Saturday, October 26, 2013

Time to put a cork in it TFC 1 Montreal 0

Pitch in shadow, sunshine on east stand and downtown and a darkness over Scarborough...

TFC, 2013 vintage, ended production today. It was a victory over Montreal and it could be spun many ways. A good omen or just the curtain drop on a long lost season are the first to spring to mind. 2013 home games began with a victory and ended  just the same. Now if only the
intervening games could be worked on.

I am torn between offering limited praise for TFC or dishing scorn aplenty for Montreal sans Impact. For a playoff bound team with the gift of facing the second worst team in the MLS for their final game, they lacked all conviction. I would rate most the first half in TFC's favour. TFC had their goal but were also going forward with determination and seldom seemed to be rattled on the defending side.

Then the second half began with oodles of TFC attack. The first 10 to 15 minutes should have produced a bevy of Toronto goals to put the game away. The lack of killer instinct has been demonstrated bythe red and grey all season. The tide began to turn though and TFC tried to go into a shell. A few times it seemed that those Montreal shots were going to finally find the target. We have been down that road just a dozen times to many this year.  

Joe Bendik as man of the match was made a sure bet by his victory saving stop, one on one with a blue shirt on his doorstep. If this had been abasketball game we would have heard Jack Armstrong yell ' get thatgarbage out of here" alongside Bendik's resounding stop.

I think that all playoff teams are crossing their fingers and hoping to draw Montreal as their opponent. If they are a team peaking at the right time, they did one hell of a job of disguising it today. They also seemed all to eager to bend the ref's ear on almost every call. The ref was pretty rough, not sure what he saw on a lot of calls.

So beyond Bendik, Caldwell and Henry were steady in the back. Bloom and Morgan were medium strength, some overlaps and crosses in the attack, seldom caught out of position on d. Up front the combination of Earnshaw and Dike was not golden from moment one. Anticipation and understanding were lacking and both of them stuck mostly to solo efforts. The fact that the only TFCgoal was the sly re-direction of an Osorio shot by Earnshaw might be an indication that Dike/Earnshaw needs a lot of work. On the topic of strikers a special salute has to go to Justin Braun. When Nelson opted for a late game formation of 5-4-1, putting Agbossoumonde in
the back and Braun as the sole striker, it seemed that it was bunker time. Braun was superb however, in motion smartly, breaking into space,creating breaks and drawing fouls from a desperate Impact back four.
Saving my concern for last, time to talk TFC midfield. Convey had a better first half than second. Convey could have put one away in the late going, but instead crossed into puzzling space behind the others. Rey was the most consistent contributor, which is probably why he was getting fouled all over the place. Osorio and Bekker in the central midfield were ok defensively, but there was a lack of spark and sizzle when going forward. In the second half they had too many lulls where they seem to take whatever “spin your wheels and go nowhere” pass the opponent gives them. They do not exploit space and create chances for others and they do not draw fouls. Little lateral passes and feeding the wings gets very predictable and stays very tame. Perhaps Osorio is a winger after all, he was lively in the late going when shifted to the wing (Jeremy Hall came into the middle).

So now the offseason kicks in. Months of rumour, speculation and even actual developments. I was asking myself on a philosophical level what is the difference between the season and the off-season?
During the season our suffering is connected to a schedule of home and away games. Thank you, thank you, I am here all week, tip your waitress and try the roast beast.

No, no, that is no way to end the blog. 
The toques are great. It was bittersweet to watch Stefan Frei spending time with the fans after the game. The weather was a surprise, it could have been much worse. 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Falling apart or coming together? Chicago Fire 1 TFC 0

A good game from TFC's back-up keeper.

A sense of duty brought me to the tube this evening. Chicago was hosting TFC in their last road game of the season. Chicago came into the game in the midst of a playoff battle.  I don't think Toronto has been in a playoff battle since the infamous game at Giants Stadium in 09?

The Toronto starting 11 had a few names of interest. It was great to see Stefan Frei back in net. My intense dislike of the MLS salary cap is the reason that Frei might be in his last days in a TFC uniform. Well, I mean the salary cap is the reason and I dislike it, the cap and using it as a reason to ship out good players. The MLS needs a Larry Bird rule. That is the NBA rule that allows teams to resign veteran players without regard to the salary cap.
Earnshaw and Dike as a striker pairing has been games in coming. The midfielders were Lambe, Bekker, Osorio and Rey. The back four  were Bloom, Caldwell, Henry and Morgan.

Chicago did not put on much of a show. The Fire were playing more as a frustrated team than a team rising to the playoff challenge. TFC were able to defend, but were not getting anything creative. Osorio had an off night. He had moments of hesitation and poor vision when on the ball. I suppose Bekker was playing more of a holding role, but his touch on the ball was consistently rocky.

It was anybody's game and then the ref blew a call and gave the only goal to Chicago in giftwrap. Osorio was the cause of a penalty shot scored by Magee, but it had to be a clear case of ball to hand.

