Saturday, March 26, 2011

Back to the lake, leave out the mistake Toronto 2 Portland 0

  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.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Stevanovic on loan to TFC from Torino Serie B

The loan of young Serbian midfielder Alen Stevanovic, from Torino to Toronto, was confirmed today by Toronto FC. This was a rumour that had hung around for days like a bad cold. He plays the left side and looks mean. The length of the loan was not mentioned, nor was a schedule for how soon we will see him playing for the Reds (Saturday?).

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Vancouver arrives in MLS looking polished, Toronto still a repair job

It is going to be a long year. The rebuild of Toronto FC, the Coach Winter era may have better days ahead, but things look mighty shaky at the start. Today Vancouver Whitecaps opened their first MLS season with a home victory over TFC, 4-2. Dero and Maicon Santos scored the Toronto goals, each a fine effort, but only the Dero goal arrived when the result was still in doubt.

Sure, Toronto allowed four goals and there could be a direct link between Toronto defensive blunders and each Whitecap goal. Let’s see, scapegoats on goals seemed to go…
 1. Gargan loses their striker,
 2. Attakora hangs back instead of challenging their midfielder as he saunters just outside the box,
 3. Gargan gives a gift away,
 4. everybody goes to sleep on that offside trap play.
Yet my beef is with the team formation, the lack of link play, the burden of attack coming from the back wearing out the defenders.

The back five today were all returning from last year’s squad, Frei in net, Gargan, Attakora, Harden and Cann defending. I maintain that Attakora should be playing right back and the physical pounding he took today from the Whitecap striker  Hassli seems to be the price he will always pay when having to bring the ball up from a central position. I know that the Cann and Attakora pairing centrally was the basis of the TFC defending of 2010, but today sure indicates that an upgrade is needed. I am willing to bet that the Cann at left back experiment has ended and next game will see the starting of Yourassowsky in that position.

I remain unconvinced that playing a 4-3-3 formation will work for Toronto. I fear that it would take 10 magicians with the ball, stunning control players, to make it work. Let’s face it, MLS is a hard knock, tough tackling league. 10 magicians? Some would argue that it would be great to have one. I am not a proponent of kick and chase, but today was either a quick loss of possession or a lot of meaningless passing around the back.
We have a midfield smothered, when they have the ball going forward they are too often in isolation. Mr. Peterson meet Mr. Martina, Mr. Dero meet Mr. Soolsma. On my screen these guys were always in their own worlds for most of the first half. In the second half they vanished.  I know that Soolsma was subbed out, but what about the others. I thought Peterson had a few valiant efforts and Nathan Sturgis played a holding role with some skill. Keith Makubuya was the young Canadian who played the wing in place of Soolsma in the second half.  Vancouver was able to shut everyone else down consistently, so it would be unfair to expect something from an 18 year old.
Next Satuday, in the home opener, TFC faces the other expansion team, Portland Timbers. Can Toronto become a team in a week or will the Timbers duplicate the Whitecaps success? 

Friday, March 11, 2011

Nick LaBrocca traded to Chivas USA for Alan Gordon

Alan Gordon - clearly a physical player
Toronto FC made a move today, trading LaBrocca (who TFC obtained in the Marvell Wynne trade last year) for Alan Gordon. Last time Gordon had any contact with TFC it involved a forearm to Adrian Cann's nose in a game last fall.
Toronto has midfielders galore and strikers are scarce, so the trade makes sense in terms of the roster. As for the talent obtained versus the talent departed,  I am not rushing into a verdict. It won't be hard for Gordon to surpass LaBrocca's goal production (1). Somehow I think that further roster moves are coming, so it is hard to figure just how much playing time Gordon will get.
LaBrocca's best TFC moment will always be that goal against Chicago when he sent in a cross from way out and the wind blew it into the net. The weather never seemed to cooperate fully with him after that.
I wish him well, no hurt feelings as a fan, yet he would always be somewhat haunted by the affection we felt for Marvell...

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Toronto beaten by the Battery

Blackbaud Stadium
I love the weight loss doctor ad right next to the piggly wiggly ad

Ugly was the look, ugly is the feeling. We know we are watching a mixed bag of a squad. Players who may be dropped from the team tomorrow are having their last chance to impress. Players who may be fighting for a spot on the reserves are competing against the Charleston Battery (and losing 2-1).
Ugly only works when  you win.
I know that Coach Winter is too wise for us, he is deep thinking and tinkering at this stage. He stated to the Toronto media that he was not happy with playing in the Charleston tournament, felt it was too close to the start of the MLS season. He is also too smart to care about impressing us. If we are faithful enough to watch the tfctv stream and chat with Asif, we are too attached. String together three good performances in April and we will be scrambling back onto the bandwagon.

It was ugly enough to make you wonder just how much more roster juggling lies ahead.