Thursday, July 30, 2009

TFC 0 Puerto Rico Islanders 1 - home field as a fortress needs work

So that was Toronto’s soccer team playing in Toronto’s soccer stadium last night.
I have just returned from a great holiday and I am finding it hard to fall back into old routines. Perhaps this is a part of a great holiday, you return home and find yourself in a strange state. You start to see many of the old familiar things in a new light. I think I glorify all of Ontario when I am away, which is part of being just a little homesick. Then when I do return home it seems that home can’t compete with this ideal I have created.
So I was out of the country for the victory in San Jose, the tie at home against Houston and the friendly against River Plate. I did manage to see the last minute loss in Columbus and wish I had missed that one too.
Now Puerto Rico Islanders had little to do last night and they knew it. They were successful in last year’s CONCACAF Champions League and having been through the process has to help. They needed to prevent the home team from playing their attacking game. Clog the middle, cover Gerba and DeRo like blankets and hope for something on the counter-attack. They did it and they got it. Unless these Islanders do an incredible Montreal Impact impersonation at home, Toronto’s chances on the return game next week are slim indeed.

My big concern is that TFC, well into the season, appears not to have meshed into an attacking unit. I know that Sam Cronin has been with the US Gold Cup team and that Amado Guevara is injured. Yes, Ali Gerba is a welcome addition, but Gerba will not flourish in a system where the rest of the squad passes him the ball to the exclusion of any other tactic. Guevara was missed last night. His penetrating runs bring another dimension to a Toronto attack that rarely surprises. Last night, notably in the first half, it became the feed Mr. Gerba show. Chad Barrett, learning on the job to play the wing, seemed to look for little else. When even the central defenders, Garcia and Gomez took turns doing it, you began to wonder where this was going. If I knew that booting a long ball to Gerba was the number 1 choice, Puerto Rico was onto it too. Gerba deserves praise for for fighting through crowds and making regular contact with these long balls and crosses. He also showed defensive determination and pressured the Puerto Rico defenders when they had to move the ball around the back.
I am willing to live with Chad Barrett being tried as a winger (he is a better depth player, the more positions he offers). I am not so kind when it comes to Pablo Vitti and his short trips to nowhere. I am of the opinion that Vitti shows flashes of skill but does not see the bigger picture offensively. He seldom creates much with the ball and therefore his contributions as a decoy also suffer. Puerto Rico challenged him when he came forward and were happy to let him dither out of scoring range until he was surrounded with no passing options.
The Dichio for Robinson substitution should have happened as soon as the Islanders scored. Carl Robinson’s ability to hold the midfield was not going to be needed when you knew the visitors were going into a shell.
It was fun to watch Emmanuel Gomez play. He has athletic ability and physical presence and shows some offensive skills as well as a willingness to tangle defensively. A future central pairing of Gomez and Attakora is a wonderful prospect.
Frei was punished on the only mistake he made all night. Here’s hoping that he redeems himself on the return leg.
This was a big loss. I am not sure that Toronto has the squad to challenge for both CONCACAF CL and run for the MLS playoffs, but I was willing to witness the effort. Now it seems that the trip to Puerto Rico will be, although educational, a dead end. It makes you wonder just how Toronto would fare in the USL.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Ugly finish in Columbus-Crew 3 TFC 2

I have hesitated for days now when it came to posting this blog. I usually pride myself on timely thoughts on games. Television can give you an altered view of many elements of a game. Things such as tactics, formations, play off the ball and emotional elements such as momentum can be lost in a telecast. So I hold those elements in the forefront of my mind given a few days to cool off. My first reaction, watching Columbus come from behind, was that TFC is going to sink away the summer. That the gutsy elements needed to put opponents away are still lacking for Toronto.
I think that there has been a pattern to TFC and expectations going into a game. When they are a long shot, they can rise to the occasion, but give them an edge and they squander it. Columbus at home is always a tough challenge, but they were missing Chad Marshall, Moreno, Rogers and GBS. Losing this one in injury time has to sting. The question of the week is how does the team respond. Puerto Rico tomorrow will be interesting.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

I never write previews

Good morning. This will not be a preview of tonight's game vs River Plate. Years ago I decided that my blog would stick to game observations, TFC facts such as trades,signings and draft picks and whatever else grabbed my little brain. I leave the previews to other fine people out there. However this non-preview is a warning that the blog will not be commenting much on tonight's friendly. I will not be at the game and my fine friend Trout, who has filled in for me since the RSL game, will not be at the game either.
I write this blog entry from a small village in Somerset, England. I have spent most of July on the Sheep's Head Peninsula in West Cork, Ireland. If TFCtv has some video online tonight - I will watch and blog from that, but the time difference makes it crazy. It will be Thursday morning before I can access anything. If you feel the need to contribute any thoughts on the game- please use the comment section on this entry as I do not know when the game blog will be written. I am in the final days of my journey. Regular blogging will resume shortly. Thanks

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

TFC 1 – Houston 1 - Clouds have silver linings?

“Get a haircut and get a real job. Clean your act up and don’t be a slob. Why don’t you, get a haircut and get a real job.” - George Thorogood

Please, could someone tell Kei Kamara that a shark fin looks good on a BMW, not the top of his head.

