but TFC kept scoring chances for Chicago to a minimum beyond that. There was enough counter-attack and action at both ends that another Toronto goal was always a possibility.

If only, if only, if only…..
that game in Dallas where a win became a tie had gone Toronto’s way and at least one of the 7 ties at home had
been turned into a win – TFC would be a playoff team.

Was the fact that Dichio and Marshall said goodbye to the fans on the field runaround apart from the rest of the team and with their children just something that happened or is it an indication of retirement?? In the case of Marshall, a good pro who has made a contribution in these early years, I think his departure would reflect the inevitable upgrade in central defending.
Dichio ? Remember on the October road trip 3 of the four goals had Dichio play a part in the build-up. It is nice to have a legend grow around an infant club, but I say keep Dichio because he contributes. A player- coach role would be deserved.

Marvell Wynne subbed at half time, injury or tactics ?

Brian McBride is a skilled and solid player who may make the difference for Chicago this year, but I am happy to have Chad Barrett. It would have been fun for all had Barrett scored a goal against his former team……

Saturday, October 11, 2008

FC Dallas 2- Toronto FC 2 - reaching the heights and then stumbling on a rock

On the morning after the night before, perspective begins to seep in. The result of a tie in Dallas is honestly what I was hoping for after the joy of victory in New York a week ago. TFC in the playoffs has been a long shot for months now. We fans (and John Carver) knew all season long that all those home ties (7) were playoff points squandered. Last night's tie was TFC's first on the road all season. Still, it is encouraging to see the team, after all this grief, produce effort and counter attacks and goals. It is wonderful too to see Marvell Wynne go from potential status to a true creator and contributor. There is just no way that he can be sold off to Europe now. Just no way. He is the foundation of the team and therefore Designated Players and draft picks and trades are moves to build on the base. Without Wynne there is no base. Enough future, back to Saturday night in Dallas - Pizza Hut Park.

It was in their grasp. TFC was winning 2-1 in Dallas with only minutes left in the game. John Carver made a smart tactical substitution and put in an extra defender. Julius James. It was hard to be sure from the broadcast, but it looked like James' grip on Serioux's shirt is what prompted the penalty kick. Kenny Cooper's first shot was wiped out on an encroaching call. His second shot was in, although Sutton sure had a hand on it.

Is this as close as TFC is going to get to the MLS Cup in 2008? Will this moment haunt players and fans alike all winter long?? This result tonight did not eliminate TFC from the playoff. However, even if they win their last two games, they have a very slim shot at a playoff spot.

After falling behind to Kenny Cooper's goal in the first half, TFC climbed back into this match in the second half. Marco Velez scored the first one. A throw-in from Wynne and a flick on header from Dichio set him up.

It became more and more TFC's game (although Dallas did continue to take long shots at Sutton). Then Marvell Wynne scored. This was a wonderful moment. Honest to goodness comebacks have been rare in TFC history. Then the penalty call....

Remote though the chance may be, it is a comfort to the TFC fan that the final home game will have the Reds still in contention for a post-season spot. This is historical too. I look forward to this one. The recent road games have produced five goals. Please let the goals continue, it will be a treat to win one convincingly at BMO.

The Happy list.
Jell Cunningham did not score.
Nana Attakora-Gyan played well. He is more than a depth player and could allow TFC to make some off season moves with other defenders.

The Sad list.
Did I mention the penalty call?

Saturday, October 4, 2008

TFC stuns NYRB with an October surprise

TFC sparkled tonight and defeated New York RedBulls in New York by a resounding 3-1. This goal scoring frenzy was unexpected. Boy, was it unexpected. The blah bitterness of the last road game in Kansas City was still preying on the minds of the battered TFC fan. It was a sense of duty, the thought that soon enough the wind will blow and the snow will pile and we will yearn for a contest to cheer for, that convincd me to watch the game. So I invite a friend over and we tune in to witness what TFC had on offer. Who knew that it was going to be a night of jumping off the couch with fists pumping and cries of joy??
This was the team that we have been waiting for. Where has this team been ? Is it too little, too late- flash in the pan stuff for the faint playoff hopes?
The next game is in Dallas and based on tonight's performance- something positive is possible. A tie on the road in Texas now has some life to it and a road victory no longer qualifies as extreme crazy talk.
Tonight Chad Barrett scored the first goal through hustle and finish (and a foolish header back to the keeper from a New York player ten miles away that Barrett beat him to) and that was the half time score. (Barrett 27 minutes)
I thought that TFC needed another goal early in the second half, but New York got one instead. Dane Richards responded with his own hustle and finish goal early and that was the point when I wavered. Harmse and Marshall looked like butter on the play and Richards was the hot knife.
Oh oh, I thought. I could close my eyes and see the same old script, the same old heartbreak developing. A huge case of the same old same olds was in the air. Then someone ripped up the script and wrote a new one, an exciting one. The one we TFC fans have been dreaming of all summer long.
Carl Robinson, playing deep in his half, plays the ball forward to Dichio, who calmly lays it off to the left wing. The ball falls perfectly into the stride of Marvell Wynne. Marvell decides to move boldly into warp speed and tears away down the wing. Leaving defenders in the dust, Wynne senses the out-rushing Red Bull keeper (Conway) and sends the ball in a perfect pass across to Chad Barrett. The ball is in the net uncontested. Barrett celebrates, turning towards Hunter Freeman, but then it hits him. Wynne made that play sparkle with his speed and touch and ol' Chad turns back towards Marvell. Wynne is already there.
Wynne has shown so much in these recent games that you worry about his being taken to Europe sooner rather than later. Edu was sold for 5 million and he did not have these "Wynne quality" moments.
The substitutions were timely. Johann Smith for Rohan Ricketts and Ibby Ibrahim for Chad Barrett. Smith shows that he has speed on the wing too. Ibby is wide open on the far post and he signals for the ball. He may never be as open as he was at that moment, and when you consider his youth that is a lot of future I am taking into consideration. Ibby Ibrahim heads the ball pass Conway and the night is Toronto's.

There was a chippy air to the game and New York is a team that I dislike more with every exposure. Angel's cleat chop to the back of Guevara's thigh was ugly. It may be unusual for Angel and it may have been a mistake, but it was ugly. Guevara played on, but he was a step slower and quick to pass. New York could be letting their losing streak get to them, but they deserved every yellow and looked ready for the next colour once or twice. The yellow on Chad Barrett did not seem deserved on the television angle. Wonder what the ref saw on that one? Or was he just trying to balance out the cautions on a game that seemed on the boil.
I don't think that I will be approaching the next game with the same sense of high fan duty. Bring it on !