Saturday, August 29, 2009

Red Spitfires in Seattle, Sounders 0 TFC 0

Who were those guys in red on my television screen Saturday afternoon? They looked like the usual TFC suspects, but somebody decided to add intensity to the luggage on the western road trip this time. It was a thrilling moment to see Toronto look like a team again. Shamefully, I admit, I was not looking forward to watching this game. The poor performance against Chivas USA took the wind out of our sails for a week, it must have stung the players deeply and they did something about it.

Toronto FC came out flying and had more great chances to score in this Q-West Field first half than they have had in a month of games. Guevara hits the woodwork, DeRo just wide, DeRo stumbles on the turn with the net gaping, Chad dives in and attempts a header that just missed and Cronin had his chance too.
No luck on scoring however and later in the game there were a few moments of fear that Seattle would steal something against the run of play. Seattle only had one or two full chances, Frei making the save of the game in the final seconds of the afternoon.
Now the first half was a touch scrappy, just the way I like it. Then the second half was even more scrappy and the TFC display of grit seemed to be a team-building moment.
DeRo was fed up with the treatment that Kennedy Hurtado was supplying. The TFC back four of Attakora, Garcia, Gomez and Brennan held together surprisingly well. Defending is easier when your attack is smoking, but when Seattle climbed back into the second half the D was still there.
The midfield was Sanyang, Wynne, Cronin and Guevara and I honestly would have a hard time putting back in Carl Robinson when he returns for the Colorado game next Saturday (but I wouldn't bet a buck on it).
Playing DeRo as the striker was a great move. If Chad had scored on that header then Cummins would have been a genius.
Wow, TFC have a point from a road game and things are looking up. May the team rise in the standings as quickly as Freddie Ljungberg loses his temper.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Previous Saturday's steam evaporates in Southern California - Chivas 2 TFC 0

Yuck. You stay up late on a Saturday night to watch the team play in Los Angeles and wish you hadn't bothered. I am detecting a trend. I was on vacation for the victory in San Jose, so I admit that my trend is selective. The last time TFC looked this bad to my eyes on a Saturday night was on the road in Utah against Real Salt Lake. The schedule is going to provide a steady diet of west coast Saturday nights. Seattle, Colorado and the Galaxy are the next three road games. If stinking in the Pacific time zone continues, squeaking into the playoffs will turn from a maybe to a longshot. What annoys me is that the GOL TV pregame show had interviews with the likes of Cronin and Robinson talking about aiming for the top two spots in the East, rather than qualifying for the playoffs as a wildcard team. Talking about aiming high is fine, but the performance on the field does not match the words at this point.

Chivas was a team that was riding high when they arrived in Toronto back in the spring. TFC beat them 1-0 and looked strong doing so. Months later Chivas has been in a slump and Toronto, rather than taking advantage, makes them look good. Sacha Kljestan has been a bust for 2009 and proceeds to score two. What playoff prospects...

Amado Guevara has a poor game and TFC has no attack in the midfield worth talking about.

The first Chivas goal was another example of Toronto frozen defending.

Toronto needs to toughen up. The MLS has it's share of cry-baby prima donnas that will feign injury to draw a foul. Carl Robinson seems to encounter them constantly. Trouble is Carl wastes his energy pointing out to the ref that the screaming player down is more Hollywood than injured. The attitude should be "if you think he's hurt now, wait for the miracle recovery and then the next three Toronto players who truly hit him will make you wish you had earplugs".
Dobson and Forrest waste time on this too, "oh Serioux better be careful, if he picks up a yellow he misses the next game, Brennan is already out blah blah". Give me a break, TFC is losing on the road AGAIN. Are the announcers going to go into the dressing room and give out lollipops to all the players who did not pick up a yellow card? Just send the message that simulation against Toronto leads to real pain and let the yellow cards fly. Serioux and Brennan should keep making life miserable for all opposing fancy dans. They should not hold back, instead the question should be why do we never see yellow in the vicinity of Attakora, Wynne, Cronin, Gomez, Vitti, Garcia? Do they tolerate losing more than Serioux, Brennan and Robinson? It is a team sport, you win together and you lose together. Get together in the tough moments and maybe your survival chances will improve. Rant over.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Whew, The Reds gather steam, TFC 2 DC United 0

