Thursday, November 29, 2012

(If I) cornered Payne at the party.....TFC 101

TFC had a random draw yesterday for season seat holders to award the lucky few entrance to a party this Saturday at Real Sports Bar and Grill (ACC) for the watching of MLS Cup 2012. Almost needless to say, I did not win. Should I squawk about my misfortune? I am always in conflict about these functions. Writing a blog for six years shows that I have a strong interest in the club, the sport and the fans. On the other hand I am wary of anything that leads to the slippery slope of "insider" or "pathetic wanna-be." I am happy to express myself, but I am not so sure about being listened to. This conflict just might be what keeps the blog going....

Perhaps it is for the best. The new club president and general manager, Kevin Payne, may have a clause in his contract that allows him to back out of the job if he is accosted by a crazy man at a party in his first week. Here is what I would tell Mr. K Payne if I were able to monopolize his ear for a minute or two.

1. The location of BMO field is not a location, it is the location in Toronto sports history. It is as close as we get to sacred ground. Argos and Blue Jays were once the big teams in the old Exhibition Stadium. Yes, the Jays and Argos have won championships since moving to their downtown location, but sorry corporate bosses, the Rogers Dome will never get close to sacred. Winning down by the lake in the open air on the CNE grounds may only be 10% of why a TFC fan wants to win, but I argue that it is a significant factor and no other sporting ground in the city (now that Maple Leaf Gardens is no more) has that pull. Of course, I am the man who named his TFC blog "Mistake by the Lake" in honour of the old Exhibition Stadium and the memories that float around in these parts. You might, Mr. Payne, want to spend some time at Downsview, but the story of getting to know this city and this team lies by the lake.

2. We are a sophisticated football crowd with split allegiances built into our growing up with this game. That is why the motto of the club is "All for One". It acknowledges that TFC is interested in bonding together those who are split apart come World Cup or Euro, Champions League and pretty well every weekend when we watch the game on tv. Oh and when we talk about watching the game on tv, we are talking EPL, La Liga, Serie A and the like. We are not watching MLS.
 Therefore we are suspicious of the MLS parity concept. We understand that big clubs in the football club world beyond our shores stay big clubs by selling and buying talent. Sure, developing your own talent at the club would be nice, but we are in a country that qualified only for the 1986 World Cup. We have learned not to hold our breaths on the developing your own talent side of things. We want to be a dominant club and have a hard time believing that it can be reached with three DPs and a host of bargain basement players. The Galaxy have done it that way and we would not turn success away if that pattern was repeated in Toronto. We think that spending money and having an eye for talent is more likely to do the trick.

3. We Torontonians have a second tier complex, we want to be considered a big time city but fear we are second rate somehow. This fear has been part of the story behind the fickle Toronto fan.  For every true fan who will stick through thick and thin, there are 10 (20?30?) fans who are fickle bandwagon jumpers. Toronto does a horrible job of supporting losing teams, teams that are perceived as being minor league and anything that isn't considered a hot property. If somebody tries to tell you that this is a hockey town, just smile and nod. Remember that for every ticket bought for a Maple Leaf game there is an empty seat for a Junior A hockey game or a university game in our part of the province. This is not a hockey town, it is a fickle town and the Toronto Maple Leafs seem to be the only exception to that rule when it comes to selling tickets and getting media attention.
I am not a believer in lumping all of the city's teams together as either a positive or negative indication. Too many fans, or at least those ranting on the TFC fan message boards, get themselves into knots when they lament the direction that TFC is taking. The next thing you know they are throwing out MLSE, Leafs and Raptors as if they are interchangeable items.
I am only interested in TFC. I am only interested in MLSE in terms of their operation of TFC. Mr. Payne if you can be wildly successful, you could own this town.

4. Have fun, learn and laugh, be the boss and aim for great heights. Oh, and invite that blogger Still Kicking (Mark Kennedy in section 220) to more parties.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

End the pain with Payne?

It seems that Toronto FC are on the verge of hiring Kevin Payne of DC United to be their team president. He has stepped down from his role in Washington and official word of his Toronto appointment is expected.
I had commented that the recent town hall meeting raised questions about the front office alignment. If the questions were "who is in charge?" and "who does the firing when things continue to slide?", we may have our answer very soon. Kevin Payne.
On one hand, sir, you will find Torontonians more than a little sceptical that an American is the answer to what ails TFC. On the other hand, you are not Tom Anselmi.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

TFC Town Hall 2012 - just waiting for this ship to sail...

A handful of days have passed by and I am still wrestling with impressions from the TFC town hall meetings this week. I attended one town hall meeting on Monday evening and managed to watch the webcast of the Wednesday evening too.

I strongly appreciate the town hall format and opportunity. I can recall in the first one I attended, I wrapped all of my complaints around one phrase “What makes this a club?” I think that part of the answer would rest in the very fact that TFC has town hall meetings. We fans are not customers in a detached sense or a focus group, but members of a football club.

I think that some of my discomfort with the present state of the team is connected to my perception of the worst aspects of the Toronto sports fan. I do not have enough experience to compare to other places, but I do see Toronto fans as a fickle group. There are too many tourists and not enough fanatics. I have seen this happen over and over again, bandwagon fans that know the fashion far better than the passion. Toronto Argo fans became NFL fans and Blue Jay fans became empty seats.  I could go into the lack of passionate support in the world of basketball and hockey, but I lack the energy to go there.

