Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Toronto FC starts their Canadian adventure in Edmonton - Edmonton 0 TFC 3

It was a night of firsts. Edmonton's first home game. Toronto FC's first game in Edmonton. The first time in 2011 that I listened to Gerry Dobson (he was ok).

As the night wore on you started to feel sorry for Edmonton. They played an attractive style of football, have mainly Canadian players and did not seem to sag when they went down to ten men midway through the first half.

Toronto started a surprisingly strong 11. Winter named Frei,Williams,Harden, Borman,Tchani,Santos and Gordon- all starters recently. The starters who were more drawn from the bench were Cordon,Plata,Yourassowsky and Eckersley. Even though much of the squad are starting to become familiar to the TFC fan, it is easy to forget they are still mostly players new to each other. There are signs of cohesion breaking through the awkwardness. Toronto started well and had most of the early possesion. Although Edmonton had some attacking quality, they
had sections where they already looked like they were playing with ten men and then it came true- Red Card to Edm and the game shifted for good.
Plata, who had looked a little lost out on the wing, found his way into the middle and fed a ball through to Maicon Santos who scored goal 1.
Maicon Santos almost scored again, heading a ball onto the bar and Gordon tried for the bicycle kick on the rebound and only got a yellow card for his efforts.
The second half began with Dan Gargan coming into the back four, replacing Eckersley. Eckersley looked solid, moved well with the ball in the first half. I expect he will see some playing time with Martina, so I would not be too concerned that Eckersley and Plata played like the strangers that they still are.
The second half was Plata's time to shine.
It did not take long for Plata to play a ball into the box to Alan Gordon, it fell to Cordon who should have buried it, but it fell to Alan Gordon to score the second TFC goal.
Plata showed some dazzling flashes of ball control and pinpoint passing. Maicon Santos looked a little disconnected at times.Amazing that he scored two goals on what was an off night. The second was just a gift from Edmonton's keeper.
Down to ten men and three goals behind, Edmonton just struggled through.
A good result and a solid performance, we will see how rested the team looks in Seattle. Clearly Coach Winter is trying to find the balance in using the squad to get through a busy stretch of the season.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Tiny signs and baby steps - TFC 1 Columbus 1

There were signs of strength and improvement today at BMO Field. Toronto FC had a sturdy first half. Perhaps sturdy is too strong a description, let's say that sturdy is what they are building towards. Dan Gargan got the job done, but he had his moments. It was sturdy compared to the floundering we had witnessed the Saturday before. Columbus Crew looked much less potent than DC had and the Toronto defenders held together. The chances of another striker dancing in front of the supporter corner seemed remote. I had complained about a lack of grit and spine from TFC last week. I was pleased to see a mini scuffle in front of the Columbus bench when the Toronto players felt that Borman had been mistreated.
Funny that it all fell apart once TFC scored. The ref gave a second yellow card to Tchani for celebrating? I missed it myself due to my own celebrating. It seemed a very ticky-tacky call, and it took the wind out of Toronto's sails. Which was a shame because we had been waiting for that wind to blow since the Portland game

I thought that the pairing of DeGuzman and Tchani was showing signs of growth. Defensively it looked that JDG had been given the assignment of covering Columbus striker Gavin and he was effective. Yet the fans will always want more from JDG than good coverage and he provided a moment of offensive touch. The Tchani goal was the result of an accurate pass from DeGuzman. I am still worried that having both Gordon and Santos in the centre of the pitch is a waste of time, but it is great if Tchani and JDG can provide attacking spark until and it is
Dicoy Williams was a starter and he looked solid throughout the afternoon. Good on the ball, strong presence when shadowing their striker, he seems to have won the job in my eyes.
With TFC down to ten men, Winter’s shifting of players followed a pattern of taking out forwards and replacing with reinforcements in a midfield/winger role. (Martina, Gordon and Santos out, Yourasskowsky, Eckersley and Plata in). Other than the brief lapse which lead to the Columbus goal, the defending plan worked.
Today was the fourth home game of April and all Toronto has to show for it is three points. I suppose it could have been worse.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Recipe for Sunday - steamed Saturday night, still steamed the next day Toronto FC 0 DC United 3

I held off writing my blog on Saturday night’s game until Sunday morning. I thought that I needed time to cool off.   I think we can file that idea as yet another strategy that isn’t working regarding Toronto FC and the fans. I knew there were going to be bad nights going into “Season V – the rebuild”, but I think something snapped last night. A fan to team bond is in doubt and danger.

