Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Chris Cummins chosen as Toronto FC Interim Coach

Today it was made official, Chris Cummins is the interim coach. Not at all suprising, considering recent media conferences (why let someone be the face and voice of your team if you were not going to keep them around). I am looking forward to Saturday and the arrival of the Columbus Crew no matter who is coaching TFC.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Fill the net so I may breathe during the last ten minutes of play -TFC 1 KC 0

After that letdown on the road last Sunday in Dallas, TFC has righted the ship despite their Saturday leadership surprise. Two home games in a row resulting in two victories are just what the doctor ordered. However, don't tell the doctor what this team puts everyone through as they take a one goal lead for a thrill ride in the final minutes. The stress of warding off those TFC late in the day miscues has to be bad for your health. Stephan Frei made a late game saving stop and tipped another shot over the net to save the victory. The Toronto dedication to defending never faltered, but you could tell KC was always ready to take advantage of any weakness.
There was little to choose between the teams in the first half, but Toronto had grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck for most of the second half. The three TFC forwards were on the attack all afternoon. Danny Dichio, making a huge claim on a continued starter's role, scored the goal, but chances were missed by many. The bad luck of Chad Barrett continues, he went off injured just after his most spectacular miss. On the replay it looked as if he had fallen on the play before the ball got to him but it still seemed harder to miss than to hit the target.
Pablo Vitti played his best game for TFC yet and was awarded the man of the match. No argument from me on that call. Vitti was always driving forward, the ball at his feet and he pulled off some surprising moves that lead to clear shots on net. Although he was not rewarded with a goal today (keep your shirt on Pablo until after checking for the offside flag) it is only a matter of time before those goals start coming. He seemed more connected and aware of those around him. He was rarely trapped by three defenders as he was against Chivas USA. Despite his dazzling ball skills, he looks to bring others into the attack as well as making his own shots. In a nutshell, he seems to be everything that Jeff Cunningham wasn't. Now that I have compared him that way, it is mandatory that he start scoring.

The same starting line-up was used as the other night against Chivas USA (Frei, Brennan, Velez, Serioux, Wynne, Robinson, Cronin, Guevara, Barrett, Dichio, Vitti).
It was another cold day on the west side. We were quickly in shade and the wind was the opposite of the night game this past week, coming right off the lake.
On the KC side, while we are lamenting TFC's lack of scoring finish, it is possible that Kevin Hartman's goalkeeping is more of a difference in a game like today than many Toronto fans would be willing to admit.
I will post again in the morning...when there has been time for TFC's lofty position in the Eastern standings to have sunk in.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Coach Carver resigns from TFC - what just happened ??

John Carver has resigned as Head Coach of Toronto FC. He had stayed away from the sidelines on their recent game in Toronto and the team had been coached by assistant Chris Cummins. This is a shock to the fans. Carver is quoted in the press release as having nothing but praise for everyone.
I can't decide in the midst of the shock whether this is a positive or negative change for the team. I hope for a smoother transition than what we saw last winter with the Raptors after Sam Mitchell was fired. Clearly this is not a firing and already I have read speculation ( Soccer by Ives) that Newcastle is somehow involved.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Unexpected but most acceptable victory TFC 1 Chivas USA 0

Wednesday night at BMO Field it was the meeting of the hot team and the cold night, but the result was not what many had been expecting. Toronto won 1-0 and every element of their team was functioning at a high level. I take that back, clearly finishing their scoring chances and beating the offside trap are two elements that need work.
If the hot team, Chivas USA, proved to be not so hot, the cold night was not as advertised either. The rain stayed away, the wind was absent (the upper west side seemed quite sheltered from the wind blowing towards the lake) and the temperature was not all that low. It felt colder on the Saturday afternoon of the Dallas game and that was in sunshine.

DeRo’s injury was supposed to create a hole in the lineup. Surprisingly, the hole never appeared. Coach Carver had a few surprises. He shook up his line-up, Vitti, Dichio and Velez were put into starting roles. He also changed his formation as he went with a 4-3-3. You have to give Carver credit for combining both flexibility and his usual trait of loyalty. It seems that sticking with Chad Barrett and going to a three forward system is all to Barrett’s benefit and he shows progress.