I thought that Paul Beirne and Earl Cochrane did as well as could be expected considering how lousy the team was this year. I thought that Thomas Rongen of the TFC Academy was the most hopeful of the group. Really, he had better be. If the leader of your academy is saying there is no hope for the years ahead, all is lost.
The task of developing local talent does take us into the shadow cast by the horrible 8-1 loss in Guatemala for Canada recently. At both the club and country level the Canadian Men’s golden generation seems off the horizon (my sources claim they are now playing U12).
Paul Mariner is another matter. I think that he is a coach on thin ice and he does or says very little that makes you want to cheer for him to stay dry. I think he talked at the town hall much in the same manner that he coached this year, as if he had little to do with the team. When things go wrong, they are Aron Winter’s mistakes. When he looks back at the season he put the parade of losses on unfortunate injuries. After the last home game of the season I caught Nigel Reed on the radio sharing his opinion of Paul Mariner. He said that there are coaches who are best suited to be assistants and it is possible that Mariner is in that category.

The fact of the matter is that Tom Anselmi’s promotion to MLSE head honcho means that hiring a president of TFC is a priority. I think I read somewhere that the hiring could be done before the end of the year. It did feel weird at the town hall not having Anselmi there. I think the questions from the floor about the front office structure were a reflection of that absence. The underlying question was “who can fire who around here?” You never had to ponder that question when master plan Tom was on the scene.
It might be logical that a new president would understand that Mariner is the coach, for now. A weak start to 2013 and I am willing to bet the new president, assuming they hire someone worthy, will place himself in the coach role too.

If the world and TFC prospects surprise me and Mariner remains coach of TFC next year, come town hall meeting time, I promise to ask a question that opens with an apology.
In the end town hall is just a way to say welcome to the off-season. Funny, it has felt like off-season for months now.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Back to my Canadian football roots - Guelph Gryphons 42 Queens Gaels 39

Cold, cloudy November weekends remind me of many things long lost in my life.  As a kid and teen, growing up and making sense of the world through my father's values, November was, above all else, the time for Canadian football playoffs. My father arrived in Canada in 1952 and for reasons lost in the mists of time soon became a Toronto Argonauts fan. It was his team and his sport even though he had never played the game as a kid. He cared deeply about his Argos' chances and the culmination of the season was bundling up and heading to the stadium to cheer and survive the lakeside outdoors on a bleak November day.
  I truly wish that November still meant bundling up and heading down to the lake to cheer like thermally insulated fools at Toronto playoff games. Just substitute Toronto FC for Toronto Argos and I am happy. Why my loyalty switched from Canadian football to soccer would be the topic for another blog post. If Toronto FC ever manages to make a habit of qualifying for playoff games I am ever hopeful that our late autumn traditions can be rekindled.
   So it made a lot of November sense for my wife and I to go to the Yates Cup semi-final at Guelph Alumni Stadium, Guelph hosting Queen's Gaels. Our son attends University of Guelph and I have been bugging him for years to take us to a football game. He happily bought the tickets for this one.
Walking to the stadium, on a perfect football weather day, I was wondering why it had taken us so long to do this. Alumni Stadium is in a wonderful location, tucked into a valley at the north end of the campus.
   You can read better sportswriter accounts of the game (here and here and here, for example), but it is hard to capture the emotional side of the game. It was a fairly even match for most of the first half and then Queen's took advantage of some Guelph mistakes and the halftime score was 24-14. The chances of the home team coming back looked slim, but it was a great afternoon to be outside and we were enjoying ourselves.
   The second half began and Queen's seemed unstoppable. With 10 minutes left in the game, Queen's was ahead 36 -14 and Guelph could not do anything right. I admit I thought about leaving, figuring my son could study or rest before  Saturday night dragged him out again. I am sure I was not the only one in the crowed who thought it was hopeless for the home team to win.
Then the tough Gryphon's defence blocked a punt and ran it in for a touchdown. Shortly after the Gryphons qb had an improbable 80 yard run for a touchdown. Guelph ended up having to score a touchdown and a two point conversion in the final seconds to tie the game and they did.
Queen's had to settle for a field goal in their overtime turn with the ball. The first Guelph overtime play was a hand off that went nowhere. Things were looking grim. Then a short pass was completed and even though  two defenders were within reach, the Gryphon burst out and headed to the endzone. Touchdown and the overtime, come from behind win was complete. The people in the stadium went crazy. It felt as if we were part of a Hollywood movie production.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Blah, blah, blah - blah, blah, blah TFC loses

Game on and empty seats outnumber fans on east side.

What a horrible game on display at BMO today.  Yes folks, it's 2012, the season of ever shrinking expectations. If you go to the stadium hoping to see new lows, this is the team and this is the year for you. TFC finds new ways to stink, with allowing a goal in the late going a regular feature.
When I arrived home, I checked the Globe and Mail online to see the latest news. I fully expected to read that Coach Paul Mariner had been fired. Why does he still have the job? What progress has the team made under his guidance? What are they waiting for?

One player (Quincy Amarikwa, Mariner traded for him) plays forward for some of the first half and another player (Andrew Weideman, TFC got him from Dallas in the deGuzman deal) plays the second. What was the point? Maicon Santos had more impact on the game in just a handful of minutes than both of the TFC players combined. The former player coming back to haunt you is a returning theme in the TFC nightmare. Playing young guys in attacking roles, just because, is going back to TFC roots. Hello Andrea Lombardo....
DC United seemed to be playing with the strategy that the slightest amount of effort would bring them a victory. They hardly looked like a strong team, but TFC always had them beat in chaos. To describe Toronto as lacking finish around the net would be akin to describing the moon as lacking oxygen.
Could you imagine going out two or three times a month to a restaurant that cooks food the way that TFC plays soccer? Would you continue to dine there year after year?