There was a sense of dread going into this game. It was an odd feeling to be slathering on the sunscreen to watch a team on thin ice. Toronto's MLS playoff race prospects look dim this August and too many other contending teams have games in hand (KC and NE have three each and I'm simply afraid to look at the western teams). Toronto FC has not had an iron grip on home results this year and with only three more home games after today, it was a time of now or never. Do or die. Is you is or is you ain't my baby? Last year, we were treated to some exciting matches down to the playoff wire, the victory in New York, the heart-breaking tie in Dallas. We would find out today whether to look forward to an exciting season end ahead or face the reality of falling short.

I was also a little peeved that there was not movement on the player acquisition front. The closing of the MLS transfer window for international players yesterday means that if the TFC roster is going to be filled it will either be through trades or picking up North American players. I know it is a TFC fan weakness to always be dreaming of the foreign signing, the guy from overseas who saunters into town and puts the team on his back and points us to glory. But heck, it is both the curse and joy of modern football. If Man City fans over the pond can welcome the likes of Tevez, Toure and Adebayour today , what are we, chopped liver? I still hold out hope that a few players on trial were accepting contracts but the MLS office will not be making them official until early next week.
It was hot at game time, but the field did not look that bad considering that 8 days ago it was buried in turf and dirt for the Real Madrid visit.
Then the first surprise, Chris Cummins was willing to truly shake up his line-up. It helped that Barrett was suspended and Wynne is injured, but the youth movement was launched and the starting 11 had a new look.
The back four were Attakora, Serioux, Brennan and Gomez
The midfielders were Cronin, Robinson and Sanyang
The forwards were Vitti, White and DeRosario
Toronto started strong. The early highlight was Vitti twisting in the box and sending a cross to Brennan whose header hit the post. DC had some flurries and counter attacks, but it was TFC that was going forward regularly and with more build up than usual. There was little long ball or hit 'n' hope and more control and movement off the ball. Toronto was able to go ahead on a great cross from Sam Cronin and DeRo's ability to beat out two defenders to the ball. DeRo was active all afternoon and was the heart of the team.
Then the second surprise, Cummins was willing to put results first and player egos second. He substituted Amado Guevara for Carl Robinson to start the second half. Robinson had enjoyed a first half filled with his usual strong positional play and hard tackles, but his passing was plain awful. Robbo is at his best when he has the role of countering a strong midfield, but today DC United was underpowered. I found myself wondering if they were holding back and playing possum at some points.
At first the midfield substitution did not seem to gel, Guevara and Vitti struggled to get onto the same page. Then when it finally clicked, it clicked into a thing of beauty. Vitti played well today, no matter who was on the field with him.
Toronto's second goal came out of a Guevara corner kick. I think it was Attakora who controlled it and put the ball into White's path. One step to his right and White launched a solid shot into the net. You may complain that I go too far, but O'Brien White's goal had the calm, cool and efficient manner of a Raul scoring down that end of the field just earlier this month.
One late moment of panic as DC United had everyone scattered on a corner kick, but the ball was headed off the line by Amado Guevara.
The second half substitutions were thoughtful and well timed. The TFC back line had become more fluid in the second half and they played with three in the back most of the time. Jim Brennan was making gains down the leftside as a winger and Sam Cronin was able to play wing down the rightside and still come back to help out with defending. Ali Gerba came on for White and kept the offensive pressure constant . Brennan gave way to Gabe Gala, which shows you what scoring against Real Madrid can do for your playing time. It was Sanyang's first start and his second half was notable for being injured regularly. The second time he went down I was able to spot the impact of DC United cleats to his upper right thigh. He kept on coming back and was an energetic contributor.
Now we prepare as fans to watch three road games. I think the games all take place on Saturdays. Chivas USA, Seattle and Colorado are the locations. When we welcome TFC home in September, even a handful of points from these next three games will make all the difference. Stay tuned.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Velez back to PR and final days for International signings