My apologies to Stillkicking for the deviation from his usual high standard of journalistic integrity. I will now return to the standard that he has set for us all.

One of the joys of attending a soccer game is the ability to look away from the play surrounding the ball and focus on the actions of a single player. Quite often, when I attend a TFC match I choose one player to focus on, whether he is playing on the ball or off it. After a number of consecutive starts, this past Saturday I finally got around to watching Nana Attakora play in the centre of the defence. As you all know by now, he was voted TFC player of the Month, so what I’m about to say of his performance will come as no surprise. He was fantastic. He marked well and seems to be quickly forming a good partnership with Nick Garcia, his centre back partner in crime.

Back to Kei Kamara. I really don’t mean any disrespect to him (aside from the hair thing, of course) he seems to be at most times a dangerous striker, fast and agile with a nose for goal (and, apparently the mouth to go with it). Attakora made him look like a big whiny baby, with no chance of even getting near the net. He was shadowed consistently, and was constantly being watched for any sign of threatening attack.

On the offensive side for TFC, it was back to the same old same old. Chad Barrett missed a number of chances, and Pablo Vitti looked ordinary, after his best performance in TFC red last week. The glimmer of hope that these two would rise to the challenge of Ali Gerba taking their spot in the starting line-up faded very quickly. Barrett may have a chance of assuming a wide midfield role, as he dropped back to fill in for Jimmy Brennan when Danny Dichio was subbed in for an injured Adrian Serioux. Vitti on the other hand may have finally run out of chances. I’m excited by the prospect of seeing O’brien White and Ali Gerba play against River Plate on Wednesday, but alas, it’s the one game all year I will miss.

Overall both teams played really well, marking on both sides was tight, and the passing was crisp. For me this game falls into the “should of” category. TFC were the better team on the afternoon and should have taken the three points. The defensive lapse that led to Bobby Boswell’s goal should just be taken as a reminder to maintain focus. Really, a disappointing result, but with a lot of positive play and team work. It might not feel like it right now, but I think they’re headed in the right direction.


Sunday, July 12, 2009

TFC 3 - San Jose 1. Hard Luck or Hard Work?

“My baby left me, my mule got lame, lost my money in a poker game. Windstorm came, just the other day, blew the house that I lived in away. I’m havin’ so much trouble, so much trouble, so much trouble, I’m about to lose my mind.” George Thorogood – So much Trouble

There is no Manchester United in the MLS, nor is there a Barcelona, Rangers, Juventus or any other prototype dominant European champion that can be counted on to win week after week. Maybe that’s the centralized league with salary cap at work for you. I think Toronto fans have done a lot of complaining about how poorly TFC play. How poor the defence is, how we can’t finish, how we should invest in any number of fantastic players from far flung places to help our game. Yet, now we sit tied for first place in our conference, despite suffering several disappointing losses both at home and away. Well, at least we’re not San Jose!

I should be excited with this away win, yet I’m not. I think it was the third goal that sealed it for me, I want to be excited for Chad Barrett, he beat a defender and the keeper, kept his cool and slotted it into the net. We’ve been waiting for him to do that all year, whingeing every time he popped the ball off the keeper instead of into the netting. Yet, it just doesn’t feel good for me. I suppose it was because the defender went down helplessly with a pulled groin, I guess these things happen, but it just doesn’t feel right. Maybe we’ve experienced enough of these deflating losses to be able to empathise with the San Jose faithful.

The more you watched San Jose, the more you got the feeling that they were helpless to stop what was going to happen. Now, they don’t always play that way, and the last 15-20 minutes of the first half showed us that. They were downright dangerous, and exploited our sometimes porous defence. My question is, how do you leave Darren Huckerby, their most well known and dangerous attacking player, unmarked on numerous occasions? Right now I’m just trying to rephrase questions that have been asked of the defence for the last three years.

Looking ahead, how will Ali Gerba’s arrival affect the team? He’s been very dangerous for Canada, so much so that he won’t be back for the Houston game on Sunday. The two goals he has scored so far in the tournament have had all of us TFC faithful cheering in anticipation. He seems to score the type of goals that we desperately need to be put into the back of the net. Was last night’s superior striker performance due, in part, to Gerba’s impending arrival? Were Barrett and Vitti both trying to show what they’re capable of so that they can keep their place after the big man arrives? Or have they finally started to feel comfortable in their roles? Keeping on the attacking theme, Jimmy Brennan did a magnificent job as the attacking left sided midfielder, getting down the line and putting in some very dangerous crosses, and creating space for the strikers to do their job. Hopefully this experiment will continue.

At this point in the season, I feel that there is a distinct possibility that we will make the playoffs. Will TFC win? Who knows? I am buoyed by the New York energy drink’s unlikely appearance in the final last year. Could TFC go on a tear and find their way to the final? Yes! Could we play like San Jose did tonight in a playoff series and waste a glorious opportunity? Yes!

Which TFC will we see next week? The hard working team we saw today, or the hard luck bunch of sad sacks we last saw in Utah? Houston will provide a stiff test for the Reds, and I don’t expect to see any of San Jose’s lay down and die attitude from them.

In an aside, hopefully Stillkicking is enjoying his well deserved time away from his computer. Don’t get lost in Arthur J’s facility!