I remember when Winter, DeKlerk and Mariner were introduced as the new management “team”. It was all about the future, TFC was going to build an academy and young talent was going to flourish. The Ajax system was going to be transferred to Ontario. TFC would find young, local talent and teach them the right way, the dutch way.  I have seen the future and it is not Ajax style, it is guys named Amarikwa, Weideman and Maund.
Although not quite to two years yet, but getting close, what academy products have reached the big time under Mariner? None. In fact we are seeing less of Morgan, Henry and Stinson as time goes on.
I honestly can’t wait to see the jist of the season ticket renewal campaign. How about “Come back, you'll look great surrounded by empty red seats” or “TFC, to get away from it all" or "TFC 2013, this time getting the rebuild right" or "TFC fans, what are you still doing here?".......groan....

Saturday, September 29, 2012

MLS loss #19 - NYRB 4 TFC 1

I have never taken a two-month break from the blog before.  I can’t say I am happy to be back. I thought I could make the effort to blog about these dwindling games in this sunk season. This has easily been the worst season in the short and far from glorious TFC history. I have never felt this annoyed, this pessimistic about the team. They are awful. They stink.  Only a handful of players are likely to be back next year. I will not shed a tear.

TFC were defeated by the New York Red Bulls in New York (well, New Jersey) tonight.  The final score was 4-1. Toronto surprised all by taking an early lead. Ryan Johnson scored a fantastic goal off of a sizzling kick from distance. The game was all downhill from there in Toronto terms. Going downhill seems to the theme for the year.

 Why do the horrible tv camera angles at Red Bull Arena remind me of Giants Stadium? Crappy long shots destroy the game as a television show. I had watched Everton v Southampton earlier in the day and the contrast between the games was painful.

More to come…..

Thursday, August 16, 2012

No cure for the summertime blues - TFC 2 Timbers 2

I have been away. I am back.
Summer travel is one of the true joys of life and I am blessed to have a partner who feels the same way as I do. When you go on the right travel adventure, time seems to almost wait for you and you learn to go with the flow of life beyond your workday routine. I would rather be back travelling than struggling with life in Toronto. Unfortunately, figuring out the condition of TFC is far more struggle than flow of life right now.
The game against Portland only increased my concerns, the prospects for two more months of TFC 2012 seem bleak. Spending time down by the lake just before the opening of the CNE might have been a worthwhile outing for the fifteen minutes in the second half where TFC seemed to come alive. That stretch also makes the dull, plodding nature of most of the game look even worse. The arrival of the new central defender Darren O'Dea might change my mind and give TFC some spine and direction. I realize that is putting a lot of pressure on one player.
This has been a very flat season. Looking back at the Winter era, it is easy to say that he painted himself (and therefore the team) into this dull corner. I thought that the early games under Paul Mariner had the players displaying greater energy. Last night that energy seems to be gone. Perhaps the full reality of their place in the standings has hit home.  After all, who was Toronto missing from the roster vs Portland? Ryan Johnson has made a full athletic contribution, but I don't think he has clicked as TFC striker. Doneil Henry is not an established starter,  Dicoy Williams has not had a post-injury place on the team.Terry Dunfield might have a bigger impact on the midfield than we realized as we watched Aaron Maund last night. That was a lightweight performance from Maund. Perhaps his holding role was designed to free up Torsten Frings, but Maund just seemed content to jog around and observe. When Toronto took the lead it would have been the perfect time for a performance of crunch and disruption from Maund.  Dunfield can go play for Canada without worrying about Maund taking his place on the TFC field.
Adrian Cann was an adequate central defender against the Timbers, but I thought something was missing. He did not seem like a guy making the most of a playing opportunity after a stretch on the bench. He seemed more a guy playing out his days and expecting a change of scenery. It is not a stretch to speculate that last night might have been our last opportunity to see him play in Toronto.
There also seems to be a smile on the face of TFC supporters that seems unconnected to play on the field. TFC had just struggled against an awful team, Portland is having a terrible season. Strolling away from the stadium you could see folks were happy. I know, it is mid-August. The CNE opens in days. Plenty of dark, gloomy, rainy days ahead to feel lousy in. Yet I also feel too much acceptance of mediocrity and failure in the air. No guts, no glory. Going to a TFC game should not be a day at the beach. I spotted a few shirts that caught my eye. "This is our house" was written on one. That is a slogan that does not apply any more. Another fan had a Brennan shirt on. I know he is a coach, but somehow the fire he displayed as a player is missing. Somebody had better grab a torch and light the flame again. Come on O'Dea. Come on somebody.....
TFC flat, field slanted

Friday, July 13, 2012

Greatest trade in TFC history - JDG to Dallas

My birthday present....

Here is what I wrote on facebook,

Not at all sorry to see him go, other than taking up a roster spot, a DP spot and demonstrating no impact in attack or defending, and managing to survive (or contribute to) how many front office shake-ups, the JDG with TFC era is finally, finally over! I will wish for him equal to the entertainment and skills he displayed for us at BMO....