From the beginning of Toronto FC there seemed to be an attitude, quickly forged, that  I saw totally abandoned last night. Players such as Jim Brennan, Danny Dichio and, starting second year, Tyrone Marshall all had a bit of fire in their belly and attitude to spare. Add Adrian Serioux to that list. I am totally ticked that Charlie Davies (the DC United striker #9) was able to taunt and dance right in front of the supporter section after his goal and no Toronto player responded.  This is Charlies’ house now? Gosh and golly, I am convinced that Jim Brennan would have invented some new swear words on the spot, got into the DC United celebration scrum and earned himself a yellow just to make a statement. Toronto lacks statement makers. If you can’t make a statement in front of your own net, where are you going to find the inspiration to make a statement down the other end?

Here’s my statement: Score more goals, prevent more goals and care, really care. Last night was a cold and rainy one and you, the fan dressed for a session on a fishing trawler,  went to the game feeling special. You knew that the casual fans would not be out. You knew you were making a statement, that the red and grey faithful TFC fan will brave the elements and fly the flag. The reward for our dedication was to watch Charlie Davies dance and laugh at us. Something is truly and deeply wrong with that. Davies may turn out to be the top goal scorer in MLS this year, he has that kind of talent, but no opposing player should be that comfortable in Toronto. Ever, ever, ever.

Alen Stevanovic is indicating to me that he has been loaned to Toronto because he is a fragile headcase. Every game he’s in he suffers a terrible injury and hobbles off. Then the next game he starts and is fresh as a daisy. Last night he spent the last 15 (20?) walking around injured on the field. He essentially took Toronto down to 9 players as Harden had been red carded. Coach Winter had already made his 3 substitutions and therefore Stevanovic walked around. Maybe I am bitter and twisted, but I had an angry reaction. I suggested that since he was borderline injured, hurting but still walking, a fellow Toronto player should foul him just to push him in “agony” off the field. I don’t believe he was seriously injured. MLS is a physical league Stevanovic. Show us you are not here for the health care.

I refuse to complain about Jacob Peterson. Sure, he lost Chris Pontius of DC United and was the goat on the first goal. Yet the fact of the matter is that Winter wants a lot of offensive creation and direction from his two backs and Peterson can supply it. He may not be the long term solution at that position, but he deserves another shot at it. I think Winter's triangle midfield makes Peterson the odd man out of the midfield. If Peterson can provide depth and support for forward, midfield and right back positions, you should be happy with versatility.

I have observed over the years youth soccer coaches who have no tactical sense whatsoever and simply pound away at positional play. The result is often a team of pylons, hard to find open space against when you attack them, but easy to thwart when they attack you. I am not happy that Toronto is showing signs of this robotic pylon play. In the first half Borman passed or attempted to pass to Stevanovic, his forward directly ahead of him on the wing, or passed it back to his fellow defenders. You never see a swirl or a shift or much work from the attacking players to get into space to create options for the left back. When Borman had the ball, Santos and Cordon (the two attacking options to the right from Borman’s point of view) did not seem to exist.  Surprise and overlap, you zig and I will zag does not seem to be in our bag of tricks. Heck, what bag of tricks?  Instead we were treated to an entire half of watching the back four pointlessly pass the ball amongst themselves or Stevanovic getting the ball and going nowhere with it.  It was “The Attack of the Pylons” no surprises and easy to contain.
TFC did show some spark and comeback intent once Ty Harden was sent off, but I was just beyond annoyed that energy and urgency arrived an hour too late. Javier Martina supplied his usual high standard of play, but it takes a team.