August 14th is the end of the international transfer window for MLS teams. This would be last chance for TFC to sign a player from overseas and they have already made one move. They signed Lesley Fellinga (23 years old), a Haitian international with a Dutch background. He played for SC Heerenveen last year. The news only mentions that he is a defender, but I think he is actually a left back. At 5-8 and 157 lbs, he would be an unlikely central defender.
There are rumours about Marco Velez going out on a loan back to Puerto Rico, but I'm unsure if that would take him off the roster.
Wait, 24th minute has Puerto Rico news that Marco Velez has been released by Toronto FC and is returning to the Puerto Rico Islanders.
Velez was a useful bench strength player and I was never able to understand those fans who were hyper-critical of him. Sure he made some mistakes that cost TFC games...but he was hardly the weak link in an otherwise strong back four. There were times reading forums where I was convinced that Velez was always the goat and Frei could never be at fault was the opinion of too many.
I wish him all the luck and envy him. I remember that TFC posted videos of the players arriving in Toronto for training camp last Feb. 1 and Marco Velez was one of them. He was smiling and wearing a parka. He will be smiling and not wearing a parka next Feb.1.
With the Fellinga signing, there are two vacant roster spots. If Velez is off the roster- there would be three vacant roster spots.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

TFC life after Real Madrid

Ok, today I start with a theory. It has been quite a week.
My theory is that the Puerto Rico Islanders put Toronto FC (players, coaches and front office) in their proper place by eliminating them from CONCACAF Champion's League earlier this week. Improvements in tactics, offensive ability, adapting your game to different conditions are all on TFC's list.
Real Madrid, however, put Toronto's fans in their proper place. It is possible to support your team with a passion and still demand more. Demand a lot more. Real Madrid simply demanded a natural grass field and got it. Then they came to town and displayed talent and talent and more talent. How did they get that talent, you may ask? Why, they paid for it.

Now that I have seen Real Madrid come at TFC in waves, I am inspired to ask the questions.
Why does Toronto not have a designated player?
Why does Toronto not have two designated players?
A striker who is hard to stop would be nice. Did you see Raul rip it into the net last night? A winger who can create opportunities for himself (or set-up DeRo, Cronin, Gerba, Dichio, etc) would be welcome. Sure Ronaldo is beyond MLS for another two decades, but Arlen Robben looked incredible. I know, I know he would break the bank too. A central defender who can command the back could do the trick. A creative attacking midfielder?
I know that progress has been happening over the three years of TFC history. I am not forgetting that superb moves have been made. Bringing in DeRo, Serioux, Garcia and Gerba are all positives. Drafting White, Cronin and Frei was great. Insert cliche about building Rome or throwing bathwater here.
I know MLS is a salary cap system. I know the NASL went bust. Yet, you can't tantalize the home crowd with champagne and then expect us all to go back to swigging from the bargain bin and be happy with it.

Real Madrid played at a speed and skill level last night that was just breathtaking and mind boggling. Toronto's inability to defend when the pressure arrives in the box might have enhanced things a little, but not a lot. The Real Madrid offensive display was more than just Ronaldo's fleet feet. It was everyone in motion and with purpose. When Real Madrid had the ball you were scanning the field for which option they were going to choose. Real Madrid = oh you are going to dribble and then pass to him,him,him, goal! TFC seldom gives us that luxury. It is a diet of "that's never worked before, but what else can we do?"
As TFC tried to get back into the game in the first half, I started to speculate about the quality of Real Madrid's back four. In that part of the field alone, Toronto was encountering talent beyond MLS. Who playing in North America could make that team? When Real Madrid made their triple substitution just past 60 minutes in the second half, you had to chuckle that the subs were Alonso, Robben and Alvaro Negrado. You might see that much talent coming onto the field if you combine every second half substitution made in MLS this month (season?).
I also have my pet theory that Real Madrid is always thinking about Barcelona. It is part of the team culture and recent history (last year's Champions League and La Liga) contributes as well. It is also because Barcelona are touring North America too. So Barcelona scores 4 in Seattle on Thursday I think contributed to Real Madrid scoring 5 in Toronto. I don't think the Toronto goal was part of the plan,

