Saturday, March 30, 2013

Back to BMO for blue skies, green grass and red uniforms TFC- 2 LA- 2

Today felt like the true home opener. It was a day that left me with a basket full of positives. Sure, it was a harsh but all too familiar moment to give up a goal in the final ticks of the clock. Yet the positives are what stick with me hours later.
Just don’t ask me to be specific about those positives. Perhaps I am struggling with putting my observations into words tonight. TFC looks stronger this year, but I am not sure that I can capture just how this is happening. There does not seem to be a huge shift in tactics or formation or even players, but the strength is there.
It is strong to gain a point against LA, but doing it on a day when many TFC players seemed off their top game was even a better feat.
Perhaps I should exclude the keeper and back four from that “off” description. Bendik was solid in net and the back four (which added Russell and dropped Morgan) worked well together when defending. OK, two goals were scored.

Let me squawk about the midfield. Hall and Dunfield as the starting central midfielders continue to be a puzzling, mixed situation. They work hard and defend well. Hall deserves special mention for the attention he lavished on Landon Donavon late in the game. Yet the attacking side of their game is tame and predictable. They both seem to lack vision for what is possible ahead of them. Threading forward passes or taking on defenders is not part of their game. So it is a steady diet of passing the ball out wide and letting others attack. Bostock and Russell played as you would expect players who only met a few weeks ago to play, a little rusty and disconnected from each other. Trouble is Lambe and Eckersley also looked like strangers to each other all too often.
Perhaps it was respect for the LA midfield that inspired Dunfield and Hall as starters. Once Osorio was put on for Dunfield in the late going, the tone of the midfield quickly changed. Osorio was working to get open in the middle of the pitch. When he had the ball at his feet he was taking on defenders, drawing fouls and finding ways to pass forward.
I have no squawks about the strikers. Earnshaw is a treat to watch and his goal was the highlight of the game. Ephraim is a midfielder trying to play forward and he seems to be swarmed every time he touches the ball. Of course, I blame Dunfield and Hall. They either pass him into an impasse or their unwillingness to get forward strands poor Ephraim with no passing options. I suspect he is cheering loudest for the signing of a new striker so that he can return to the midfield.
So Nelsen's TFC is clearly a work in progress. There are new signings on the horizon and the starting 11's bound to change. Having Silva and Osorio come off the bench and raise TFC's attacking game is an indication of the young talent the team has to choose from. 
Next week  TFC vs Dallas

Magnetic thoughts – Why don’t TFC put a picture of the entire team on their schedule magnet? By selecting a few players for the photo, it seems to create a magnet curse. Magnet 2011 had DeRo, LaBrocca and Peterson. I think all of them were gone by Canada Day. Last year’s magnet featured Plata and Frings.  This year it is O’Dea, Bekker, Frei and Morgan. 

Monday, March 18, 2013

Lower Canada 2 Upper Canada 1 - Last of the indoor games

I made a promise to myself for season 2013. I told myself I would be a better blogger (and therefore a better fan).

Yet here we are dealing with game three of the season and the promise is already on shaky ground. Days have passed and still no game report on Mistako by Lako? Is this the way to operate a fan’s blog? This humble contribution to the TFC online world needs to buck up at this rate. Season 2013 has barely begun and I am faltering. Deep breath must be taken, to be followed by feeble apology and woeful analysis.

I chose not to go to Montreal to see TFC take on the great foe of the St. Lawrence. There was a tiny element of team analysis behind the decision. There are nice parts to the team so far, but everyone knows it is a work in progress.
The biggest reason that I stayed in Ontario this past weekend was that I had been invited to stay and ski at Craigleith.  O’ the shame of it all. I may have been drinking wine when the game was in progress. I did not ask for a tv (but I did follow it on twitter). Bad blogger, bad fan I may have muttered to myself.

I watched the game off of the pvr Monday night and I came away assured that progress can be easily detected. TFC was better in the second half than had been described and Montreal was not as good in the first half as feared.

I think that the TFC’s defending looks solid. There is a possibility that Darel Russell, who looked very strong when he came on in the second half, could displace Ashtone Morgan in the short term. A healthy Frei will have to get a chance to play, but Bendik has been excellent.

The midfield has been a mixture of questions.  Would Hall and Dunfield be the central pairing if Silva and Cesar were healthy? Hogan Ephraim appears to be doing his best, but somehow the withdrawn striker role seems to be a trial for him. When will we see him out on the wing again? There was talk in the broadcast of quoting Toronto leadership as saying four players are needed. Who are these guys and when are they arriving?