Questions that burn….(but only because right now, everything burns)

How many changes to the starting 11 will be made for the Columbus game?

When the transfer window opens again in July, how much do want to bet that Toronto will sign both an attacking midfielder and a striker? They might not be both designated players, but attacking down the wings works best when your opposition is terrified of who you are playing down the middle. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Bright signs in the night - TFC 0 LA Galaxy 0

I am one to complain that you can't take the full measure of a game from television coverage. Last Saturday's game in San Jose would be my number 1 example of that. BMO Field was guilty of obscuring a live game, last night was the first night game featuring the new advertising screens alongside the field and someone had better look at the brightness settings. Sometimes thrown ins looked more like vintage U2 videos than soccer games. I have been convinced for months that TFC is going to splash out for a big name to add to the roster, too bad it turned out to be Bono.
It was an entertaining game, both teams were in search of a style and that was a good thing for the home side. LA should be way ahead in the department of knowing each other, although two new strikers (Angel and Barrett) might be the biggest excuse. It was funny to see the post-game reports of Beckham complaining about the ref. Was I the only one that found the LA approach ultra-cynical? They seem to feel that they can drag anyone down, anywhere they choose and then flash the celebrity excuse. Learn to take it in stride guys, sometimes you take the foul and the card to save the greater cause. I did not see a LA player ever raise their hand to the ref/opponent after a foul. You know that universal soccer signal, I fouled for tactical reasons/meant no physical harm? Hell, after Magee blatantly fouled Stevanovic and then Barrett got his best shot at the Toronto net as a result, I was yelling for a Toronto player to be cynical and blatantly foul the Chad. Test the ref I say. LA looked like a team of whiners.
Toronto looked shaky at the start but found some style and looked more and more coherent as the game wore on. I think JDG had one of his better games in a Toronto uniform tonight. The pairing with Tony Tchani seems to be a promising one. Toronto needs a more potent midfielder at the peak of the triangle than Jacob Peterson. Still JDG and Tchani covered a lot of ground and broke up a lot of attacks. Beckham was able to go over them regularly with his passing, but the pair will have more success against a less potent attack.

Beckham was a show all on his own. He runs that team, although he might have stepped up more to that role with Landon Donovan out with an injury.Chad did not score, but he came very close....he is still working hard and I am cheering for him to start scoring. Just not in Toronto.
Toronto's forward trio were interesting. Some fans thought playing Stevanovic down the left in San Jose isolated Martina too much. Stevanovic proved last night that he can ignore Martina from a central position too! He does tend to run himself into positions where he has no support or outlet. Zavarise played well on the left, although his best play was in the first half where he crossed over to Stevanovic's right and was a fed a through ball (that was then dropped back to Martina). The potential seems to be there.

Questions to ponder
Maicon Santos was ill, but I did not hear the reason that Alan Gordon was out. Does he have an injury?

Why is Toronto FC using their International spots for players clearly in a substitute role ? eg Williams and Soolsma.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

San Jose 1 Toronto 1 - improved road performance

I am usually hesitant to comment from a televised match and tonight that hesitation is stronger. The camera locations and angles at Buck Shaw stadium must be the worst in MLS. Tight close-ups and meaningless wide shots, followed by tight, meaningless close-ups.

Toronto tied San Jose Earthquakes on the road and that is reason for cheer. Maybe not as loud a cheer as when DeRo would tear up his old club, but you take road points when you can.

More in the morning, maybe

Questions that linger

Nana Attakora is not playing well, but Winter has substituted him twice in the last two games and that can't be a morale booster. Is Attakora going to respond with positive play or is he headed to the bench?

Peterson at right back, actually seemed to work. Who saw that coming?

Saturday, April 2, 2011

TFC 1 Chivas 1 - the parts are on the floor, did anyone see the instruction manual?