Gabe Gala was not my TFC find of the night, my new find is O'Brian White. If players can change, bloggers can see the light. Earlier this week I was trying to get Mr. White into the next Star Trek movie on his ability to be invisible without anyone needing to say "beam me up."
Well, last night he made me eat my words. Ali Gerba had done little and was running out of gas in the second half. Gerba has shown promise with TFC, he can battle MLS defenders and get to the ball. La Liga defenders? Real Madrid defenders? Then O'Brian White took the field and he was making runs and showing energy like never before. His break and shot forced Dudek to dive and stop it when Gabe Gala scored. Full credit to Gabe Gala for pouncing on the opportunity. I would love to see Gala get some playing time due to his goal, but put him on the field with O'Brian White please or those opportunities are not going to come.

I will post later about my media career.

Scoring Summary:
RMD -- Raul 1 (unassisted) 13
RMD -- Cristiano Ronaldo 1 (Karim Benzema ) 19
RMD -- Raul 2 (Christoph Metzelder 1, Raul Albiol 1) 26
RMD -- Karim Benzema 1 (Alvaro Negrado ) 65
TOR -- Gabe Gala 1 (unassisted) 75
RMD -- Arjen Robben 1 (Karim Benzema ) 86

Friday, August 7, 2009

Been where? Done what? Adventures at Real Madrid's open practice at BMO Thursday night

Well, I survived my first attempt at floating through the media world while retaining my loser/blogger viewpoint. It will take more than accidental access and caviar to prevent me from calling things as I see them. I am joking about the caviar.
Thanks to the wonderful people at, I attended the press conference at BMO Field yesterday. Thanks to my wonderful family, I was able to to cope with the nerves prior to going down to the stadium and going into the media world as the pretender I is. I also saw a little of the open practice, but Thursday night is my coaching night and I had to be back at the field by nine pm, so I was probably leaving BMO by 7:30. I read that time for the whole practice was 20 minutes, so I don't think I missed much.
My biggest moment of the day was when I entered the media room prior to anyone arriving at the podium for the press conference. The place was packed. While waiting outside I had watched an entire bus of Spanish media being delivered to BMO Field. There might have been air conditioning turned on in the media room, but with bright television lights and maybe 100 people in a room designed for 24 it was hot. There was just enough space for me to slide into the room by aiming for the corner just to the left of the door. I reached my goal, carefully turned to face the podium and proceeded to accidentally turn off the lights with my camera backpack. Ok, it was just half of the room lights and the tv lights were not affected, but a fairly suave move nonetheless. I turned the lights back on and was able to smile at those around me who had witnessed my entrance. I was learning to keep quiet, that way nobody knew if you were local or Spanish.
My media tag will be quite the souvenir. It identifies me as being with (go on and read Starting from Scratch to get my thoughts less scrambled on the day). I can just imagine the onslaught of media requests, both local and overseas, that TFC has had to deal with in recent days. I understand that they either lacked the time or information to put much else on the tag. I can assure you that generic01 was not the name chosen for me by my parents.
Other moments that I will cherish I write them down before I forget them

Who are these people? I am waiting outside the stadium because the media room has not opened (which makes sense, you are not going to have the press conference when you are still waiting for Real Madrid to arrive). Those waiting outside the player entrance to BMO hoping to catch a glimpse of Real Madrid are not the fans that you see at the typical TFC game. I salute those of Spanish, Portuguese, Brazilian heritages who look upon the arrival of Real Madrid, Christiano Ronaldo and Kaka as a real treat, unexpected on our shores. I fear that they were outnumbered by gawkers, celebrity seekers and pretty boy fans (err, that is fans of pretty boys). If the mega-stars all looked like Eric Cantona, I bet you would thin this crowd by 75%. Not that there is anything wrong with the way Mr. Cantona looks, just he is not pretty boy by any stretch...

Speaking of Christiano Ronaldo (top pic), he comes into view, walking through the gates with fans on one side and media on the other. He turns away from me. I get a wonderful picture of his slick, styled hair. I am no fan of Christiano Ronaldo and only grudgingly acknowledge his skill level and global status. I am now convinced that he shunned me so that I would be stuck with a picture of his horrible hairstyle.

