Saturday, April 27, 2013

As dependable as the setting of the sun TFC 1 NYRB 2

Again TFC throws points away in the final minutes and this time the TFC unbeaten at home 2013 string was snapped.  I have long thought that TFC lacks a theme song. Last week I was considering Amy Winehouse's "You know I'm no good". This week a new one has entered the chart, Britney Spears' "Oops, I did it again" (there is a great cover version from Richard Thompson). I find myself driving home humming songs to myself, just to keep from wailing.

Why, oh why does this keep happening? I was convinced that last week against Houston the TFC mistake that let the away team get a point was taking off both Silva and Earnshaw. They are Toronto's most skilled players on the ball and when you give up the ability to keep the ball away from another team, you spend too much of your energy desperately defending.
You can throw that theory out the window, today both Silva and Earnshaw were on the pitch when New York scored their winner.

The official new "Mistake by the Lake" pet theories on those final minutes at BMO.

 -  The curse was established long ago by Marco Reda, Adam Braz and then enhanced by Marco Velez and Nick Garcia.

 -   TFC needs to go back to playing in the dome.

 -  Keeper Joe Bendik needs to make stand-out saves in the late going.

 -  Scoring goals is an issue with this squad. Trying to set up Earnshaw can't be the only strategy, other teams know to cover and double cover him. Every TFC player seems to reach a point as they neared the New York net, a point at which they passed the ball off because it was somebody else's job to score. This pass was never to a player truly in a scoring position. Heaven forbid that a TFC attacker would pass the ball off and head to the net to gather back a give'n go, the old wall pass. I would not call it panic, just an end to creativity in the most crucial part of the park. Let's face it, if TFC were averaging 3 goals scored per home game, these late goals from the other team would be consolation goals.

 I am not sure that Toronto deserved all that much from the contest. Andrew Wiedeman was an early sub for the injured Justin Braun. Wiedeman was not able to build on his goal scoring exploit against Montreal the other night. He was a non-factor, which was further underlined when he was subbed for Osorio.

 Both Ephraim and Bostock had a half of playing time each on the left wing. Neither looked dangerous. I thought that Reggie Lambe vanished in the second half.

 Jeremy Hall had a good game. He had a lot of time on the ball in the second half and his confidence with both passing and going forward with the ball is growing. I might have to review the tape back at "Mistake by the Lake" headquarters, but I think a poor clearance from him might have been in the mix of play just before NYRB's winning goal. The trouble with Hall having a good game is that he was sitting so far back in the middle of the field, NYRB were happy to sit back and smother any route forward. This was also true of O'Dea and Agbossoumonde, they were fine with the ball, yet too often they had to play longball because New York had most options covered.
TFC has come along way. A returned and healthy Danny K could solve the second striker problem. Perhaps a returned and healthy Darel Russell can solve at least one of the winger problems. Even a healthy and returned Terry Dunfield just might be the man to rally the troops and ward off late goals. I need some dreams besides the "Groundhog Day" treadmill of TFC allowing goals when the clock has hit 90.

 We fans who are finding these endings just too painful, get a break in the schedule in May. We watch our beloved team 4 times on tv and only return to our seats at BMO once (the 18th) in the entire month. Rest and recover and stay tuned.
Thank you TFC fans for your support. You may go screaming off into your Saturday night now.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Dream time - TFC signs Laba

Welcome Matias Laba to our team, our city and our country. 

Toronto Football Club announced today that they had signed Matias Laba, a 21-year-old Argentinian midfielder who had been playing for Argentinos Juniors.

You could list all the players who arrived in Toronto with a twinkle of promise (DeGuzman, Gerba, Mista, Iro, it is too painful to go on...).  

Laba deserves to have a fresh welcome in Toronto. TFC fans have earned the right to be cynical, but the sour signings of the past were not made by a 21 year old from Argentina.

