Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Darkest Days behind us now.... Yule 2014

North Pole FC - Shirt sponsored by Mrs. Claus

I am convinced (on very little evidence) that I had druids aplenty in my murky family tree. Few things flatten me as much as the full darkness of evening at 5pm. So I quietly salute the solstice and look upon the festive season as the time-tested way to stir one's spirits for the dark, cold stagger to spring. The months ahead will not be without thoughts of TFC. So stay tuned for a flurry of blog posts...

January will bring TFC fans the Euro transfer window
It will be the time to know
who will come and who will go
The college draft , Jermain Defoe

February will be camp and pre-season games in Florida (and speculation because TFC never seems to have a set squad until Canada Day).

March and April will be the time of an actual team playing actual games - all on the road due to stadium construction.

May will bring actual home games at the swanky BMO Field /National Soccer Stadium (home of your Argos). To lend my energy to the vibe MLSE is going for, I hereby promise to smuggle in a prawn sandwich.

So let me take a moment to wish everyone who reads my blog a happy holiday and a merry festive season. Take a moment to appreciate those close to you. If you are anything like me, you probably spend hours dumbstruck that such wonderful people call you things like husband, dad, uncle, brother or friend. Yule 2014

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Alone again, naturally. Or world’s worst salute to The Yorkies.

The offseason TFC news had been streaming along and I had written a few Mistake by the Lake words as rough drafts. I thought that I would wait until critical mass hit and then I would launch into a blog post. Critical mass around here equals a trade, an expansion draft, the waiver process or the college draft in January or all of these combined. Stay tuned for that post, but don’t hold your breath.

Then The Yorkies pulled the plug on their blog.  I find this incredibly sad. It seems that I have lost some friends I have never met AND lost a community, one of the things that made blogging fun (and healthy).

It maybe no surprise to those who know me that I never met any of the folks connected to The Yorkies. I do tend to be an anti-social semi-loner. I had once hoped to meet one of them, we exchanged emails about meeting because they had created some playing cards of TFC players, but I did not follow through….

Now what do I do? Say goodbye to people I don’t know? Rail against their choice to use a podcast and their Twitter feed to continue expressing themselves regarding our team?
Nobody blogs anymore Granddad. All those words, all that whining. TFC fans drown their sorrows after the game and you, still kicking and not understanding, instead describe your sorrows. Excuse us for not awarding you the Pulitzer Prize for deserved obscurity…

All in all, it is a tough moment for my head and the place within it that drives my blog onward. I don’t think I am much of a writer. I lack the wit, humour and creativity of The Yorkies. I think of my blog as proof that I can stick with something connected to writing, but I have a hard time seeing any progress in terms of style or voice, or tactical insight for that matter.  You may point out that few of our managers have shown much development of tactical insight, but this is a case where misery does not want that sort of company.

I still have strong opinions aplenty. I still think about TFC and developments surrounding the team and the stadium and the appalling approach of MLSE far more than I should. Perhaps those strong opinions get in the way of a coherent blog. A tweet here and a Red Patch Boys forum entry there should do the trick.

I started a blog on Toronto FC in 2007 for a handful of reasons. I was thrilled that Toronto had landed a legit* team and that the stadium had been built where Exhibition Stadium, the original mistake by the lake had stood. My first memories of attending any game that required a ticket was walking with my dad (we lived in Parkdale at the time) in the early sixties to the Old Exhibition Stadium to watch the Argos play the Calgary Stampeders.  Calgary beat the Argos 55-0 and my life of loving a team with problems began then.

Another factor in my decision to blog about TFC was that I had been following a fairly obscure English team (Charlton Athletic) and a blogger had created a Charlton blog called “All Quiet in the East Stand”. I had loved reading it for a few years, the insight, the detail, the joys and frustrations. I think he abandoned the blog in 2010. Charlton Athletic has had some rough years since I saw a match at The Valley in 2003 (vs Man City). However reading that blog for few years was good for my soul, good for seeing what the thoughtful fan can see from the stands and communicate to a blog audience. It was also very good for my understanding of what social media could bring to the world. You were not prisoner to the sports editor of Toronto papers or Canadian sports tv channels. A fan could follow a team.

However no matter how much I draw on my original inspirations, the fact that The Yorkies have bitten the dust still has me wavering.
This is not the first time this year that I have encountered a crisis of faith with Mistake by the Lake. Last winter I took a writing course at my local university, thinking that it would boost my creativity and spark life into my blog. It turned out to be something that did the opposite. I almost gave up the Mistake by the Lake blog then. 