A TFC employee comes down the hallway outside of the press conference room. There might be 2 minutes left in the press conference. There has been no interaction between the media horde and TFC staff that I have witnessed in the previous 25 minutes. I don't know where this guy has been or is coming from, but he seems angry about something. He starts asking for media credentials from a man I had spotted video taping most of the press conference. He seems to have none or the wrong kind, but has another man vouch for him saying he came off of the Real Madrid media bus. Our angry TFC guy, perhaps because he did not want to look like he was zeroing in on one person, turned to me. I had my media badge and my camera around my neck. He told me that my media badge did not allow me to take pictures. "You're not going to take pictures with that camera, are you?" he said oh so firmly. I agreed and put my camera away. I should have said "Si", but then who knows what complications would ensue. could be a Spanish company, couldn't it ? The conference was just about up, whatever damage I caused by taking pics had been done (perhaps stealing footballer's souls}. I know he had a job to do, but just what was he accomplishing? I was tempted to ask the Spanish folks if there was a phrase such as "closing the barn door after the horse is gone" in their language. Just to demonstrate my solidarity and point out that this guy was off base. I kept my thoughts to myself. Mr. TFC Guy went down the hall and started voicing his complaints to a fellow staffer who had just come out of the press conference. It is important to point out that this incident was the only discouraging words encountered from anyone BMO/TFC affiliated. I truly look forward to getting back there tonight. More tomorrow.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Stumbling towards the slippery slope

Today I face a day of new challenges. Today is a day that I can honestly say I never saw coming. Today just might be beyond my capabilities. Heck, I'm sure to embarrass myself one way or another.
Real Madrid is in town. They will be holding an open practice tonight and playing Toronto FC in a friendly tomorrow. I will attend both events, not as a ticket buyer or a season seat holder, but as a member of the media. For the next few days anything I write about Toronto FC or Real Madrid will be posted on my blog "Starting from Scratch"and I will use this blog to share the story behind those stories.
There are some who read this blog who know me. There are some readers who do not. Unlike some fine bloggers, I do not have a background in journalism. I am an elementary school teacher. I am not young. I saw the Blizzard play. I saw Liam Brady play at Highbury. (I wonder if he is available to play as a winger for TFC for the rest of the season?)
When TFC was formed I decided to give blogging a try. It was all the rage at the time and I have a background in computers (education), so why not ? I did not know that I would stick with it and enjoy it. The blog has become something that seems a natural part of my sports fan experience. I do not look on at as my grab at fame or feel that I offer anything that unique. I pride myself on neither bashing away at the team constantly nor defending the TFC/MLSE status quo blindly. I am happy to be just a voice from the stands.
How did I get here?
In June there was a response to one of my TFC game posts asking if I would be interested in blogging for They are an international blogging conglomerate, Euro based and their existing EPL bloggers seem to have a good attitude. I am honestly flattered that they wanted me blogging and that they are interested in increasing their role in North American soccer and MLS. I answered them that I would give it a try, but I did not want to give up "Mistake by the Lake" for my game reports and any big news. So I suggested that I write a weekly blog on the Toronto FC season for this and they agreed. I have every intention of promoting this new blog and linking my two blogs, but I did spend most of July in England and Ireland and feel that I have needed a bit of time to get back into the swing of things. Also the fact that Toronto's record since my return to Canada has been two ties and two losses has been a negative motivation.
When the opportunity to buy my season tickets for the Real Madrid friendly came up, we declined. My wife wisely pointed out that due to the costs of our England/Ireland summer jaunt, it would be best to let this big event be one summer treat avoided. I later noticed that the friendly was being presented by I emailed to see if they could help me see the game and they have responded with unexpected generosity. By offering to be their blogging correspondent I have become quasi-media.
On to the slippery slope
I know that journalism requires detachment and being a fan of a team requires devotion and more than a healthy level of obsession. I am curious about media and I am thrilled that I will have short term access beyond my dreams, but I will miss sitting in my seats Friday night. I am not good with meeting people, it takes me time to battle my walls of shyness. I am prone to being starstruck and speechless when meeting celebrities, so don't expect in-depth interviews. I am hoping for a combination of "fly on the wall" and "lost in the shuffle". I hope to avoid being so bad that I start to cry, but don't want things to go so well that I am prevented from returning to Section 220 for the next TFC home game versus DC United. So stay tuned for the journey.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Puerto Rico 0 - TFC 0, PR Islanders go on to group stage CONCACAF CL

That was frustrating. That was maddening. I am sweaty and annoyed. I feel that I just spent an hour trying to will the ball into the net. I will write much more tomorrow. For now I can sum it up.


