Sunday, May 30, 2010

SJ 1 Toronto FC 3 Toronto now owns Buck Shaw Stadium

pic from Steve Rubio's Online Life
Here we sit on the brink of June and Toronto FC is on the rise. Saturday night's victory, their first win on the road in MLS play this year, puts them into second place in the East. Prior to the Los Angeles game two weeks ago, they were a team still in search of a point from their road games. Now they are undefeated in two places, north of the border and within the state of California. Suddenly my anticipation of the visit to LA to play Chivas (not until October 9th) has gone up a notch or two.

A lot of the elements of this team's play are coming together. Defending, attacking, midfield control and goalkeeping are all ahead of my expectations.  Hell, even coaching is looking good as the tactic of resting DeRo and JDG for the first half which was a bust against Real Salt Lake worked like a charm in San Jose. 
Before you accuse me of drinking the kool-aid, I still have concerns with O'Brien White's contributions up front. Other negatives were the Sanyang giveaways and the Saric low profile in the midfield and the vulnerability of Toronto's left side (Garcia and Labrocca) as San Jose made a rally in the late second half. For that matter the North American contribution to the team far outweighs the International component. The second half line-up had Amadou Sanyang as the sole International player on the field (Saric, Usanov, Hscanovics were on the bench). Perhaps the rumours of a DP signing or two come July are supported by the shape of the roster. Clearly, I have digressed.
My man of the match, although tempting to name either JDG or DeRo as they came on like forces of nature in the second half, would be Dan Gargan. He was patrolling his wing with crunch to his tackles and never seemed to misplay a ball all night. The continued strong play of Attakora and Cann was also notable, but Gargan seemed to be playing with something extra. The cameras at the end of the game showed him talking to folks in the crowd and it was mentioned that he is local to the San Jose area. 
Stephan Frei was his usual spectacular self in the net. The goal against was off of a corner kick, with a Quake player ending up unmarked in front. Other than that split-second Frei was never a cause for worry. 
Chad Barrett was a force up front and scored his goal on pure hustle. I am with Craig Forrest on the broadcast saying that it was a matter of "chasing lost causes".
We know that the Vancouver game this Wednesday will be a chance to play subs, academy players and hot dog vendors. The June MLS schedule has the utmost respect for the South Africa 2010 WC schedule, so TFC is home to KC on June 5th and then home again to LA June 26th. That is their entire schedule for June. 
So that means plenty of time to rest injuries (Harden and Gomez spring to mind) and prepare for the summer schedule.
Second place!!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Toronto 1 New England 0 - Chad, Chad, Chad!

I had to settle for watching the game on tv today. My  role as U14 coach took me to Port Elgin for a 11 am game which made the 1 pm Toronto FC start simply an impossible conflict. This might have been the first time I was 100% in agreement with Mr. Preki. A 7pm start would have suited me perfectly ( and driven the CBC insane)
My right hand man, Trout FC did attend, so I will give preference to the insights of the fan who was there.

-I thought Sanyang played really well, bumping heads with Shalrie Joseph throughout the whole match.  Sure, his passing still isn't good enough, but he really gave Joseph a run for his money.  Joseph didn't really put a mark on the game and I think that's all because of Sangyang.  He's a long way from being JDG, but I think opposition midfielders won't enjoy playing against him.

-Chad Barrett must have a lot of confidence, to try and chip the keeper at speed.  A lot of people down there were moaning and groaning about the miss, I think it shows us a new side of him.  When he puts that one in, we'll all celebrate.  He really drove the team.

-Really, though, the day belonged to the keepers.  Frei and Burpo were excellent.  Glad TFC came out on top.  Frei really seems to be
a) putting his stamp on the team, controlling his defenders and even bossing Garcia around and…
b) is gaining in confidence, just like Barrett.  There's no doubt in my mind he's confident of his own abilities, and is in charge back there.  The thought keeps coming to my mind 'how long will he be here?"