One of my favourite football quotes is "The natural state of the football fan is bitter disappointment, no matter what the score" from Nick Hornby. Today is a day to transcend the natural state of the football fan and smile with a dreamy look in your eye. TFC under Payne and Nelsen is a very young team and Laba could be a very important piece of the puzzle.

I would argue that the secret ingredients that TFC has been lacking are direction; turning potential into on field improvements and having players who make others look better.

Signing a young designated player is part of Payne's direction. It is important to remember that for the TFC roster to have room for Laba, the trading of Eric Hassli and the graceful retirement of Torsten Frings had to happen. Laba was purchased from his Argentinian club. Usually the MLS avoids paying for players as if it were the sole reason for soccer being a lesser sport in America. This spending is another sign that it is part of Payne's plan.

Working on the "potential into improvement" part hopefully is reflected in the fact that it is easier to list the over 30 veterans (Califf, Earnshaw, Dunfield, Danny K) on the team than the U26 multitude.

Whether Laba is able to click with Silva, able to grow with Osorio, Bekker or Hogan and Bostock, able to feed Earnshaw and Danny K remains to be seen. TFC fans can look forward to seeing if these ingredients (and flavours yet to arrive) turn into a meal. Fingers are crossed that bitter disappointment will not be a part of our summer.

The sun is shining and the fans are dreaming.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

A cold night's reward for the devoted TFC 2 Montreal 0

Cold temperatures and rain forecasts for a night game in April was designed to keep the crowd small. I was all prepared to take the position that TFC would be better off not proceeding past Montreal in this tournament, but who wants to be on the same side as Cathal Kelly of The Star?

It was a rough first half, play was choppy and passes had mystery destinations. Bekker and Osorio were solid down the middle of the park. Welshman looked neglected in terms of opportunities on the ball, but he seemed to be working on his defensive positioning well. Bostock has to show more hunger I think, he seemed to blend in to a squad of rookies when he should be working to rise above. Montreal seemed just as disconnected as TFC.
Then the second half introduced energy and cohesion to the team. Doneil Henry scored on a rising shot from a "top of the box" distance. Before the tension of protecting a one goal lead could take hold of the area, Silva sent a nice pass through to a breaking Wideman and an excellent low shot had the ball in the net and Montreal deflated.
I am still wary about the away leg in Montreal next week. TFC should play the same squad and let Montreal work for it.

Sparse crowd - cold night, but we stayed dry and had goals to cheer.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Fearing the TFC slogan might become "All for One point" TFC 1 Houston 1

When TS Eliot wrote "April is the cruelest month" was he just a TFC fan in disguise?

This is painful. Letting victories slip through your fingers is a habit that must be destroyed. If it is going to take blogger anger to end it, so be it. I am spitting mad, so I will start with the stunningly stupid ending to today’s game. There is just no way that Houston should be allowed to dominate a corner kick as they did in the last ticks of the clock. Houston was down a player and did not move their keeper into the attack. Plus the kicker is not going to factor in the play beyond his initial delivery. So Houston has 8 players in the box versus the Toronto 11. Somehow Houston was able to head the ball twice, the first contested and the second uncontested, to bury the ball into the Toronto net and tie the game. That was both sloppy defending and a critical lack of desire on TFCs part. As an isolated event this would be a monstrous goof-up. The fact that it is part of a pattern, the late game TFC collapse that all dread and all expect as regularly as the setting of the sun, just boggles the mind.

I will save my theories for why TFC falters for a future blog (when the sedatives have worn off). I also admit that my section is so far away from the play, so I will temper my criticism. It did seem that Bendik, Lambe and O’Dea were all caught flat-footed at the same game-changing moment. Yet that could be misleading as somebody had to be responsible for marking Warren Creavalle, the goal scorer for the Dynamo.

So, it was another shimmering mirage of a game. It was a close contest in the first half. Toronto was the better team in the second half and fully deserved their lead. It is fair to say that with a bit of luck or against a poorer keeper Toronto could have had a handful of goals. Earnshaw hit the crossbar in the first half and had a great chance foiled by the fingertip of the Houston keeper in the second. Will Braun had a header stopped that looked like a sure goal.