Dallas is sending Andrew Wiederman to Toronto. Talk about arriving in town with low expectations, I would have been thrilled if they had traded JDG for a bag of balls.
But, oh the memories...... rare shots that seemed like attempts to reach Lake Ontario, needless, pointless yellow cards because JDG had been caught out and was flying in late, jumping out of the wall to allow a Colorado goal in Colorado, getting pushed around, sitting on the bench...
Will TFC fill the DP spot? Will these recent moves (Plata loan, Soolsma dropped, JDG traded) mean new faces in TFC red and grey?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

A new wrinkle by the lake, a comeback TFC 3 Whitecaps 2

Due to a wonderful weekend travelling to Massachusetts, I was spared the bother of watching TFC stumble against Philly 3-0. So I may have had a more optimistic mindset than many at BMO Field tonight.  It seemed subdued before the game, the crowd had a lack of energy and little anticipation. It seems that shifting TFC from the team that always loses to the team that most of the time ties has yet to set the city ablaze...
So a clunky first half went plodding by. JDG gets a so-so shot on net and some easily impressed fans actually applaud. I attribute it to the shock. Frings shoots wide (although he might have been trying to get the ball into Koeverman's path for redirection) and a small ripple of appreciation is detected. Then Ryan Johnson does everything but score and you start thinking that perhaps there is a curse (or as a wise observer stated nearby, Johnson has been playing 90 minutes a game all year and has two goals to show for it, not exactly an efficient strike rate).
The goals began to flow in the second half. Frings scored off of a blazing shot, a little tarnished by the fact that Whitecaps' Young Pyo Lee was off the field having his arm bandaged during the TFC attack. I don't think either side was fully aware of it at the time.
Maybe I am too red to be a fair judge, but I thought that both Vancouver goals were dodgy. The first was due to inept TFC defending in their own goal mouth, the second sure seemed to be based on the Vancouver forward hitting his knees into the back of the TFC defender (Logan Emory's) head to knock him down and aid him with getting to the ball.
I think that it was classless that upon scoring the tying goal a couple of the Whitecaps ran over to the TFC supporters' corner and celebrated. I was cheering on the beer chuckers. I just don't understand how in a game where taking off your shirt in celebration means a yellow, why such provocation is not punished.
I guess it was punished on the scoreboard. Dunfield puts the Frings corner kick into the back of the net in the final seconds of the game and we leave the place smiling. TFC faces New England in Massachusetts this Saturday. If something is brewing with the Reds it will be a great chance to redeem the team after the last minute goal for the tie when the Revolution where at BMO.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Can we play them every week? MTL 0 TFC 3

Incredible, unexpected, overdue and overwhelming, Toronto filled the net in the second half in Montreal. They put three past Donovan Ricketts and looked like they owned the place. The Montreal fans sure hated the Toronto treatment. Make that the "incredibly rare in 2012 Toronto treatment".
Although it has taken until the brink of July to see the kind of style and determination that TFC showed us back in March with the two games against LA in the CONCACAF CL, I suppose it is better late than never. Is this progress? Is this a tougher team that has learned from recent games where wins were lost? If TFC continues to rise and thrive, do we credit new manager Paul Mariner or were things set in motion by departed Winter?
Nick Soolsma added the touch of redemption that I was hoping for on Saturday from Luis Silva. Soolsma was solid, never flashy but always finding ways to connect.
Torsten Frings sparked the game, the first goal of the game was also his first scored for Toronto. Whatever was slowing him down on Saturday did not seem evident on my television screen tonight.
Now New York...
Shocked Montreal fans burn down their town.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

TFC continues to lose ties - TFC 1 New England 1

The aircraft carrying the defending skills for the second half arriving two hours late

Today was the first TFC home game with the new manager in charge.  Paul Mariner was probably hoping, as most of us were hoping, that he could bring to the home field all the energy of the first half the other night in Houston without the collapse at the end of the second half. No such luck.
I am such a fool. Take the same the players who were not good enough for the departed Winter and tweak the formation, what do you get? We saw it today,  a slightly tweaked version of the same old guys. It was great to see two quality goals in the first half, but cheering for Toronto in the second half was akin to cheering all evening for the sun not to go down.

Just some scattered observations.

Credit goes to Milos Kocic  for earning the point today, he made some top drawer saves.
Long before he was taken off, something did not look right about Torsten Frings.

How can you play the possession game when you have deGuzman on the field? In the second half he seemed to be giving the ball away every chance he had.

Ryan Johnson made a full effort in both halves. Danny Koevermans was quality in the first half and invisible in the second.

Doneil Henry looked ragged in the late going. Putting Logan Emory into the central defending role seemed to make little difference .

I thought that putting Luis Silva on in the second half was a gamble that was going to pay off in a big way. Here is a young player who has had his Houston mugshot splashed all over the media this week. Clearly there are no serious consequences as he is in uniform. Maybe I wanted the Hollywood factor to kick in, but he was a step down from Eric Avila. Silva seemed to lack anticipation.
Just how did New England manage to dominate the last 20 minutes of the game? 

I dread the midweek road game in Montreal. I will watch it, but I dread it.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Toronto shows fight and firepower Houston 3 TFC 3

The early June dawn broke and it was easy to start the day with a touch of heartbreak. No, not the heartbreak from looking at old photos. The Euro 2012 feast of two “top level” international games a day ended yesterday and what do we have to tide us over until the quarterfinals start tomorrow? TFC, with nightclub fights and arrests still in the air, visit Houston. Heartbreak starts the day and then a sense of dread starts to creep in. My sense of “All for One” came into this game all but done.
 Could you get away with saying that Paul Mariner’s TFC made their full debut tonight in Houston?  Three goals in the first half and only one defensive lapse describes the Toronto first half. Who are these guys? Danny Koevermans was regaining his star status with timely runs and excellent finish. Avila was active and intelligent with the ball. Even JDG contributed a pinpoint cross to create the third goal.
 The second half had less offensive fireworks, which is to be expected from Toronto guarding a two goal lead. Once Houston scored their second goal the tension returned and you had to wonder if TFC would return to their horrible road form. The TFC heart, the fighting spirit and the willingness to sacrifice was thrilling until Houston scored in the 90th minute. Then Toronto was on the ropes. 5 minutes of injury time seemed to be cruel and unusual at that point.
 There has been much speculation, inspired by scandal, with the arrest and suspension pending investigation of the TFC 3 (Aceval, Soolsma and Silva). I think that if a TFC fan is outraged they are  either reacting to a negative story in a negative season or they lead a very sheltered life.
If the story that TFC allowed young Silva to stay with the team rather than attend a family funeral turns out to be true, that would be the poorest decision (TFC management’s that is) made in the whole affair. 
 So it ended with a touch of heartbreak, but bring on the Saturday home game I say.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The losses continue to mount KC 2 TFC 0