But, the really great thing today was the men's washrooms.  By the way, this would be a higher ranked highlight and butt of more jokes if TFC had lost today.  MLSE, in an effort to get beer drinkers to spend more time in the washroom has installed new mats in all the urinals.  Check out .  Something new and different, and it sure gave me a laugh!  The ball is suspended by a little string or wire, so it moves when you pee on it!  I kept thinking, it's not a goal unless the whole of the ball crosses the line.  Maybe Preki put one of these in Chad Barrett's personal washroom!  How else do you explain the change?
Thanks Trout. 
So the undefeated at home streak continues. We must give credit to TFC for  overcoming the lack of DeRo, JDG and Nana and grabbing a solid win.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

When life bites, age offers no immunity

Yesterday Toronto FC announced the retirement, due to a serious heart problem, of their youngest player Zac Herold. He was Toronto's first draft choice this past January and is 17 years old.
This blog has never been much in the area of medical expertise, so I will skip the name of the condition and  any attempt to explain it. It must be serious when it prevents a young athlete from pursuing a playing career.
It is easy to envy the life of the pro athlete. Money, lifestyle, fame, talent and glory just seem to abound. Then something such as this medical affliction comes along to alter the life of a young athlete and the make-believe aspect of cheering for a team falls to the side.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

LA 0 TFC 0 - a sweet road point both unexpected and promising

Toronto FC played the top team in the MLS, Los Angeles Galaxy, on their Carson, California home turf and came away with a tie. This gave TFC their first point on the road in 2010. 
Chad Barrett and Dwayne DeRosario have to be given a lot of credit for creating plenty of offensive pressure on LA in the first 60 minutes. This was done despite an ultra-defensive midfield of Labrocca, Saric, Sanyang and Cronin.  The threat of Toronto stealing a goal was something that prevented LA from getting off to a powerful start.

LA turned the pressure on for much of the last half hour. Toronto defended with tenacity and some intelligence, backed by solid keeping by Stefan Frei. It was the second game in a row for the back four of Garcia, Cann, Attakora and Usanov and the the defensive consistentcy is starting to show.
Amadou Sanyang, who was guilty of passing the ball away constantly in the first half, was able to play as a central disruptive force.  It was a relief to watch Saric draw LA fouls instead of recklessly throwing himself about. Usanov is still an adventure to watch as he loses his man in dangerous areas far too often.
You have to give points to the veteran Nick Garcia for a solid game at left back. Gabe Gala was the best of the subs, he provided relentless coverage and counter-attack down the left wing. Peterson was less impressive down the right.
Although you might suspect that Landon D. and Edson B. might have had their heads already on the plane to South Africa, Toronto will gladly take the point. Vancouver on Wednesday remains a very big game, but the Los Angeles game sure seems like a turning point for TFC 2010.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Montreal 0 Toronto FC 1

It is hard to get too excited about the game in Montreal. TFC looked efficient and the LaBrocca to Chad Barrett pass that created DeRo's goal was top quality. Yet Montreal remains Montreal. The Impact team must be getting used to meaningless games since they have set-up another one this year against Vancouver in a couple of weeks.
Toronto heads west for the LA game Saturday and then the Vancouver game next Wednesday. Avoiding defeat on the road remains the fan's hope and prayer.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Cheering as a cure for harsh weather - Toronto 4 Chicago Fire 1

The weather down by Lake Ontario today was wild, windy, wet and wintery. It is May and I want to retire the thermal underwear for the summer. That is as far as I can go in the complaint department. The Toronto FC 2010 unbeaten magic at home continued against the Chicago Fire with a 4-1 victory.

 Going into the contest, I was nursing a sneaky fear that Chicago was capable of breaking the perfect TFC home record. The Fire seemed to be the sort of team that one week looked lousy and then the next week could jump up and bite someone. It was great to be wrong. 
The starting line-up had me shaking my head at the midfield selection.  Mr. Preki sent out LaBrocca, Sanyang, deGuzman and Peterson. I commented that it was a tough situation when you are asking 3 out of the 4 midfielders to play their best game in a Toronto uniform just to compete.    I couldn’t decide if it was Sanyang or de Guzman that only had to match their best TFC effort.  It is sad to observe that Jacob Peterson produced little on either wing and was subbed at half time. 