Toronto started the game confident on the ball. There was some nice touches between Vitti and Guevara, Dichio was winning a lot of balls and Barrett was showing some winger skills. There was an adjustment period in the first half with the 4 3 3 formation.
The midfielders (Cronin, Robinson and Guevara) were playing very central and there was a huge gulf between the forward/wing players Vitti and Barrett and their respective backs, Wynne and Brennan. More work is needed on the crucial off ball movement that makes an offense tick.
Amado Guevara scored the lone TFC goal and he should have scored more. I guess Guevara was creative in the first half and then Carl Robinson was suitably destructive in the second. That was when Robinson put his stamp on the Chivas midfield. He was always lurking, disrupting their style, anticipating their plan of attack better than they did for one another.
It was hard to pick out stars, the entire team contributed at both ends of the field.
There was one stretch of play in the second half when TFC won a series of corner kicks and you got the feeling that it was a practice. Every time they had a different formation and a subsequent pattern of movement. It was like watching them run through their playbook. Too bad none of them worked.
Pablo Vitti made an impression all night. He also received an impression in the form of
Sacha Kljestan’s elbow landing on his head late in the second half. It was a dangerous move and might have been worthy of a red instead of the yellow that was given. However these things do balance out. Dichio had escaped with a yellow when he could easily have had more on his wild slide in the first half.

Stephan Frei was always well positioned and therefore his saves were efficient rather than spectacular. Marco Velez not only looked strong, but he also redeemed himself. Remember it was against Chivas USA that he had his red card last year when he reacted badly to Eskandarian’s late hit.

It all came together tonight as Toronto played the home game that they have been searching for all month. Just think, if TFC had made this smooth an effort and gained this result from the game against Seattle, they would have been awarded the Cup early by now and be at home.

So now what lies ahead ?
Kansas City visits Toronto on Sunday. Tonight’s strong performance could spark over confidence. TFC began the year looking strong against KC in their park.

So sorry and sad to see the incident of flare throwing in the east stand.
It was beyond stupid. How are you supporting the team by throwing flares at fellow supporters ? How are you making the world a better place by attempting to melt the field that the game is played on ? I truly hope they caught the individual.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

pre-game stuff - tonight Toronto FC vs Chivas USA

A mental checklist that is just personal fan stuff. If you want insight on the line-up or injuries, I am no insider, so expect nothing more than my sincere wishes for Vitti and Velez...
Weather and garb
Getting ready for the first night/home game of the season always involves frequent visits to the Weather Network. I have found setting the location to Toronto Island allows me to be slightly more prepared.
Island forecast After all, we know that the wind is such a factor down by the lakeshore. Last year the cold wet night games allowed TFC to get points in games against DC and NYRB. So I am willing to think, as I have since the schedule came out, that this is a good time to meet a team from Los Angeles.
It is a good thing that my ski season underwear drawer is still on active status. It is going to be a night for layers. Prior to the Columbus trip someone on the Red Patch forum had suggested red ponchos from Canadian Tire as the solution to raingear in TFC red. Sadly, I fell for it and now own a sad pinky red poncho that has a badly sized neck hole. It is more likely to be a seat cover than a poncho tonight.
"You'll always walk alone"
Watching the astounding Liverpool- Arsenal game yesterday had me thinking about the doom and gloom postings on various fan forums in TFC land this week. Even the harshest critic of North American soccer has to admit that mixed with the offensive brilliance was a good supply of MLS worthy clearance attempts.No matter the setbacks, the Liverpool FC fans were willing to back their team. I understand there will always be some venting, some posturing and some folks who will regularly revert to their pet peeves (fire Mo, get grass, fire Carver,MLS is pathetic...) online. Duane Rollins on the 24th minute gets it right today. There are days when I think that based on fan commotion, the nickname for the team should be the "Chicken Littles".
Bad weather will mean that fairweather fans will be far from BMO tonight, or driven off early. It is games like these where the devoted (or deranged) get to declare their true love and allegiance. I thrive on nights like this.
am I Joe Ross ??
I hope to write my blog after the game on the long drive home. Lately I find myself staying away from the fan forums for a day to avoid the after game turmoil. The heat of others is more fun when your own temperature is stable.
I am a huge fan of Joe Ross on the Footy Blog at the Score, but I must write my own post before I read Joe. I feel that his take on so many aspects of TFC games is often damn close to my own (hmm that tarnishes my fandom, doesn't it). If I read him before writing, it discourages me (in the nicest way). It forces me to avoid duplication instead of blurting/blogging out my thoughts. Yet the moment I finish my blog, I read Joe. Let's hope we are remarkably convergent on a victory tonight, on goals from Vitti and Velez.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Spine displayed, but then a bum steer in Texas - FC Dallas 3 Toronto FC 2