The Hollywood version of today’s game would have had that rag-tag bunch, the guys who had just met, suddenly reach new heights and triumph together. Music rises, credits roll and all that jazz.
Reality at BMO Field was different. TFC looked like a jittery team. They looked like it was the day after something big had happened. It could have been the opposite of the bounce you expect from a team that has just had an unpopular coach fired. It has often been observed that DeRo was a selfish captain, but he was captain nonetheless. Chivas scoring so early just highlighted the confused state TFC seemed to be in. It might have been their only true scoring opportunity of the day. Chivas fired some testing long shots at Frei in the second half, but Frei was up to the test.

You would cover most of the starters and subs if you combined the categories of “new this year” and ‘recovering from injury”. The only players not covered would be Cann, Frei, Harden, Santos and Peterson in the first half. There are moments when it feels that we are watching a sociology experiment, 11 strangers on a green field are introduced to a soccer ball.

Javier Martina continues to provide most of TFC’s offensive excitement. It also seems that opposing defenses are happy to have two players cover him in some situations, notably when Frei has the ball and is looking long.

Both of the new guys acquired in the trade played the full game. Danleigh Borman looked like klutzy trouble in the first half for a while. Passes were sprayed around and his touch seemed unsure. He found a better balance in the second half and a few times he was supplying long balls to the edge of the box or switching the attack by finding Martina out wide.
Tony Tchani looked impressive in the midfield. He is a physical player and covers a lot of ground. If he and JDG can become a smooth partnership, the verdict on the DeRo trade could swing TFC’s way.
Questions that linger

Who can they beat? The Toronto home schedule gets tougher from here on. You could argue that Chivas USA is the cellar dweller of the MLS and Toronto just could not put them away. The next opponents visiting Toronto will be the Galaxy, DC United and Columbus Crew(April), then Houston, Chicago and Philly(May). It will be interesting which, if any, of those teams come into Toronto with worse records than TFC during this stretch.

Is Toronto going to take a break from trades and signings and work with what they have or will the shaking of the roster continue? I have that gut feeling that the trading of DeRo is linked with the acquisition of a designated player, but I guess that such a signing may wait until July. Have you noticed that all of my predictions involve July.

New Feature Still Kicking’s BMO Field intake tally and gourmet review – 1 Nathan’s hotdog and a shared bottle of iced tea. Verdict- tea was fine, I thought that New York style hotdogs should have a bit of “snap” to the weiner. It was ok, but I will be happy to try something else next game.

Friday, April 1, 2011

TFC may have the passionate supporters,

but New York Red Bulls must have a fantastic photoshop guy. Or is DeRo there already??

DeRo departs, traded to New York Red Bulls for three young players

Farewell Captain
There had been online buzz all afternoon of Toronto FC trade of Dwayne DeRosario. Sportsnet had an online post and Fan 590 had it on their 3:20 news (hey, that is just two forms of the same source, isn't it).

Then there were reports that a legal question had arisen and the trade was on hold.
Now it is official.
DeRo was traded for Tony Tchani (midfielder  age 21), Danleigh Borman (defender age 26) and a first round draft pick next winter.

I think I get to say that I saw this coming. I might have been overheard once or twice saying that I expected to see DeRo traded by Canada Day. April Fool's Day was early than I expected, yet you could argue that the wheels of this move either began with a plane ride to Scotland or a cheque-writing goal celebration last year.
There is no surprise that Toronto went for youth in this deal. That has been the trend throughout the short time Winter/Mariner have been at the helm. This is truly their team now. JDG must understand that it is time to play or fade away.

The DeRo years were turbulent. The multi goal win in Montreal will not be forgotten. He worked hard and scored often. That he scored so often when the other team knew that there were few other scoring options on the field wearing red is an indication of how hard he worked. However, in the end he was another Mo move and his attitude was soured forever by the collapse of the Mo era. As a TFC fan and as a Canadian, I feel it is best to wish him luck in New York. He may flourish and have the MLS Cup in his hands sooner this way. We all hope that he has enough gas in the tank to help Canada make it to Brazil. Maybe he benefits emotionally from not having to be the hometown hero anymore. It will be funny if he gets a pay raise.

Tony Tchani
Danleigh Borman