It is still early in the season and positive signs are everywhere in TFC land. We can complain about a series of draws, but it sure beats last year’s series of losses.

The internal heat derived from the ending has caused me to forget just how cold it was today.  Snowflakes were spotted at one point. Once you had made the smart decision to wear your ski layers, it was fine. The winds were calmer than I feared.

Both Ryan Richter and Logan Emory had quality games today. It was a pleasant surprise to see TFC depth in the back line. Until Richter messed up a cross in the second half he had seemed stronger with the ball at his feet than I ever would have imagined. O’Dea and Agbossoumonde were solid in the center. Most games you are willing to ignore Hall’s misadventures with the ball because he gives  TFC defensive cover in the middle of the field. Never expected him to be our goal scorer today, but even before scoring his passing was improving and he was showing attacking confidence. Ephraim had a stronger contribution today than Reggie Lambe. I still think that a healthy Darel Russell should be given a start down the  right wing, especially when we have Eckersley and Richter to choose from at right back.

I am not sure that the substitutions were the wisest (I know, I know – hindsight). Once Lambe had picked up a yellow card I was hoping for Bostock to take his place. Taking both Silva and Earnshaw out of the game was taking too much firepower away. The Emory injury was unfortunate and forced a defensive substitution (Doneil Henry).

Going into the game would I have been happy with a draw? Yes, of course, Houston is a tough team to play against. If this is to be a year of baby steps forward, so be it. See you Wednesday night for the Montreal game.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

"Raining Yellow Cards" Philly Union - 1 TFC - 1

It is hard to write about the game today. In style and tactics it was on the rough and ready side. I thought the ref (Sorin Stoica is the fellow) was card happy in the second half and had lost control of the game. Unless you consider giving Philly every opportunity to get back into it as controlling the game. You could tell that TFC players felt they were getting mugged and the Union was getting away with it.  

Philly plays in Toronto first day of June. It won’t be pretty.

It is difficult to convince myself that TFC let a road victory slip through their fingers. They scored a great goal, but could not do the hard work after that to protect their lead. Sure, the Morgan sending off was a joke, but it could have been done. Was Danny Califf not available on the bench today? I hesitate to second guess Coach Nelsen, but taking off Earnshaw to pack the back with big Danny, that would have been the Hollywood ending.

The lack of hard work could be reflected in the lack of yellows to Toronto’s midfield (Ephraim had one for dissent). It was a game that could have used a little Dunfield.

It was as if both teams were new to the game, especially when you looked at midfield play. TFC never really looked cohesive, their goal was Earnshaw from Morgan. Philly did not look like much either. It took almost every Toronto defender and Bendik playing with a yellow card for the comeback to kick in. And of course the Morgan sending off

I thought that Richter did a solid job coming in for the injured Russell. His throw-in was a welcome weapon.

The goal disallowed for Philly was actually the correct call (a rare happening). If a keeper has a hand on the ball it is considered in his possession and can’t be kicked. The Union player slid into Bendik when he had a hand on the ball and it was not over the line. In fact his first leg went all the way under Bendik and it was his knee on his other leg that pushed the ball over.

Next Saturday – Houston visits BMO, it will be another test. I am cheering for a TFC goal festival, Bendik playing another dazzling game and a minimum of yellow cards.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Cold and bitter day, TFC provided fire at finish TFC 2 Dallas 2