So, I feel that I have reached that critical juncture. Joe Strummer would have called it the "should I stay or should I go" moment. Is it pull up my socks time? Or do I come to terms that this blog, like a pair of socks one has been wearing for 8 years, have worn through so much and have developed so many holes that not much sock remains to get a grip upon? Stay tuned...

Saturday, October 25, 2014

TFC inadequate again as season 2014 ends - New England 1 Toronto FC 0

....lingering headache.

What a stinking mess. I am afraid to find out what the tv ratings for this last TFC 2014 game were. I did wonder a few times who else was foolish enough to be watching this...

It was typical TFC that the New England goal was scored when the assistant ref flagged for offside, a clear offside, and the ref did not call play.

Yet did the injustice inspire TFC to get back into the game? Not a chance. This is a team that had ended their season weeks ago. Look at the squad and their dynamic for the final month of the season. TFC had five games in October - 4 losses and a tie - allowing 9 goals and scoring 2.

Even falling behind by one fluky, undeserved goal was enough to sink TFC. Look at the individuals on the field trying to score a goal.
Collen Warner did not score a goal all year. Kyle Bekker did not score one either. Sure Daniel Lovitz is a rookie, a call-up from Wilmington in May, but he did not score a goal in 2014 in MLS. Gilberto and Bradley seemed disconnected. Oduro and Bloom have yet to become a cohesive pairing.

No wonder New England was taking it easy, avoiding injuries, subbing off their stars and thinking about the playoffs ahead. TFC spun their wheels, Bradley distributed from a distance and his accuracy was poor. At least he was passing better than Caldwell and Henry, but the fact that they had the ball at their feet for any time at all is an indication of how little attack was being generated

The announcers (Nigel Reed and Greg Sutton) danced around the concepts of "wholesale changes" versus "keeping a core together" as the recipe for TFC 2015. I feel their pain as they had to fill the airwaves with something, but what a pointless debate.
If keeping a core is the expected return of Bradley, Bendik, Morrow, probably Gilberto and Caldwell, possibly Luke Moore, then a core will be kept.
If wholesale changes is using your four first round draft picks, filling all of your vacant International roster spots and replacing those you lose and those you send away, then wholesale changes it is.

Coach Vanney tried to play a 4-3-3 and deserves some credit for the effort and energy shown in the first half. That alone does not make him my choice for coach in 2015.

So the season is over and the long offseason begins. TFC are my team, but they are still a stinking mess. I feel that the way to retain some hope is to salute the fans. Watching the game on tv reminded me of one thing - they play that Bacardi commercial enough that it sticks in your head...

Fate threw everything at the TFC fan base.

The firing of Ryan Nelsen in 2014 couldn't stop us.

Nor could a series of earthquakes.

From Prohibition in the 1920s

and then the Cuban Revolution in the 1950's.

The TFC fan base did not just survive, we thrived

Perhaps I got some of the script wrong. This is not goodbye. I expect that the days ahead will provide plenty of material. I have yet to write even a sentence about Jermaine Defoe's mother!!!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Toronto FC 1 Montreal Impact 1 - the last chapter in the "Why can't we be great?" year of double Tims

The last TFC home game of 2014 and there is just too much information to sort through for one blog post.

Reflections on the season.

Analysis of the game itself.

Ideas on where this team needs to go next (in player terms, not geographical terms).

Anger amongst the fans.

I will stick with analysis of the game itself, but watch out. Other notions are bound to invade my little mind. Which makes the act of writing my blog sound like it's part of a military operation. By the way, I will be on am740 Sunday morning at 9, although I am not sure how much TFC talks I can squeeze into a busy show.

Today it was TFC without Defoe (returning groin injury), Bradley (accumulation of yellow cards) and Hagglund (suspension following red card in New York game). Toronto entered the game still in playoff contention, admittedly in the long shot category (winning two remaining games combined with Columbus losing two remaining games would put Toronto into a tie for fifth place, which is the last playoff spot). Yet somehow the feeling in the air at game time was somewhere well below joyous. You did not want Montreal to thrash us - but you did not think Toronto was capable of thrashing anyone either. Please, let's eke out a win and save the full miracle for the game on the road in New England.
So game on and there were segments of the first half where Toronto looked strong. They were moving forward and the passing was crisp. Warren Creavalle scored the Toronto goal on a volley off of a high blooping ball into Montreal's box. He fooled the Montreal keeper and put it away. At the time Toronto was on the rise and you felt that scoring goals was going to be easy-peasy today.
Then the transmission seemed to grind to a halt and Montreal scored a goal by holding onto the ball and waiting for an unguarded Impact player (Felipe) to arrive in the perfect spot.