What a mess. TFC played for a new coach tonight , Paul Mariner’s debut, but the same old team wore the shirt.  A different formation as TFC returned to the traditional 4-4-2, but the players seemed keen on demonstrating that they can be beaten in any formation. The first half was hard to watch.
KC’s first goal was a case of horrible Toronto defending.  The cross from the KC left wing eluded at least two Reds and fell to an open target in front.
The second goal was a volley from as the KC defender was able saunter onto a corner kick at the far post.
The Avila shot that managed to hit both posts just might be the TFC moment of 2012.

The second half gave us a TFC with better shape, greater grit and fire, but no goal scoring ability.
If the coaching change was intended to give TFC a new direction,  a fresh start so that an element of optimism can be found before ticket renewal time is upon us, nothing new seemed on offer in Kansas City tonight.
 Paul Mariner in the post game interview on GOL TV deserves credit for not kicking his own team when they were down. However he may have been too proud and too pleased with a team that looks a long way from a road victory in 2012.

More fun ahead....

Thursday, June 7, 2012

End of Winter on the 7th of June

TFC's sixth coach fired today
The Globe and Mail website caught my attention as I did my lunchtime headline scan, TFC fires Aron Winter. Not a huge surprise. A little sad that another attempt to set a direction for this club has faltered, but we knew that months ago now. What hope can a fan grab from a coaching change at this point?  A winning streak of historic proportions would eventually get us to .500.
Player changes and formation changes will be the next steps. All to be done on the quiet as everyone turns their attention to the Euro.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Victory at last, but skies stay stormy TFC 1 Philly Union 0

I wonder if when you have fallen into a hole that the first stage of your rescue just reminds you how far down you are or can the euphoria of moving up be enough to forget the depths? TFC is still down, close to the bottom of a hole, but Saturday saw the first sign of rescue. The rope up may be in their hands, yet doubts remain about the strength of the rescued, the strategy of the rescuers and the quality of the rope.

It was great to see Toronto score. I celebrated the victory and felt the sigh of relief flow from the crowd. Still, I am left thinking what a mess. TFC managed to score one goal against a team that had little going for it. Philly had a screaming shot hit the crossbar in the second half that would have turned the game had it gone in. Philly was playing their third string goalkeeper, Chris Konopka, thanks to a rash of injuries. He almost held them off as Toronto scored in the 88th minute.  The June schedule ahead offers an international break followed by away games at KC, Houston and Montreal, home games against New England and New York. Based on this struggle against Philadelphia Union, I don’t see many points in June. Away to Montreal and home to New England will be the best chances. TFC ends May with three points in the standings. It is sad to speculate where they will be a month from now.

What else has changed? TFC still has a plan of attack that results in Plata with the ball at his feet, wide with no passing options and a wall of defenders to beat. In the first half we saw it over and over and over again. I might spend all of the Winter years squawking about the 4-3-3, but Plata solo is not producing much beyond pain. It seems that with young Plata, less would be more. I think he needs to be used as a late game substitute more often. I suspect that the scouting report for most MLS teams tells them to wear Plata down physically, his getting knocked around seems to be the defensive scheme used on the Ecuadorian winger team after team.
Frings was solid, but I thought he tired in the second half. Is it possible that he is struggling with his shoulder? In the late going he went forward. It looks ugly when TFC hammers at the door. A better opponent would have exploited the space left open.
Silva’s play in the midfield was of little note. Perhaps it is the defensive nature of his midfield partners or the spread formation of his forward options, but when he has the ball he seems to lack an awareness of where his teammates are.
The best thing to say about deGuzman was that he smothered Freddy Adu for Philly. Oh how sad.  This is what Toronto gets for the 5th highest paid player in MLS. JdG’s ability to have potential shots on target turn into weather balloons has been a steady part of his TFC career.
Eckersley provided a spark and he worked well with Jeremy Hall playing midfield ahead of him. Cann and Henry continue to work as a central pairing, although they seemed to have a game where there was little pressure on them when they had the ball. Was this a shift in TFC tactics or a Philly mistake?

Weeks will go by before the next game at BMO (June 23). I somehow doubt we will see the same roster then.  I know it will take some fancy footwork on a team with three DPs, but the transfer window nears. I am still thinking that Ryan Johnson may be trade bait. He has worked hard and had some bad luck around the net.  We shall see.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

TFC Canadian Champs - getting something right

Despite all the disasters in MLS play in 2012, it was pleasing to see TFC win another Canadian Championship tonight at BMO. Puzzling and pleasing, they seem to follow a game plan and defend their own end better in the Canadian games. The Toronto performance was efficient and their scoring was really taking advantage of Vancouver having to push forward to seek the important goal.
The game had a chippy element to it all night and this boiled over in one stretch that saw a red card for each team. I saw LeToux go in after someone with his foot. I did see deGuz pursuing the ref and surrounded by Whitecaps. Just not sure if he threw an elbow or was set-up by a falling wave.
Too tired, long day, can another victory be possible come Saturday?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Whitecaps 1 TFC 1

Just a few points....
What on earth was a  wide-open Hassli doing in front of the net in injury time? He could have ordered a beer and had a tattoo in the time it took the ball to get to him. Sure it was a well taken volley, power and precision all the way. Yet someone should have been in his way.