Half-time and you have to wonder, just what role is the guy on the roof supposed to play?
You want to think of yourself as a fan of character. Therefore you want the team you follow, cheer for and obsess over, to be a team of character too. Ryan Nelsen has talked about character since the beginning. I think his team is starting to deliver what he promised. There were doubts at the end of the LA game last week and truthfully there was only success at the end of the game this week, yet the quality is starting to show. There were moments today when I was muttering, but it was not the hopeless muttering of 2013. It is a hopeful muttering that the players are on the brink of putting something together.
It was cold, overcast and breezy down by the lake today. The weather reminded me of November, y'know the proper climate for the mythical playoff dates that TFC has yet to deliver. It was bitter enough to put a smile on your face as you walked to BMO Field, for you knew that fair weather fan was not going to be in the stands for this one.
Some line-up changes forced by injury/illness at the start. Terry Dunfield's knee injury means a start for J Osorio in the midfield and the illness of Danny Califf means the first appearance of Gale Agbossoumonde.
Of course Osorio did not look as sparky as a starter as he did as a sub last week. He played well enough, it was important that he display defensive positioning today in the place of the attacking he showed against LA. He was subbed at half time for Luis Silva. If Ryan Nelsen wants Osorio and Silva to job share, it seems like a great way to foster young talent to me.
TFC had some flashes of offensive flair in the first half, more down the right wing than anywhere else. They looked less like a team abandoning the middle and hoping for wing penetration than they did against LA. It was clear that offense was secondary to solid defense in the first half. Often you would see Dallas with the ball, but TFC poised in formation. The four and four spread across the field, every player aware and Dallas unable to get into dangerous areas. It really was a moment of skill and timing that lead to the Dallas goal. Bendik moving out one split second earlier would have broken the play up. Off of a free kick the initial header from a Dallas player was sent square to a second Dallas head and an unprotected path to goal. Bop and boom and the visitors had a lead. TFC seemed to scramble their attacking signals for the remainder of that first half and never looked like they were capable of getting back into the game.
Sure we had hopes for a complete new look for the second half (but the cold was seeping into bones and taking hold of all extremities ). TFC actually looked worse despite Silva's efforts in the middle of the park. He was providing more drive and dribble, but the team was not looking like a unit. The passing was always off and the lack of vision and anticipation was frustrating.
Reggie Lambe was active in the second half, but I was wondering what his contribution truly was. He was forever running short curls down the wing, getting free and able to receive a pass, but so surrounded that he was not a viable option. This lack of promise was aggravated by the Dallas tactic of falling on Lambe every chance they got. Perhaps they do this to everyone, but it was wearing Lambe out.
Russell was equally ineffective down the right side for the dull part of the second half. He was struggling with Dallas's speed down the wing. When Dallas scored on a swift counter-attack (when seconds before we thought Bostock was on his way) you felt that the game had slipped out of reach. The ref did not have much of a grip  on the game at that point (not that he ever got better) to the point that you thought that another Dallas goal would spark a fight. It was faint hope for a comeback time.
The tide seemed to turn with the arrival of Justin Braun. The almost forgotten forward made his first appearance in a Toronto uniform a memorable one. Braun came on for John Bostock, but Hogan Ephraim moved into Bostock's left wing spot and Braun took the second striker role. Now we had the big strong body paired with Earnshaw. It paid off quickly. Toronto's first goal was less than pretty, the Dallas keeper unable to follow back a pop-up and Braun in the right spot to chest it in.
TFC just looked determined from then on, to hold onto the ball and find a solution. O'Dea was jumped and pulled down in front of the net, but no call from ref. O'Dea had a back heel stopped a few minutes later.
Then the last minute Russell rocket found the target and Toronto had fought back for a draw. Joy in the stands was incredible, doubled by the fact that 20 minutes prior we looked beaten.
I think that next Saturday's game in Philadelphia (ok, actually Chester) is a big one. If Toronto wants to make a bid for playoffs, Philadelphia is the level of team they have to beat. A road victory would be a perfect momentum builder for the tough home game against Houston to follow.

Random thoughts
The O'Dea and Agbossoumonde pairing looked smooth and capable. I am a huge fan of Danny Califf, but the Boss man is a strong replacement.
Jeremy Hall continues to look super smart defensively (and leads the team in bad passes, I am sure, offensively). Hall is athletic, covers a lot of ground and is swift in his tackles.