So reaching half time 1-1 created a wary feeling. All TFC had to do was win one half of football and their playoff hopes would continue until at least the Sunday Columbus result.

It was not to be. Montreal was reduced to 10. TFC's Osorio was shown red. Montreal was reduced to 9. Heck, you could have tied a potato sack around the lower half of the Impact keeper, Toronto could not score. They could not end their final home game, their game against their derby rival Montreal, their last game with playoff implications with a one goal victory. Sums up the year, donut? Why did they take off Creavalle in the second half? He was contributing and what did we get from Jackson in the last 20 minutes?

Thoughtful fans around me in section 220 felt that if you put aside the rash promise of a playoff spot, it was a year of progress and quality. Therefore it was a reasonable step to renew and be back for 2015.
I am renewing too, but am not quite so charitable. Toronto Football Club continues to lack the royal jelly, the special sauce, the winner's mentality. Have they laid a foundation? Possibly. I would rather enter 2015 with Michael Bradley than without, but beyond him the midfield is a mess. Osorio, Bekker and Warner have all fallen short in the middle of the park. Sticking with the midfield, if Jackson and Oduro are Toronto's wingers for 2015, include me out.
Caldwell, Hagglund, Morrow are a solid defending unit. I am guessing that Mark Bloom will find himself in Orlando, Doneil Henry will get an European opportunity and Bradley Orr will not have his loan extended.
If Defoe stays, Gilberto goes. If Gilberto stays, Defoe goes. Luke Moore leverages his decent Toronto play into a return to the UK in the January transfer window. Hello Jordan Hamilton
Remember that Toronto has 4 first round picks in the January 2015 MLS College draft. They might lose at least one player to New York and Orlando expansion draft. Then again they might pick up a player from the Chivas USA dispersal. Heck, I said I was sticking to game analysis and here I go headlong into the areas of where does TFC go from here.

If you read this blog regularly, I thank you. If you care about the team that I love, thanks too. If you feel that this is a game that lifts your heart some days and crushes your soul on others, join the club. It hurts to think that I will not be in my stadium watching my team until May, more than six months away. I promise to blog through the off season. I feel that I can't stop now, the fun is only starting. Take care and dream big. One more TFC 2014 game and it's in New England. Until then....

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Just about done....New York Red Bulls 3 Toronto FC 1

Time after time, this Toronto team has found a way to lose their way.

What is left to say about this cursed team?

Individuals with talent, but rarely a team.

Hagglund was red carded, so he misses the Montreal game next weekend. Bradley was given a yellow for arguing the call with the ref, so he misses next game due to accumulated yellows.

All fans who think that Jermaine Defoe has already left Toronto raise your hand...

I will attend the Montreal game next weekend, mainly because suffering is what I do best.

Thanks for reading, stay tuned.

I will be on the Naz and Wally sports hour tomorrow morning at nine on AM740 Zoomer Radio. So I need sleep.  Stay tuned.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Passing the biggest test of 2014 Toronto FC 3 Portland Timbers 2

I bought a bootleg scarf to show that I am back on the Defoe bandwagon...
This one snuck up on me.

The week prior to this game was packed with distractions.
Distraction #1 -the invite to season seat holders to see the expansion plans for the stadium
(So pleased to have missed it. Accounts of the evening indicated that posters were up, information was scarce and a lot of cheese was offered.).
Distraction #2 - the ceremony the same day for the groundbreaking for stadium expansion (shovels hit the ground, sad to report that none were swung at politician Mark "Argos get in for free" Grimes).
Distraction #2 The return of the Jermain Defoe show.
On one hand he is telling stories to protect his pay cheque. On the other, his credence goes up in my eyes when I focus on one of his main claims "How seriously do you take Harry Redknapp"?

So I was letting the week slip by me. I did not think about the proximity of the Saturday game until I had to face the transportation horror. The Gardiner Expressway is closed for the weekend.