So TFC sits with a win and two losses, but a goal difference of -1.  Ahead is a bye weekend and at the end of the month the true home opener. LA at BMO Field. Be there.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Dome sweet dome - TFC 2 Sporting KC 1

I think I entered the dome, like most Toronto fans, with limited expectations for the afternoon.
The game in Vancouver had revealed a TFC squad that seemed on the right track, it would be nice to see that look continue. Sporting KC was a tough opponent, it would also be nice to see TFC stay in the game for at least a half and avoid a blow out. Continued effort on the attack and quality attention to an organized defense would have made most of us happy. Baby steps would have been fine.

Instead, we were treated to new territory. A TFC that improved from the week before and took the game to KC was treat number one. Late in the game, a TFC that avoided their famous final 15 minute collapse of recent years, was treat number two. Treats all around with both significant individual contributions and a growing sense of team.
Joe Bendik has been a solid keeper and the back four have been playing as a coordinated, joyful unit. Did you see the group hug at the end of the game as Bendik, Ecks, O'Dea, Califf and Morgan celebrated as a team within the team? That kind of togetherness has been missing from TFC for years.
Earnshaw with two goals was the 1st half attacking star, with John Bostock a close second.

Things I did not expect to be writing early in March.

Ryan Nelsen and his TFC are undefeated at home.

TFC have more points in the second week of March 2013 than they did at the end of May 2012.

The solid start has come with no designated players on the roster and injuries keeping Frei, Silva and Cesar from even the bench.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

A solid start - Vancouver Whitecaps 1 TFC 0

Yes, there is plenty of room for improvement, but TFC 2013 did many things right on the road in Vancouver today. The first half was controlled by Toronto, if smothering the other side but having little firepower yourself can be called control.
The second half had the Whitecaps put Reo Coker into the game and their energy went up. TFC still held it together in the back and it was a moment of skill that saw the home team score their goal.
TFC did not wilt and showed some fire right up until the final whistle.

My first thought, when I saw a midfield pairing of Hall and Dunfield, was that TFC was going to be trampled with speed and skill down the middle. I was surprised at how well Hall and Dunfield  stayed in position, defended well and had a little offensive contribution. However when Vancouver started to tear TFC open it was usually at the expense of Hall. I am not sure of this as a long term solution, having Bekker, Hall and Dunfield in the middle of the pitch seemed to mean no true offensive fizzle. They all wanted to make the safe pass to nowhere rather than thread the needle to Earnshaw. Perhaps a healthy Silva and Bekker become the midfield pair with a DP to be named later in the attacking midfielder role.

Bendik looked like a veteran in net. Califf and O Dea  played like old friends in the back. Morgan and Eckersley covered well considering the speedsters that were coming at them.

Earnshaw and Hogan survived their first MLS games. You hope they have more to show as they settle in.

Lambe is going to have to contribute more if he wants his spot on the roster. I recall a good second half run that drew a foul, but overall a lack of offensive contributions.

A point would have been nice, but undeserved considering the lack of TFC scoring chances. Hope for a good performance in the home opener no longer seems like crazy talk.

First kick 2013

Tis’ the evening when I will put on my TFC shirt, turn on the television and watch my team play their season opener in Vancouver. A brand new year, a brand new coach and general manager, a brand new team and pretty well a brand new everything. Supporting this team makes your head spin. When it is not bringing tears to your eyes.

More than looking forward to the 2013 season, I just might be looking forward to saying goodbye to the offseason. TFC’s nonplaying months might rival the months when they attempt to play the game, when entertainment is your measure. DeRo training with Celtic one winter springs to mind.

This winter was a classic. Begin with a town hall meeting with fans that proved to be a festival of hot air.  Paul Mariner is just back from a scouting trip. Paul Mariner was just a few unfortunate injuries away from leading Toronto to greatness. Paul Mariner was talking about a glorious future right up until he was shown the door. Do you get the feeling that I was not buying the story he was selling?

After that it was a winter of departures more than arrivals. Johnson and Kocic, Hassli and Frings would be the biggest names moving on. I am still thrilled that Aaron Maund was traded, he will always remind me of just how low TFC 2012 fell.

The new era of President Kevin Payne is still unfolding. I am firmly in the optimistic camp when it comes to the tandem of President Payne and his head coach Ryan Nelsen. Give them time. Sure our patience has worn paper-thin and we want success yesterday. Remember this, that if you want a phoenix to rise you have to put up with a certain amount of ashes.