Johnson's goal for Toronto was a powerful one too. A nice set-up on the TFC goal from deGuzman. I seldom send any praise his way, but JDG was on his game in Vancouver. Toronto played well all night, not negative in their tactics. Too bad they lost the Whitecap they should have been smothering in the final minutes.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

TFC changes course TFC 2 Impacted 0

TFC showed up last night. I am not going to say it was "Hollywood" to have the team turn around just in time to dominate Montreal. I would have liked this team to have shown itself during the second half down in Mexico and throughout the eight lost MLS games in 2012, but you embrace turnarounds even if they are incredibly overdue.
Even before the first goal TFC played differently when attacking. Smaller intricate passing, many more options for the man with the ball as players worked themselves into great anticipatory positions. Perhaps it was a bit of the Clockwork Orange dutch football or it was a combo of effort and a breakthrough in understanding. I think the central pairing of Cann and Henry worked well. The sending off of Eckersley was a puzzle from my opposite corner of the field. I thought he was trying to pull away from a low rugby tackle. That he was walking away while Montreal had been called on the original foul had us guessing that he had said something? The biggest indication that things had changed was the way that TFC went forward in search of the second goal in that first half.
Who knew that Reggie Lambe is such an excellent right back? He must have held the fort back there for close to an hour..
Plata and Johnson worked well together. Johnson scoring the second goal must have felt like vindication of his complaining of late against defensive tactics. Then, of course playing with ten men, the entire second half became an exercise in defensive tactics. Frings, Dunfield and even DeGuzman were always pressuring, in position and shutting down their midfield. Sad that Winter seems to only have a proper midfield after a player has been sent off. Last night gave me some midfield hopes for the future.
I am always pleased to see DeKlerk losing his cool, it is a smart tactic to both squawk at bad calls and have the second in command in danger of being sent off the bench. He wasn't going to make the big decisions anyway and you can always skype him in his office. 21st century coaching.
I was surprised that no cards were issued from the scuffle just before the half. The ref was too often buying whatever Montreal was selling. It was pathetic late in the game to see the huge Montreal keeper Ricketts act like he had been clobbered from minimal contact.
Now a week and a half before the visit to DC United and here's hoping that last night's performance was a taste of things to come and not a rare celestial event.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

TFC 2 Fire 3, not resigned, never abandoning the team, but pissed and steamed...

April is the cruelest month and after today’s game I am developing a scary theory around season 2012.  Every month will be April.
   Is it a Toronto thing to build all their hopes around a savior or is it a Judeo-Christian thing? Go ahead and discuss that for your thesis, you university types. Don’t forget to cite me for both background and inspiration. It might be all the inspiration you are going to find in the TFC world today.
   Now, wasn’t the theme of the week that all would be fine because Torsten was coming back? TFC would be a different team with the captain back. It was a classic TFC moment as seconds after Mr. Frings had first touched the ball, Chicago scored. I am not picking on Torsten Frings, mistakes can happen by the lake. However this is not a team just waiting for a magic ingredient. This is a mess.
   Chicago did not play the role that TFC seemed to desire from them. Chicago Fire being the team that TFC had their first goal and first victory against seemed to be the other theme. The Fire made the most of their chances and then played shutdown soccer when they needed to. 
   I give TFC some credit for fighting back into the game. I can’t be the only one who had a great view from the west stand as Lambe’s first goal was a curving rocket to the top corner.  My pet theory, that when the goal drought ended it would end in a flood of goals, had it’s tiny moment when Lambe scored his second goal. Then it was back to the frustration.
My theme of frustration remains the midfield. It seems like a revolving door out there and Winter is throwing out midfielders until something works. Today's candidates were Dunfield, Stinson, Avila, Silva, Burgos Jr. Santorum, Gingrich and Romney. Thanks to vigilant security and a supremely athletic ball retrieving squad, Rohan Ricketts was kept off the field.
Late in the game when Chicago had all their players back to protect their lead, Frings returned to the midfield and the middle of TFC’s attack looked cohesive for the first time in a long while. The wise men of 220 are saying end this Frings as a central defender strategy, wasn't this an emergency move when Cann was hurt last year?
  Let’s cut the crap, I am throwing this on Coach Winter. Three times TFC faltered today, in the first minute of the game, once they had the lead and at the beginning of the second half when Chicago took the lead again. Although I am not a fan of Winter’s formation and will quibble with his player selections, his is a team that knows how to choke better than anything else right now. Winter seems to combine an inability to inspire with an inability to limit the damage. Allow a goal in the first minute is cruel, but you have time to recover. Rally, recover, rise above your foe, rouse your fans; these are the things that TFC lacks. Heart and spirit in other words. This AIN’T our house…..

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Hoping for Clockwork Orange, getting Agent Orange TFC 0 Chivas 1

If season 2012 were a movie, right now it would be firmly in the horror genre. TFC continues to stick to the same script for all their home games. It takes only a quick shot or a lucky break for the road team when the home team never scores. San Jose thumped TFC, and now Chivas took the Columbus route, scoring that minimum goal to take the three points. Now all we need is to add a soundtrack of eye-popping screams and we can break out the popcorn.
You know the sad totals.  TFC have not won a game nor gained a point.  They have not yet scored a goal in Toronto in MLS league play this year. A home record of three losses and a goal differential of -5 is the result. 
 I keep on expecting the team to suddenly burst through and fill the net someday. The trouble is that someday may be in October. To my eye there is not a lack of individual talent or effort, but a lack of cohesion. The players often play like strangers, heck make that always play like strangers. Then when the anticipations and the small passes to set others up fall apart, too many decide to become solo attacking monsters. No decoy runs, no drop back passes or overlaps. Just try to bull into scoring space and hope for the best.