Forget travel tales, I took the GO and arrived early...
Game time
Within seconds of start a sliding collision at the centre line between Mark Bloom and Will Johnson halted play. Johnson was stretchered off and reports after the game indicated that he had suffered a broken leg.
It lifted Portland and shook Toronto. Nick Hagglund gave the ball away. Timbers score.. In Portland they salute the scoring of a goal with the slicing of a huge log. Here "by the lake" we salute  Toronto falling behind early with the slightest of sighs. Okay, maybe the deepest of sighs.
Then Portland scored again. Our defenders were floundering a little and a swift pass and poke made it two goals Portland.
It was stunning. A young fan nearby (a grade school kid)  shouted out "Wake up you Reds". He had the right idea. A goal from Toronto FC was called back on an offside. I would have to see it again. I did not think that the goal scorer was offside, but Osorio was in an offside position and blocked a defender from getting back into the play. So the call could have been that the team had benefitted from a player in an offside position.
Halftime arrives with Toronto down by two and rallies have not been part of TFC this year (or any year?). You felt that the season was slipping away. Toronto could bounce back from a home defeat, win the last 5 games in a row, and land a playoff spot

Nick Hagglund scored twice, erasing his error in the early going and making him a hero by the lake. Then the soccer gods, those heavenly bodies who have been toying with us for years, intervened. Michael Bradley had a direct free kick a good distance out. He hammered it into the box, flying it into the prime spot for a glancing header. Ricketts, the Portland keeper of great size, moved to his right in seeming anticipation of that glancing change in direction. Then it did not happen. Nobody got their head to the ball. No change in flight. Ricketts out of position. The ball bounced into the net. Toronto had gone ahead. Joy erupted.
First half = despair and resignation, Second half = determination and victory.

A big win. Even bigger when it loomed as a big loss for much of the afternoon.

With only October remaining in the MLS schedule, we will soon know if it was part of the glorious end of the season or a false hope. 5 games remain, two in Toronto (Houston and Montreal) and three on the road (LA, NY and New England). 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

At last - a TFC team finding its stride OR At last - TFC finds a feeble opponent TFC 3 Chivas USA 0

Section 220 salutes the Naz and Wally Sports Hour on am740
It was a day of contrasts....

The weather forecast had predicted rain all day. A huge morning thunderstorm had TFC fans expecting the worst for the afternoon.
Game time weather was blue skies and soft sunshine, a few fluffy clouds dotted throughout the sky. Perhaps the nicest weather TFC has experienced in the city all year.

TFC looked like a team. They seemed to be anticipating one another, moving off of the ball with skill and intelligence and creating opportunities. Instead of suffering through those games where it seemed that TFC could not sustain possession, today they owned the ball. Kept defensive positioning too. Joe Bendik was never really tested.

Yet, we should not forget that Chivas USA is a team on the ropes. Of their last 10 games, in 9 of them they have been held scoreless. It appears that MLS will not find an owner for this Los Angeles orphan team in the near future and could be putting the team into storage for the 2015 season. They looked like guys who had nothing to play for and were wondering who they would be playing for in 2015. Will MLS have a dispersal draft? Seems strange that you would have an expansion draft and a dispersal draft in the same span of time.

Jackson, Toronto's Brazilian winger, displayed the first touch skills that he has been lacking for much of 2014. He scored the first Toronto goal and dominated his side of the field. He was smooth and energetic on the ball and did not neglect his defensive duties either. He may have been playing his best game in a Toronto uniform.

Jackson, Toronto's Brazilian winger, the player that Dallas fans warned us was always on the brink of a red card, picked up a red card. He was having such success down the left wing in the second half that he drew a double team and felt that one of the Chivas players had caught him in the head. He took the first opportunity to go in high and hard against Nigel Reo Coker of Chivas (I think Jackson felt Reo Coker had fouled him). I saw Reo Coker make contact with his right hand against the side of Jackson's head. I suspected that Jackson was red carded for the reckless tackle, but other reports had him striking Reo Coker.
Michael Bradley had no downside today. He was the spine of the team, his passing was strong and his positioning excellent on the defensive side. He played well back, the deepest of deep midfielders. Sometimes hanging back to gather the ball, but often slipping back into a back four role.