Toronto's midfield looked terrible in the second half, apart from Rey. Coach Nelsen subs off the strikers, but it was the midfield in need of an attitude adjustment. Sorry, but putting on Weideman and Braun is just throwing in the towel.
I think it is fair to say that TFC looks solid in the back and hopeless on the attack. When the passing was inept and the strikers were statues and double covered, I was dreading 2014. TFC is a long way from cohesion. Yet, watching Chicago I was thinking "this is a playoff team?" There did not seem to be a large gap between the teams. The gift penalty call was their margin of victory

So I say farewell to watching TFC games on tv for the 2013 season. One last home game next Saturday against Montreal. See you then.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Blogger disgruntled and disqualified from the breakfast club

Apologies for taking so long to post. These thoughts have been percolating in the head for days and days. I hope they have grown clearer in the process.

I attended the President’s breakfast event on Saturday morning September 28th and I came away from it dismayed, dejected and defeated.  There was a lot of talk, a fair amount of smoke and mirrors, however the fans in attendance were asking questions that presented a scattered point of view. The number one issue, to my mind, was always put to the side.

The number one issue in my mind is the MLS salary cap. It continues to be discussed by TFC leaders and fans alike as if it came down from the mountain on a tablet with Moses. I know the cautionary tale of the NASL, heck I am old enough to have attended Blizzard games at both Varsity and CNE. When will the stability of MLS mean that team revenue determines salaries not an artificial number designed for other markets? I think that the answer to that question in the case of Toronto is now.
The salary cap is the biggest enemy that TFC faces. The time has come for fans and TFC to work against it all day, every day. I shake my head every time we hear that a TFC player, who makes far, far less than the 15th player on the Raptor roster or the 20th player on the Leaf roster, has too expensive a contract to continue playing in Toronto. What is the revenue for TFC? By sticking to this salary cap, what percentage of the revenue is going to player’s salaries? When Tim L says that the MLSE board has given permission for him to spend millions on 2 stars designated players, where is that money coming from? Is it a gamble or is it a reflection that by underpaying 26 players on the roster MLSE can easily afford to overpay 2?  What percentage of TFC revenue is going to pay the salaries of R Nelsen, Tim B and Tim L?  Why do we fans attend a free breakfast and never talk about team finances? Being a TFC fan should not equal being a financial fool.

The critical fact for Toronto footy fans is our passion for the global game. We say we want a TFC that makes the playoffs, but I suspect that we want far more glory than that. We want a team that establishes soccer as a premium sport in Ontario. We want to be part of the turnaround that rescues Canada as a force in national team competitions. We want to be both a source and a destination for great players of the beautiful game.

The Toronto soccer fan (and this is the brilliance of the TFC slogan “All for One”) almost always has ties to teams elsewhere through heritage and family. We know that famous teams have astronomical budgets. Nobody nickels and dimes their way to football glory in the modern age.

The breakfast was my first time in the same room as Ryan Nelsen, Tim Bezbatchenko and Tim Leiweke. I think that whether Kevin Payne was the right guy to be President of TFC, at least TFC had a president. I am doubtful that Tim L. is the right guy to be president, especially with his “buy big names” approach. I also think that sharing a leader with a hockey team and a basketball team is going to be a huge problem.
Tim B. as the GM is a horrible choice. He seems to be a spreadsheet fantasy sports geek whose sole claim to the job is that he will know what all the other teams are spending. Why hire a bean counter to run this team, a wonk from head office? This is not the firebrand revolutionary who is going to campaign against the salary cap all day, every day. Tim B. will be the GM who tells player “A” he is asking for too much money because the Columbus Crew’s player “A” makes 20 grand less than that. It looks like the nickel and dime road to glory when we need a builder, a leader of experience and vision.  When you are hiring (coaches and scouts), drafting, trading, communicating and even inspiring, a spreadsheet is not going to help. Tim L. said that Tim B. wrote a report outlining all the TFC mistakes. Big deal, I have been writing a blog for seven years about those same mistakes. That didn’t make me a candidate for the job. Hindsight is not the same as vision.

Which leaves Ryan Nelsen. He arrived as an unconventional surprise choice as TFC head coach. I think that some fans hoped that choosing him would turn out to be the secret formula for success. The 2013 season has taken most of the air out of that notion. The fans see a very slow learning curve in terms of tactics, player selection and substitutions. It seems that the departure of Payne gives Nelsen a chance to fashion the team his way (as long as it corresponds to the Tim L vision). You hope he has the formula, but fear that he has just been given the chance to write his own ticket out of town.

Remember, the salary cap, without a relationship to team revenue, must go in order for TFC (and some of MLS) to take the next step towards “big league” status. Now repeat that all day, every day.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Beyond surprise Union 1 TFC 0

Why, why, why, why?

Why do they look like they are competing, in the battle and then the inevitable fold in the end?

Why have subs if they are unable to add something to the team. I wanted to see Earnshaw added to Dike.

Facing 10 men, TFC looked like the team playing short. The inability to score is embarrassing.

TFC 2013 will soon be over. One more road game in Chicago, one more home game against Montreal.

I think that the limit for torture and misery was reached on Canada Day.