Well, just what are we fans supposed to make of tonight's result in Texas? It was not a resounding defeat, although there were times in the first half when the game seemed to be heading towards a TFC pounding. The first Dallas goal (Drew Moor 25) was another Toronto speciality, the haunting moment of confused defending. Frei stayed on his line when perhaps he should have come out and up and claimed it (hindsight, I know). It appeared that the two Dallas players were unmarked in plenty of space in front of TFC's goal. These "easy pickings" goals have to stop. The second FC Dallas goal was a solid strike from Kenny Cooper(44). A quality shot, but the Toronto defenders were still too roomy. Adrian Serioux's surprise goal (46+) in the final seconds of that half seemed to banish thoughts of capitulation. The ship was leaky, but it was not sinking.
In the second half Toronto displayed more energy and teamwork and it paid off in the 59th minute. Coach Carver had stuck with Chad Barrett as his striker for the first five games and (lo and behold) Barrett paid off with his first goal of the season. It was a combination of good speed in getting into the clear and then showing cool under pressure as the defender was closing from behind and the keeper was in full flight.
TFC had climbed back into the game and for moments was playing it's best since Kansas City. Even after DeRo left (the hamstring problem resurfaced) and you thought they were going to sag, they didn't. There were flashes of clockwork ball control and movement with purpose, both on and off the ball. The Dallas keeper, Burse, looked stressed and the pressure on him was building. Dallas had a counter-attack and Marvell Wynne was caught on a handball, when David Ferreira flicked the ball upward as Wynne was turning. A tricky fluke of a play and it would have been nice had the ref just waved it off, but no TFC fan was expecting that sort of fortune deep in the heart of Texas. Cooper buried it on the pk (84)and that was the end.
I had hoped to see Vitti and Velez. They did not start, but both came on as substitutes. DeRo's injury gave Vitti his playing time and it is unfortunate, but now DeRo doubtful for the next game could give Vitti his chance for another start. Guevara did not have a strong game, Robinson was steady. Cronin was too often giving the ball away in the first half, but looked stronger in the second. Fuad Ibrahim had plenty of room to roam in the first half, I began to suspect that Dallas was happy to let him streak down the left wing all night as they knew it would amount to little. Ibrahim began to look more skilled and strategic with the ball in the second half.

I was hopeful going into this game against Dallas. It seemed that there was an opportunity to put the Toronto negativity behind them and get beyond the two flat home performances. Now there is little time to rebound, TFC play again Wednesday night. As a good blogger/fan should I will let this loss percolate through my dreams and add some thoughts in the morning.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Giving up late goals still a Toronto FC bad habit - TFC 1 FC Dallas 1

I'm back at my home laptop, more than two hours since the end of today's game, and I am still chilled to the bone. Whether this is due to that delightful lakeside climate or the frozen style of the team has yet to be determined. The personal mistake by the lake today was the lack of long underwear on my non-Calvin Klein frame. The next home game is scheduled for a Wednesday night later in April. If spring has not arrived with some permanence by then, I am attending the game as the Michelin man.
So Coach Carver had promised changes to the starting line-up and he delivered. Vitti sat and Barrett was the lone striker with DeRo tucked in behind. The heart of the midfield was Guevara and Robinson, with the wings going to Ibrahim and Cronin.
No change in defenders, the standard Brennan, Harmse, Serioux and Wynne across the back and Frei starting in net.
Judging from the number of times he has been given the start this spring, I think that Carver has given Frei the number one keeper spot. Today he played a solid game, made both standard and challenging saves and I expect he will start next weekend in Dallas. The late equalizing goal from FCD could hardly be blamed on the keeper. It was not the first time that an attacking player had room to operate directly in front of the TFC net and Frei could not have been expected to bail the team out of sloppy defending permanently. He still has room for improvement in the distribution of his goal kicks (although wind conditions were not balmy today by a long shot), but he shows growth in confidence and is starting to boss his defenders around. Heaven knows they deserve it. I am less sure that Kevin Harmse will be a starter in Dallas. He continues to have lapses where he seem to come unmoored in the midst of the action. He hesitates when it is time to move forward to set the offside trap and appears unclear for flashes as to which attacker he needs to stick close to.
I think that it is unfair to Pablo Vitti that he was on the bench in favour of Chad Barrett today. Vitti played in Columbus when TFC was without Guevara and Robinson and you could argue that both of those midfielders were missing last week too. If I had control over the next starting line-up, I would be using a double V approach. Vitti in place of Barrett and Velez in place of Harmse. They are not the solution to all problems, but they could do the job until the real thing came along. Clearly I am giving up hope on the signing of either a central defender or a striker in the near future.
The Rohan Ricketts saga continues. He was left out as a starter today and from his foggy play of late, it was a deserved state to be in. Yet why did Coach Carver put Ricketts in as a second half substitute? Ricketts showed better ball skills and made some optimistic crosses in his stint. Yet is this the end of the message from Coach Carver? It seems to me that by ending the benching of Ricketts so soon, Carver undercut his own stance and made Rickett's return to the starting 11 seem inevitable without the player having earned anything. That's the way it looked to me at least.
Both teams had plenty of scoring opportunities throughout the game. Yet there was something inevitable about the Dallas goal. They seemed able to hold the ball longer and pass with more menace than TFC. Toronto worked more on the counter-attack. Toronto's passing was often counter productive, the more passes made the less danger they presented.
A flood of memories came over me when FC Dallas put out Jeff Cunningham as a second half substitute. None of them good memories. His slide tackle/challenge on Stephan Frei resulted in a deserved yellow card. Jim Brennan crunched him later to gain a yellow of his own.
So where does this put the good ship TFC ? After 4 games they have overachieved on the road and underachieved at home. It is still early days in a 30 game schedule, so recovery time could be ahead. The turnaround is not going to appear magically. Some basics have yet to be displayed regularly. Apart from the Kansas City game, there has been a sputtering, weak attack. The ability to protect a lead, grind out a win and make things difficult for the other team when it's crunch time is not there. I think it is time to send some TFC starters to the iceberg where my toes still reside.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