This game was the one that simply had to be a victory or you could put playoff dreams to bed.
The Portland game next Saturday is yet another must win....
TFC 2014 is now 3 home games (Portland, Houston and Montreal) and 3 road games (LA, New York and New England). Finish the year with a winning streak and I think the playoffs are a lock. Scanning the reports of Sports Club Stats , the site that tells you your team's chances of making the playoffs,  it looks like 3 wins and 3 losses may put TFC short of a playoff spot. It seems that winning 4 and losing 2 would put them in. Cross those fingers now. I am honestly not sure which is the harder task ahead. Winning all three at home or winning 1 out of 3 on the road. Come back Jermaine Defoe , all is forgiven...

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Bordering on too little, too late - but criminal ref denies Gilberto winning goal Chicago Fire 1 Toronto FC 1

David Gantar, a disgrace of a ref

I was thinking that my game report was going to be short and sour. I was most unhappy with TFC looking horrible in Chicago. Then DeRo scored and ......
That ref decision in the final seconds to steal a goal from Gilberto was criminal.

What foul? Where was this foul? TV replayed the sequence over and over again. Michael Bradley had to be restrained at the end of the game.

You have to hope that this fool ref, David Gantar, has accidentally inspired TFC through this blatant, point robbing decision. We will have to wait a week to see what kind of game Toronto plays a week from Sunday against Chivas USA.

There was a lot of fan suffering tonight. I think that Jackson and Oduro have played themselves off of the team. For the first 80 minutes TFC lacked finish, no drives to the net, no space creation and no zest for shooting.
A five star salute to Joe Bendik for keeping TFC in the game with his penalty save, rebound save and then diving scoop in a matter of seconds.

It is amazing how cursed and mangled this team is. They do seem to bring a lot of it upon themselves with insipid play, but then the injustice of a crazy ref does them in.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Clear skies yet TFC in a fog Toronto FC 0 Philadelphia Union 2

So much for the "new coach bounce". Toronto's parade of woeful home performances continued at BMO Field Saturday as the Philly Union scored two in the first half and Toronto had no response. It has been a while since TFC had any positive responses in any aspect of life. They managed to hit posts and crossbars in the second half, but they were more a team hoping to get lucky than a team that found itself when the going got tough. This is a team that has lost itself.

If the reason to fire Ryan Nelsen was that a tailspin with ten games could be corrected what is the verdict now with 8 games left? Today, if you were looking for signs that the tailspin will end, it was a day of squinting. The sound at the end of the game was a loud smack as the fans began kissing the fading prospect of MLS playoffs goodbye.

The hardest worker in a TFC jersey was Dwayne DeRosario.  In a time of turmoil (and the day of DeRo and his cheque signing goal celebration conveniently forgotten) he is taking a leadership role through effort. He is making it clear that playing for Toronto can be a motivation in itself. However it is also clear that DeRo at age 36 can't have too many more games left.

Despite DeRo's contribution, the team does not look like a cohesive unit. Toronto FC has shown in recent weeks that they can't compete with New England, can't compete with Philadelphia and can only squeak a point at home versus Chicago..

Coach Vanney gets marks for an improved substitution pattern. Although it appears that the Warner off/ Kyle Bekker on sub late in the first half was due to injury, the Bradley/Warner combo continues to be under the microscope. Vanney also put on Jackson for a tired Dero and late Creavalle for Hagglund.

When Philadelphia was taking an early corner, it was time for a nervous glance at the clock to see that five minutes elapsed without allowing a goal. The first Philadelphia goal was still early and Toronto has proven to be hopeless at coming back. Hopeless at scoring, hopeless at preventing goals at home, hopeless at avoiding mindless giveaways, hopeless at moving with the ball, hopeless at moving off the ball, hopeless at anticipating each other. A lot of hopeless.  

The saddest part of this "bloody big mess" is that the path forward is unknown. Cheering for this team can feel like ancient oceanfront living, the fog rolls in regularly and the air is filled with the sounds of ships sinking. I bring this up because I am still convinced that a maritime disaster may be the connection to the team curse.

If this decline continues, what does an offseason hold? How many rebuilds can one team have? I am scrambling for some positives here as my memories of a limp Saturday afternoon dominate all.
Positives include-
There are a handful of first round draft picks to use in 2015.
There will be the search for a coach or at least a coaching staff.
There will be the possibility of a contrite Tim Leiweke making amends and finding a star to truly build the team around, but I think he will just high-tail it out of town. Then his successor will fire Tim Bezbatchenko and then proceed to ignore TFC until the day the franchise is sold or flies out of town. So much for staying positive.

