In golf terms, Coach Winter and his Toronto FC team were given a mulligan today, a chance to start over again. The opportunity was not wasted. I went down to the game today just a little worried. I am sure I was not alone in fearing that a repeat of the Vancouver result would have made for a Toronto crowd restless and cranky. I also worried that a second loss would thump the team into a crumbling spiral. Maybe the players would be swamped with worries about the direction of the team and their place on it.
It was thrilling to spend the afternoon banishing those negative thoughts. It was a day to sing in the sunshine as TFC defeated Portland Timbers 2-0 in the Toronto home opener.
(Forgive me, there is something so tempting about the team name Timbers, that your choice of adjectives when describing victories or defeats become so juicy/corny that I have decided to take the high road. Now if that high road winds through stumps of trees still smoking from being struck by Red lightning, that would be beyond my control).
Like most of us, it was my first opportunity to see TFC 2011 in person and there was a lot to take in. There was a moment in the second half when Dan Gargan ran over to the sideline to confer with Coach Winter. There might have been some confusion on the far side of the field- perhaps the two substitutes, Zavarise and Stevanovich might have been misaligned or covering the wrong players. Gargan seemed to be just relaying the message, but two thoughts hit me quickly. 1- This team is being coached, and 2- that has been a rare thing in the first four years.
DeRo seems to be a rejuvenated player. He was tracking back to defend right from the start of the game and I think that having another attacking threat (or two, three and four) takes the burden of DeRo. It would be nice if his “one man show” tendency of 2010 were retired for good. I think that the speed, skill and anticipation of Javier Martina were a large factor in putting a spring into DeRo’s step. Scoring two goals in your first game in Toronto, that hasn’t been done before, has it? I recall last year we had too many players that scored only one goal in their first season in Toronto. DeRo carried the play deep and then smartly dropped it back for Martina’s first goal. Frei was the master-mind of Martina’s second goal, sending it long and catching Portland off guard. Martina looked like a genius too, it was a pretty, perfectly timed goal.
What does Winter’s 4-3-3 look like in person? Hard to say, it seems that play is fluid enough that the shape changes based on various threats and opportunities. I still think that the central midfielder has a huge burden in this alignment. He seems to be required to be a defensive midfielder but also have rare passing and dribbling talents. Nathan Sturgis played the role in the first half and I think his growing number of giveaway passes and foiled dribbles lead to a switch at the half. Jacob Peterson had been seen shifting to play a more central defending role late in the first half, as if he were bailing out the troubled Sturgis. I don’t want to be too harsh about Sturgis, he may prove to be a solid player who started his TFC career playing a tough position in a system he was still learning. Peterson handled the role surprisingly well in the second half on his own. I suspect that playing that spot is a temporary role for anyone right now. A healthy JDG (or Bouchiba) takes that place upon their return.
It was also encouraging to see both Zavarise and Stevanovich get some playing time. Stevanovich might be jet lagged and playing amongst strangers, but he looked promising. He tried too hard a few times and was guilty of going to the “cute” move whenever he could. Of course, if one of those moves had worked, he’d be the hero. Zavarise looked comfortable in the midfield, both defensively and on the ball. I am not sure that they will both play on the same side of the field, as they did today, very often. We will see.
So it was great to be back at BMO, saying hello to friends and enjoying an entertaining match. The sky was blue, the toes were frozen and the team looks like it is taking shape. Now the next step is to welcome some actual spring-like weather for future games.
Questions that linger
Did I miss an injury? TFC not playing Nana Attakora today was a surprise. Was he hurt? Did Coach Winter sit him out because allowing 4 goals against Vancouver meant that someone had to head to the bench? Was playing the two big guys in the middle, Harden and Cann, a tactic to counter the threat of large Kenny Cooper? Will Toronto only see Harden and Cann against strong, silent types on the attack and Attakora will regain his place against faster opponents? There does seem to be a shortage of defenders on the roster.
What are those twin weird bad turf ovals in front of each goal?
Just what did Yourasskowsky say or do to earn the second yellow from the ref while walking off the field. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot, it sure seemed that Yourasskowsky had played a strong game and might have won the starting left back spot.
Maybe it was just a bad day at the office, but I did not expect Alan Gordon to have a better touch on the ball or a better view of the options around him than Maicon Santos. If they are both healthy – it looks like Gordon as the starter and Maicon Santos coming off the bench.