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.