It is funny (perverse) how a Toronto Football Cursed season unfolds. In the early months Defoe and Bradley settled in early and Gilberto looked shaky. Now I think that Gilberto is more likely to be part of 2015 than Defoe.

Walking away from the game my cell phone buzzed with the breaking news that Jermaine Defoe is now scheduled to return to training on September 20 (the day before the next home game). Did TFC bigwigs spot the south end banner with an outline of Defoe and the word "Judas" beneath it? Do they think that Defoe scoring a goal or two is going to beat back the sense of betrayal the fans are likely to express? I wonder if Defoe will train with TFC and get a sense of the atmosphere in Toronto towards him and find a way to stay off the starting roster in the weeks ahead or will MLSE find a way to make him play.
Tim Leiweke has to be aware that he deserves as much scathing scrutiny as Jermaine Defoe. Big Tim is the man responsible for signing the star player who just might last in TO from Euro winter transfer window to the next Euro winter transfer window.  
Next game is next weekend in Chicago. The game must be watched, but you look forward to it the way you look towards a medical appointment. I will have my OHIP card by my side.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Curses foiled again - Philly 1 Toronto Football Curses 0

I get upset when people call the team I follow, the team I care and cheer about, a joke. It is the meanest insult to suggest that a layer of comedy falls upon the sincere love that you feel for your team.

However an evil spell is not insulting at all. If anything, it raises the virtue of the fan (and the devoted blogger). Here is someone who throws faith, energy and spirit at the team despite a wicked aura that has plagued it since day one. I am entertaining the notion that the curse is specific to the land by the lake. The CNE grounds have had many stadia, but the teams that play in them are not championship calibre. I think that only the 1983 Argos won the Canadian Football League's Grey Cup while calling the old Exhibition Stadium home and they won the Cup in Vancouver. BMO Field occupies most of the land on which previous stadiums were built.
Could it have been a curse connected to the battle of Fort York? A maritime disaster? I would have to consult some historical maps to see the growing shoreline of Toronto in the CNE area over the years. Standby for some pain staking historical research. Curses have a connotation of evil, but is it not equally possible that a good person wronged can put a curse on people, places and things?

So I have decided that the "C" in Toronto FC stands for Cursed or Curses or Curse. I am willing to go further into the vocabulary and try for cursive and cursory but give me time to extend my foolish head space.

The Cursed were hosted last night by the Philadelphia Union. Philly Union is a team that has qualified for the playoffs some years and has had a middle level of MLS success. They had a rough start to this season, but now find themselves tied with the Cursed for a playoff spot after last night's victory.

I was spared the pleasure of watching Toronto FC vs New England last Saturday, so I am guessing that the Toronto effort was improved from that day which has already passed into TFC legend. It was the first game under new coach Greg Vanney and I did not see much tactical change but these are early days.
The substitution pattern was very non-Nelsen. A change of Gilberto for Osorio (perhaps injury forced) at half time and then Dike for Oduro and Weidemen for Lovitz. The late offensive subs were after Toronto had gone down to ten man and Vanney was clearly going for a late goal. A fine gesture with no result.
It was Ashtone Morgan red carded for pulling down Sebastien Le Toux on a clear breakaway in the second half. I suspect that the Toronto Football Curse hits some players harder than others or builds up as your time with Toronto increases. This was the second year in a row that Morgan has been red carded away to Philadelphia. I think most TFC fans want Ashtone Morgan to be a success. I would want to judge his play last night while looking beyond the second half sending off, but his was not a statement sort of game. Now Morgan can't be selected for Saturday's hosting of Philly.