TFC 0 Seattle 2 - Toronto's plans for a homecoming party completely destroyed

The day after the stinging setback of a home opener for TFC, I have calmed down. It helps that Coach Carver's press conference was blunt and offered no excuses. However the answer to yesterday's performance is not simply slamming the team. If that is all Carver does this week, then the results will remain the same. If it is tactical overhaul (and in the attack TFC were stale yesterday) then shake it up. If it is talent, then make the changes. My fear is that a home and home against the struggling FC Dallas will provide the fans with a rosy picture. Then again faltering against Dallas could be a disaster in the waiting.
Is Seattle that good ?
I came away from the game impressed with Seattle. Remember that Seattle was without their star offensive player, Fredy Montero. It is possible that they are as advertised, the expansion team that plays like a veteran unit. Ljungberg was a step ahead and creative all afternoon. Once they had the lead, there was precious few opportunities given up by SSFC. However Toronto had some second half chances that were countered more by bad luck than strong defending.
Is TFC that bad ?
I think not. The need for a central defender is stronger than ever. I applaud Kevin Harmse's effort and his battling with Nate Jacqua all game. It is a fair argument that both Velez and Harmse are depth players, insurance for when your starter goes down.
Coach Carver made the correct move at half time by substituting Rohan Ricketts. Ricketts was not able to get past his man and this was making the job harder and harder for the remainder of the team. Watching the replay of the Ljungberg goal, none of the defenders had their heads on, but as a coach I would be most livid with Ricketts. He was on Lgungberg's heels at one second and then lets him go. There is no benefit to having a huge numerical advantage in front of your own net if nobody is going to crowd or challenge the attackers. This is soccer 101.
Replacing Chad Barrett with Danny Dichio made sense too, but I am worried about the long term impact on Barrett. It is hard to get into a scoring groove if you feel your playing time shrinking.

Some pillow time has provided perspective. To reveal my deep superstitious side, I am hereby storing the season 3 scarf that is now associated with yesterday's loss. The conditions for it's return has yet to be established. My first thought is a 6 game winning streak.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Toronto FC on the brink of the home opener 2009

I know what I am hoping for (resounding victory), but I truly do not know what to expect Saturday when Toronto FC finally play at home. I say finally because the season start-up seems a series of events that do not happen here. The draft, the Florida training camps, the Carolina tournament and the road games, all far removed from home turf.
I think this is one of the attractions of the trip to Columbus, Ohio, you want to see in action the team that you missed and have been following from afar for months now (training camp began with players reporting on February 1st). TFC has clearly improved and if they are better at home than on the road, then we have a treat in store. Seattle is an unknown quality as TFC treats them to their first road game. They have looked strong on television and the mixture of quality talent (Keller, Montero and Ljungberg) with a solid selection of draft picks and their USL core could be a new standard for expansion teams. I want their bubble to burst on Saturday, but I'm not sure of the strategy that would ensure it.

What a swirl of news surrounding Toronto FC and travelling fans this week. Interviews and articles, youtube video based condemnations and defensive retorts on the blogs and forums (I'm guilty). I fear too much focus on the sideshow and next to nothing on the team and the game. Perspective was lost and the media hysteria and anti-soccer fan posturing was sad. My father often took me to Argo- Ticats games when I was growing up and drunk fans getting into fist fights was a common sight. Compared to a playoff game at Exhibition Stadium from yesteryear, last Saturday was a picnic.

The most important news lately was the retirement of Carl Robinson from his international duties with Wales. No longer will we see him pulled away as the MLS does not schedule around UEFA/CONCACAF dates. It is also significant because it is a vote of confidence in TFC. This city has seen soccer players play for the local team before (olde enough to remember the Blizzard), but ending your international career to spend more time with your team in Toronto is new. It is a big, positive step.
See you Saturday.