I think Toronto is just too easy to counter-attack. I know, I know, I hate the 4-3-3. Yet, just when do I get to see it? Ryan Johnson charges ahead so often into the striker role TFC always seems to be missing a midfielder or a winger. There are acres of space between Toronto’s back four and their front four. It just takes a bit of anticipation for the opposition to exploit that space and we fans hold our breath for the inevitable strained defender’s breakdown. Dunfield and Silva were forced to cover too much ground in defensive mode. When Silva went forward in the first half I was always looking behind him to see how the defenders were going to fill in the acreage.

Should the return of Frings next Saturday against Chicago change the direction of season 2012, I will be the first to dance around while sighing that huge sigh of relief. Yet I think that the problems are deeper than that. Frings might have TFC looking better in the next game, but they will be a team in huge need of road victories. That is a tough task for a team yet to provide home victories.

DeGuzman was on the bench and stayed there.
The ref called a good game. The yellow for simulation for the Chivas winger who had moved in behind the TFC defender was a wonderful moment.
TFC had a handful of scoring chances in the second half that had you believing that invisible forces would keep the ball out. 
Henry was a second half sub and looked good in the air. I think that Aceval has a place on this team, if Cann and Henry can be the regular central pairing, could Aceval move up into the midfield??

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

TFC crushed in Mexico 6-2

I will use some strength tonight to write softly. I look for the positives and find a few on a night where we TFC fans had a faint hope lifted high in the first half, then crushed in the second.
So positives...
Plata's two goals were both superb. It was a wonderful sign to see him scoring. May he transfer that fire, speed and skill to the MLS.
The refs were fair, they were not the negative factor that I feared.
Soolsma is continuing to show confidence and skill on the ball and be a factor for this team.

TFC next plays Saturday in Montreal. Considering that we are still inside the first month of the 2012 season, there have been a huge amount of big games. No denying that the game in Montreal is a big one.
Keep cheering.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Winning involves putting ball into the net - Toronto not ready for that step. TFC 0 Crew 1

Those hopes that the gritty effort against Santos Laguna and the feisty finish Wednesday night would carry over to the next game, were under attack by half time today against Columbus. At first they looked like an energized unit, by the end of the game we were watching a demonstration of hit and hope. After the Crew scored on a swift 2nd half counter-attack,  TFC fans were relegated to crossing fingers for a lucky bounce for a tying goal. No such luck. Perhaps it should be phrased, no such skill, no such luck.

I suppose some progress was made today (insert eye roll here). TFC did not allow 3 goals for the first time in MLS play in 2012. The season has begun with three losses, seven goals against and one goal for = goal difference -6. This is pathetic progress. Until Toronto can start scoring at home on a regular basis, this is going to be a season of doom and gloom.

Bright spots
Top marks for the solid play of Logan Emory (unfortunate that his clearance did not clear on the Columbus goal, otherwise he would have been a star today). Keeper Kocic for the penalty save, Johnson and Plata for a consistent effort (although it seemed at the game wore on that the solo effort increased and the team awareness decreased).

Dull Spots
 The same old problems were on display at the attacking end, TFC players have had years of behaving that scoring is always someone else’s job description. This prevailing attitude actually increases the closer a TFC player gets to be in position to score himself.

The formation – when will Winter learn? He pulls back JDG into the Torsten Frings role protecting the back four, but keeps his three forwards spread across the width of the field like lonely sentinels in the night. This gives TFC a midfield of two. As the day wore on, Silva and Avila were brought on to little success.

I think most TFC fans are wishing the team the best in Mexico, but we send our wishes and prayers. It is not a situation where you would bet the rent money. So fingers crossed and scarves aloft….and if TFC scores I will be shocked.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Score tied, but victory in the heart TFC 1 SL 1

TFC vs Santos Laguna – Champions League semi final – first leg

Stunning. Wednesday night was a stunner. It dragged me back to caring about this team and thinking that they have great things in their future. On a night when I least expected it, a ripple of pride was in the air.

This was the quality we were expecting on Saturday, the home opener.  TFC displayed the guts, the spine, the teamwork, the attitude, the piss and vinegar.  Why does it come and go for this team? Do they just save it for the Champions League?
 I like the way that late in the game when TFC were sizing them up, with a man advantage, they were also very aware of the counter attack.  The way that Ty Harden annoyed their striker, the way that Plata tracked back to defend.  I think that’s actually what lead to the attack on Morgan in the final minute. It is funny but although I was in the best spot to see what happened, section 120, I missed it as I followed the ball out.   
The less I say about Santos Laguna, the better. They showed their quality on their only goal.  They found a seam to exploit with a quick finish.  However, the diving, the prolonged time on the ground after every challenge, yet no mercy shown the other way with menacing tackles at Johnson and Eckersley and then the attack and scuffle at the end of the game all add up to a bad taste in my mouth. I actually came away from the stadium thinking that Toronto should play their deepest reserves in the return match just to protect our starters from a Mexican night of cheap shots and injury risk. 