Watching TFC I was wondering if this was truly a potential playoff team. Injuries to Defoe, Caldwell, Morrow and Creavalle have cut the squad down to size, but bring those players back healthy and I am still less than confident.
Think about the players that were starters last night.
Warner and Oduro have kicked around the MLS for years and despite Oduro's scoring record I think it is fair to call them MLS journeymen now.
Osorio and Morgan are in the category of local talent. We want great things, but progress has been jumpy, slow, sometimes non-existent and less than stellar.
Hagglund and Henry were the central defenders and they might be both just old enough to buy a beer in the USA. If these two were the starting central defenders down on the farm team we would be drooling over their potential. Instead they take their lumps, learn on the job and (of late) eventually are broken down by every team.
Luke Moore kicked the ball into the Delaware River which flows just outside of the stadium. Moore has had some good games for the Curses, but kicking it out of the stadium seems to be the contribution of late.
Lovitz is a rookie winger who is getting a vote of confidence from new coach Vanney. Perhaps I was concerned with a big road game with a starting midfield of Lovitz (0 goals) Warner (0 goals), Bradley (1 goal) and Osorio (2 goals) that has not made much of an offensive contribution in 2014. Perhaps we should be used to it, TFC has long been cursed with a low scoring midfield.
Joe Bendik made some good saves, can hardly be faulted on the Philly goal and might be a playoff team keeper. I think that having another keeper
Mark Bloom played well. I think on the Philly goal he was trying to cover for Ashtone Morgan. When he is on his game Bloom is a thoughtful defender. I think that it is reflection of how little this group has played together that Bloom's overlap runs have dwindled in 2014.
Michael Bradley wants to do more, but he needs help. He was too often, in the late stages of the game, trying to drive the ball forward on his own and the opponents knew it. Warner has had the months after the World Cup return to become Bradley's midfield partner and it is not working.
After all these games and all these years - TFC need dependable defenders that are good on the ball, an attacking central midfielder, wingers who can score and a (post Defoe) striker who can score. So many aspects of the Toronto Football Curse never seem to change.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Nelsen and coaching staff said to be out- waiting for Bezbatchenko press conference at 4pm

So, you are a devoted fan and season seat holder, but you are not happy when the MLS schedule gives Toronto home games on the Labour Day weekend. You have a cottage tradition to respect and therefore you give your daughter your tickets and try to follow your Toronto FC soccer over the wi fi...

Bez (pre-game to press, I think Friday??) says that they are a good team and should be playing better (which is partially accurate and partially covering his inactive summer window). They are an experienced team, have had time to gel and should be getting results.
Toronto FC proceeds to flounder on the pitch and loses 3-0 to New England Revolution. My buddy at the game described it as "pathetic".
Coach Nelsen uses his post game press conference to defend his players and complain about GM Bez's comments. States that it increased the pressure and that Saturday should not have been a pressure game.
Sunday afternoon the news comes that Nelsen and his coaching staff have been fired. At this point it has been tweeted by John Molinaro and Paul Attfield and appeared on the Sportsnet website.

I am a blogger and a fan who understands the need for Toronto FC stability, but I will not be lamenting the loss of Ryan Nelsen. I doubted his connection to the team, the city and the country. I thought that he was overly protective of the players and had a disregard for the fans. If he was making progress as a coach as we entered September and October and a MLS playoff push, his players sure had a funny way of showing it.
He always made substitutions seemingly as an afterthought and well after the time that you would have thought a change would have an impact on the game. Tactics and stategy and formation were always basic and did not seem to evolve - ever.
I did not see this coming. I was guessing a Nelsen-Bez meeting and a patch it up process to move into the playoffs. But it makes a lot of sense....

CNE offers you rides, TFC offers you slides TFC 0 New England Revolution 3

Summer is a time when opportunities to get out of town are plentiful and TFC have not been offering a reason to stay around. Labour Day weekend always takes me to a great friend's cottage and therefore I was not at yesterday's home versus New England game. I had hoped to watch the game on my ipad, but putting the game on Sportsnet 360 and leaving the main network for darts (thanks Rogers) meant that I had to listen to the game on the radio.
You did not need the visuals to grasp that it was a disaster. TFC was clobbered by the New England Revolution 3-0, which is no way to handle a team that is competing for your playoff spot. For all of the disasters of TFC over the years, Toronto had never lost to New England when at home prior to this season. In 2014 now, it has happened twice. When was the last time you heard Toronto fans chant "this is our house"? It just isn't anymore. 
I have avoided pouring my exasperation into demanding that Nelsen and Bez be shown the door, but the exasperation is rising. Now it seems that Nelsen and Bez are sniping at each other and I am tempted to say a plague on both of your houses. The big boss Tim Leiweke is on the way out of the MLSE door and you have to wonder how many weeks 
Before the game Bez (Tim Bezbatchenko) had expressed his opinion that the team 
had the talent but it was time to raise their games. On one hand the TFC fan is very likely
to agree with his view that on the brink of September it is time to start grabbing results. It is self serving, Bez essentially saying that the GM has chosen the right players, time for the coach to motivate them.