Here goes the much more tomorrow... and I freely admit that much of this is hindsight, but I will feel better when I have let loose.

I have a few questions. They are mainly about tactics and substitutions. Coach Cummins had to know that going into the game in Puerto Rico that goals had to be scored. So why stick with the same tactics that failed in Toronto the week before? TFC was sailing down the wings with Vitti, Wynne, Brennan and second half Chad. When has this worked? Puerto Rico might as well have chosen Toronto's strategy and tactics.
After Chad Barrett was put in Cummin's doghouse after the New England game, why was he the first player off of the Toronto bench?
Sure Guevara was a flop, but he had to be tried. I was not happy to see Sam Cronin come out or if Robinson is going to hang back and link with the defenders, why not take a defender out?

Am I the only fan that thinks that O'Brian White coming on in the last minutes of a game is a substitution that has resulted in nada (he has an uncanny ability to go invisible - makes me think of Star Trek) and should be saved for another year? Give him a start or save him for games where TFC is winning.
Am I the only fan that thinks that Emmanuel Gomez showed enough energy and hustle against Puerto Rico in Toronto that he deserved to be a second half substitution? Even though he is a defender, I say put him in as a forward and hope his height is an asset.
Am I the only fan who is tired of TFC's lack of depth and the below max roster (TFC should have 20 Senior and 4 Developmental, my latest count has them at 21. If the developmental list is full, and I have Frei, Ibrahim, Gomez and Gala on it, that means that they have room for three more players on their Senior list). Add Attakora, Cronin, Sanyang to that list and you have quite a youth movement. Is there a cagey veteran who can play the wing available? Sign him up.

I am not up to date on the salary cap, but if most of the summer an offer was on the table for DeGuzman, gotta be room for some signings.
As for Mo's rule that his designated player must be under 30 and Canadian, let's hope that he came up with that one to lower the asking price that somebody/anybody out there is demanding.
I think that Trout is so right. If this was what TFC had to offer, our bank accounts have been spared the group stage. But mark my words, storm clouds lie ahead. This home and home format that Toronto just faltered at, is exactly what lies ahead in the first round of MLS playoffs should TFC manage to squeak into a spot.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Earning a point in New England - NE 1 TFC 1

First you toss justice out the window. Toronto had a strong game. Ahead at halftime, they had weathered a rocky start and were showing more attack than one expects from them in New England. Then the TFC momentum was derailed when the ref threw out Chad Barrett on his second yellow early in the second half. Sure Barrett had been warned, but Alston of New England had been making something of nothing all game. Coach Cummins slammed Barrett after the game, but I think that may be more due to his policy of not complaining about refs than anything else.
Toronto defended well for the 40 minutes they were short, except for that one NE Rev goal where Heaps to Joseph to Jankauskas paid off in a goal. I thought Frei should have been coming towards the ball rather than leaning to his near post on that one, but hindsight is all I've got. Frei was up to the challenge other than that and the defending was solid. Sanyang subbed for Gerba was an interesting choice, might have been a birthday present. Gomez in for a tiring Brennan was a brilliant move. But give credit to DeRo for the entire 90 minutes. He scored the Toronto goal on TFC's new goal scoring strategy- Chad slams the ball off of Gerba's head and then DeRo puts it in on the volley. I was wondering if Gerba gets the assist or just a headache. DeRo's energy in the second half was a highlight. He kept pressing forward with faint hope counter attacks that had New England off balance.

It is funny how you can be down on the team and then your hopes bounce back with a surprising effort. Perhaps Puerto Rico will be an entertaining game after all.