It was odd when you thought about the individual performances since almost all of TFC’s players have had much better games. It was a night where the team was the key thing. A handful of scoring chances were squandered. Kouvermans is not firing on all cylinders yet, Reggie Lambe was sparking good attack down the wings, but also responsible for some horrible corner kicks. DeGuzman and Dunfield were on the same page- excellent passing and defensive awareness. I thought DeGuzman played a quality game. Johnson was hard working and brave in the face of very physical tackles. Aceval played smart. He is not  a slow and pondering defender, but akin to the missing Frings, he is the older player who uses his knowledge to make the right play and position himself wisely. As he learns the players and teams in MLS I think he will improve. I am hoping that he was taken out as an injury precaution. His goal was an extra, added bonus. Kocic made some second half saves that held Toronto firmly in the game

Now it is onto Saturday. I would rather see the team continue this spirit and team play against Columbus. TFC needs to make MLS play the priority. Build on the foundation I say, build!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Offensive opener or just what are training camps for? TFC 0 San Jose 3

Help! Help this team, they are in trouble deep and we are only two games into the season. Two losses would normally be something that you could imagine recovering from, but there was a serious sensation of sinking at BMO Field today. There were moments of hope, but there were too many ten minute stretches when they did not look like the home team. Glug, glug, glug.

Perhaps it is a cruel situation that Toronto’s recent success in the Champions League raised expectations for how their MLS season would start. On the road against Seattle was always going to be a tough match, but to suffer the same fate, a 3-0 thumping at home? I did not expect San Jose to look this good or Toronto this bad. I think we fans got what we did not want today. A confirmation of how much Frings means to this team and how little DeGuzman matters. His ineffective play continues to be an astounding story. He seems not capable of creating space for himself when on the ball, his passing is poor and his impact on his own team in the attack is so small. You could forgive his offensive limits if he was a defending powerhouse, yet he is always arriving too late and the other team flows around him.

I know I have been a broken record on the subject, but Winter’s formation and attacking system continues to frustrate me. I think that most MLS teams defend against it too readily. Since nothing of the Toronto attack is created in the middle of the pitch, a defending team only has to “Half” watch the likes of DeGuz, Dunfield and Silva.  Eckersley and Morgan take the attack down the wings and it ends up with TFC torn apart on the counter-attack. On the second goal for San Jose, Aceval is trying to send a very long pass to Morgan, who really should be his defensive partner, not his far flung attacking option. Pass is intercepted, DeGuz comes up short on the challenge and all those enemy shirts in TFC's end becomes a quick goal.
It was one of those games where most of the individuals were contributing. If you choose to watch a player in isolation you can see the effort and the execution. The problem was the lack of cohesion and sense of a bigger strategy.
It seemed that as the afternoon became wetter and windier, the more the Toronto attitude was to get the ball into the heavens and marvel at the unpredictable nature of those aerial forces. I am trying my best to picture those Earthquake goals, but my memory is telling me they kept the ball on the ground.

 So now it is truly a throw-away game against the Mexican side in the Champion’s League Wednesday night. Surviving the Frings injury hinges on the next two MLS games. Win at home against Columbus and on the road in Montreal and the fort has been held. Lose them both and it is shudder, shudder time.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Reds under a roof- TFC holds LA to a 2-2 result

It has taken me a couple of days to post my thoughts. Forgive me, Wednesday night gave us a lot to take in.

The setting
I am not a fan of the Rogers Centre. I think it managed to get the ambience wrong, the connection between fan and field is too often missing. It works best for baseball, though even then it has it’s flaws. It is terrible for both soccer and NFL/CFL football. There are yawning spaces that make no sense and from the 500 level you find your eye wandering between big remote field and big remote screen. You can feel that you are watching, but not truly participating.
 You have to salute the effort made by the supporter groups. They did more to inject noise, colour and affection for the team  into that stadium than some of those cold sections have seen in decades.

The team and the game
I am not sure how I feel about TFC as the season looms. I am willing to make allowances for playing on turf. I am also willing to admit that playing LA in your first legit game of the season is a mountain to climb. Donavan and Keane have been playing EPL, Beckham is healthy and rested and the only offseason changes for the Galaxy that I recall were losing Ricketts ,the keeper, to Montreal in the expansion draft and then welcoming back Edson Buddle.
 TFC surprised the faithful with two quick goals to open the game. The Frings to Silva pass that created a goal was a very nice play. If Silva can move into space like that on a regular basis, he will be the answer to our midfield prayers.
 Playing Torsten Frings in the back 3/5 was a good move. I don’t expect to see it against teams that have a less potent attack than LA, but Winter’s way demands a lot of ball control out of the back and Frings is Toronto’s best.
I was pretty steamed at Eckersley when LA scored their first goal. He did get caught guarding space instead of the player. I had thought that having Morgan and Eckersley play wide gave Toronto numbers when LA attacked. Instead we had Robbie Keane seem to be free of coverage and then wide open spaces for MCGee to score from.
The possibilities of the TFC defending alignment was further complicated by just finding out that Geovanny Caicedo, an offseason signing, has been released by the club.
Although he scored a goal and played well, I am not a fan of playing Ryan Johnson and Danny Koevermans in a three forward set-up. I think that they both play a back to the net target game and that slows things down. Playing the opportunistic striker between two swift attackers works for all. Having two cagey strikers means that the one swift winger (Plata) can be isolated and smothered.

The future
I am looking forward to the game in Los Angeles. Toronto held their ground and had an overall respectable game at home. Now they can look at the return game as a glorified pre-season game with the pressure off. A tight game with a lucky bounce could put them into the next round. A roaring LA onslaught would not diminish the accomplishment of getting this far.