Thursday, April 15, 2010
Danny Califf's red card greatest gift for Toronto FC's home opener
What a night.I think that Califf's clunk to DeGuzman's head while being the last man back and in clear sight of the ref was the critical moment, but maybe it was overdue karma. It was great to be back by the lake. It was great to be saying hello to those who know the level of suffering required for supporting TFC. It was wonderful to see the grass field and the new North Stand. It was high time that we put this ragged offseason behind us.
This much was clear tonight, TFC will be a hard team to beat at home this year. Let me rephrase that, they will be hard to beat at home when facing expansion teams that are down to ten men fairly early in the game. TFC might be headed in the right direction.
Tonight was neither the disaster that one feared nor was it any confirmation of progress. The three points will be taken and sighs of relief all around, but the questions continue to pile up.
You have to start with the obvious sports fans, the fact that Nick Garcia was not in the starting lineup had to be the defensive highlight of the game. It was the sign that all had been waiting for, the opening of the door that allowed the TFC fan to look Mr. Preki in the eye and not suspect sabotage.
When I started to blog after the game, I found it hard to think of the game as a whole. It was hard to grasp the team as a unit, there is so much tinkering going on that the players and the combinations are what comes to mind. I am tempted to claim that Mr. Preki is lacking in tactics and grand schemes, but the choppy nature of play has to be part of the process of players still strange to one another rather than a coaching goal.
Some parts of this new team are connecting ahead of others. The back four and Stefan Frei show signs of life. I liked the alignment in the first half (Usanov Attakora Cann Hscanovics) even though they were ones caught napping on the Philly goal late in the first half. I thought that both Hsarivoc and Usanov played well in the first half. If you are critical of both picking up yellow cards, you are clearly not prepared for cheering for a Mr. Preki team. He wants a determined, abrasive squad. (Later edit- I saw the replay on GOL TV and I thought the Usanov yellow was overkill on the ref's part) Cann and Attakora were the central pair all night and I am still of the opinion that Attakora is more of a right back than a central back. Yet Usanov has the potential to own the right side spot, so Attakora in the middle seems ok.
Cann was a pleasant surprise, he was decisive when defending most of the time, used his height well and was able to fit in. He had some shaky moments on the ball. It will be an epic adventure should we ever get to see Cann and Gomez as the central pairing. I suspect that it would be a swashbuckling approach to ball control and would be spectacular. The second half move to drop Usanov and move Gargan back to the right spot was not a positive one. It did not help that Gargan ran into injury difficulties after all the subs had been made. Usanov had looked strong attacking down the right side despite having Gargan as his winger ahead of him. I think that a combination of Usanov and Peterson has greater potential and hope to see it soon.
The forwards are the next best aspect of the new team to the defenders, but it is far from a finished product.The strike force of Chad Barrett and O'Brien White in the second half was an improvement over the all midfielder attack force of the first. There is still the need for a crafty and efficient striker on this team. Did you hear "summer signing" whispered somewhere?
It's the midfield that is still a mess. Nick Labrocca mostly played the left wing in the first half and was more central in the second. He did not shine in either role. Jacob Peterson played the right wing in the second half (following the injury to Sanyang) but did not get forward very often. It is unfair to evaluate a player coming back from injury on an emergency substition, so better days must be ahead for Peterson. In the first half Saric and Sanyang were central midfielders and defensive disruption was their contribution. The second half pairing became Labrocca and JDG and the attack improved, but not by much. When your midfield can't attack down the wings and gets nowhere in the middle, you can't blame the defenders for resorting to long ball tactics, what else is available?
I will save my DeGuzman speech for the Colorado game. I am clearly not expecting much on Sunday when this team plays on short rest, away from home, two time zones west and at high altitude. It might be the perfect scenario for Mr. Preki to show off his preference for gritty disruption, but scrapping to avoid defeat is the best we can expect.