This half-time change was part of Coach Preki’s recovery from his mistake of starting DeRo as striker. Maybe mistake is too harsh; perhaps miscalculation of the weather report would be accurate. DeRo and Chad had spent the first half chasing wind driven forward balls that were bound for Rochester. Having O’Brian White join Chad up front and shifting DeRo to the right wing at the start of the second half was the correct solution.
There was something in Julian de Guzman’s body language at the start of the second half that indicated that Toronto was going to go forward (oh, I don’t know, maybe it was the fact that he ran forward?).
Shortly into that half DeRo played White’s give and go from the wing and O’Brian W scores his first goal of the season, dribbling in DeRo’s cross.  Then Chad Barrett did what he always does…. what on earth am I saying. HE SCORED TWO GOALS. Yes, that Chad Barrett.
Yet Nick LaBrocca tied Chad as the surprise of the day. I am not quite ready to form his fan club, but he was a 90-minute contributor. It may be faint praise, but LaBrocca wins the “Best game in a Toronto uniform” prize. Clearly, scoring a goal in the first half helps, but I suspect that he would have qualified even without the goal (that goal had to be the most wind assisted goal ever scored at BMO Field, although Chicago’s goal would be in the top three). He was not as “pass-happy”, but when he did pass they were accurate and timely. He seemed more comfortable on the ball and was willing to take on defenders. He kept possession and made some runs into space that were promising. He seemed to have his head up more and a better feel for opportunities ahead of him. 
The Toronto back four were up to their usual tricks and that is a good thing. You could say that the Pause goal for Chicago came from so far away that it was more of midfield lapse. Cann and Attakora were strong, Gargan contributed a fine game and Usanov scares everyone from time to time.  Raivis Hscanovics played some late minutes and he and LaBrocca are starting to look like they play on the same team.

After this big victory it is hard to find fault with Mr. Preki. Sure his line-ups always contain a surprise or two (clearly he prefers Sanyang over Cronin), but he recovers. So  onto Montreal this Wednesday on television and then a west coast swing of LA and Vancouver before the next home game. The joy of today’s victory will be sweetened by results on the road, stay tuned.   


Sunday, May 2, 2010

RSL 2 TFC 1 - score flatters, Toronto barely in it

pic by Jeremy Hall 

When Toronto FC hits the road, we fans turn on the tv and plan to grimace our way through the game. Expectations are low and any glimmer of hope is embraced with love. Remember that lead at the half of the New England game? Remember that pass from Chad Barrett to set Sam Cronin free in Colorado? Maybe this time they can look better playing out west at altitude. Maybe this time they can play smart and play tough and grind out a point.  Maybe…

TFC fans learned nothing new Saturday night watching them play in Utah. We had a number of things confirmed, but really nothing new.

Confirmation #1 TFC does not have the midfield ingredients to grit and grind out a road result. I give a small amount of credit to Coach Preki for giving TFC a road warrior look. He rested DeRo and Julian DeGuzman (which I just can’t argue with, TFC still has three Canadian Championship games over the next month and league games every weekend). I would be giving more credit if the strategy had worked.
A midfield of Sanyang, Sarich, Gargan, Labrocca and Nane Joseph has to be designed to mark tightly, clog the passing lanes, tackle with grit and knock RSL off their game. It was a great theory, but in practice it did nothing. Sanyang’s passing giveaways were part of the problem. Joseph’s best moment was in support of Chad up front. Overall this midfield lacks the speed and tenacity to swarm and clog. More importantly, they lack the ball control strategy to play keep away for any stretch of time. So they compete for the ball, sometimes win it and then lose it again. Although I give a little credit to Mr. Preki for giving it a try, remember that 4 of those 5 midfielders have arrived in Toronto during this coach’s short time. I have the gut feeling that if you wanted to play "clog and clutter the opposing team’s attack"  last year’s Robbo, Guevara, Cronin and pull Serioux out of his central defender role and you could do it. I am also realistic enough to remember that they had some woeful performances. Some things never seem to change.

Confirmation #2 TFC does not have the firepower to get back into a game. DeRo’s late pk goal was a small reward for not turning the tv off early. Yet the half time substitutions of DeRo, JDG and OBW on (and Hrsich, Joseph and Sanyang off) did not alter the game at all. Toronto had no sustained attack in either half. They had a struggle keeping possession no matter what their line-up or alignment happened to be. Dwayne DeRosario just might be all Toronto has when holding onto the ball. Chad Barrett works hard and O’Brien White shows a flash of potential from time to time. They are both worthwhile projects, but DeRo needs company. Some things never seem to change.

The good news is that TFC have a week to rest. The bad news is that Chicago Fire may be the team to expose the weaknesses at home in the manner that RSL did on the road. The truly bad news is that so much of the overhaul of 2010 has left TFC with too many "not ready for MLS" players.