After yesterday's loss Coach Nelsen was critical of Bez's statement to the media, he felt that it had increased pressure on his players. These two need to schedule a meeting - today. Not that the solution to this tailspin is that simple, didn't the Big Tim Leiweke meet with the team recently and give them a supportive speech about the foundation and the future? 

Nelsen is so protective of his players that I am suspecting it gets in the way of his motivating them. Combine that with his "late to the party" substitution patterns and his troubles with creating either a tactical sense of defending or a creative sense of attacking and you have a coach on thin ice. His survival depends on a playoff berth. Should he fall short of that, I would speculate that firing Nelsen would either be the last action of Tim Leiweke or the first action of the next guy.

The trading and signing deadline for the MLS is just days away. A move is critical, but a big move is not expected. Although Toronto has a few international spots on the roster, I am just not sure that a trade or a free agent signing is going to change the course of this playoff drive. 
Toronto FC has a home and away series with Philadelphia Union this week and the playoff drive could fly or flop within these upcoming days. Stay tuned.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Job done, road travelled, crew subdued - Columbus Crew 2 Toronto FC 3

Toronto defeated the Columbus Crew for the third time in the 2014 season. I am not going to head to the TFC archives just now, but I suspect that it is the first time an opponent has been beaten three times by Toronto in a year. It was TFC's ninth victory and it is more than a little satisfying to calculate that a third of those victories were against Columbus. Can we play them every week?

It was not a masterpiece. Gritty efforts on the road are not very often things of beauty. TFC began the game with plenty of attack, but no finish. Columbus would counter from time to time and they just missed scoring off of a header by Bedell.
Late in the first half Luke Moore sent Gilberto in on the Crew keeper and his left foot put the ball into the net. However late in the half a murky penalty was awarded on a hand ball call in the box and Higuain scored the penalty.
The second half was more of a rollercoaster. Toronto had periods of smooth attack followed by sections of clunky defending. Osorio scored the second goal off of a rebound from a Luke Moore shot. Toronto allowed a goal curling in from distance that I thought Joe Bendik should have claimed and handled.
The winning goal was Luke Moore's finest moment in a TFC uniform so far. From a Warner corner kick, Moore sped past his cover and dove to head the ball into the corner behind his progress.
Columbus was done.
This victory puts Toronto into third place, 4 points ahead of 4th place Philly and 5 points behind 2nd place DC (grrrr- even a point from that night would have made a difference).
Next weekend will be the last in the stretch of road games, TFC visits Sporting Kansas City. My hopes are not high, but the pattern of playing only one game a week seems to have settled the team down.
Until then...

Saturday, August 2, 2014

That's more like it!!! Montreal 0 Toronto FC 2

TFC looked like a team today in Montreal. They had had a poor second half in Washington DC this past Wednesday and had recently been frustrating fans (and this blogger) for weeks. We had reached the point in the season when it was reasonable to expect progress and instead we were seeing individual efforts, a lack of scoring finish and often a group of players who looked like they had just met for the first time seconds before the game started.
Today it was Montreal that looked incoherent. Jermaine Defoe is injured (no details yet) and did not start or play today. A constant concern of TFC 2014 is that Defoe is the sole provider of goals. Today that worry was banished from view. Against Montreal both strikers, Gilberto and Luke Moore, scored goals and such was Toronto's dominance it is a surprise that only the two goals were scored.
The TFC central midfield of Bradley and Warner were strong, Montreal had the hardest time keeping up with them in the second half.  Both were controlling the ball well, showing a greater sense of where their teammates were and shutting down Montreal's attack.
Oduro, so often blazing down the wing was instrumental in both goals. Osorio on the left was hardly playing the role of a winger, but his more central role meant more room for left back Justin Morrow. Morrow continues to be the unsung hero of the team.
It was an incredibly young central defending pair of Nick Hagglund and Doneil Henry and both were quality. Late in the game Hagglund was so close to scoring a goal off of a corner he must be still shaking his head in wonder at the opportunity missed (and the combo of Perkins' touch and the crossbar).
Warren Creavalle showed why he was a wise acquisition for Toronto recently in the allocation trade with Houston. His play at rightback was solid. He had some challenges in the first half on the defending end, but his speed and passing confidence going forward has been a contribution that has made the loss of Mark Bloom to injury just a little easier to take.

Is it all sunshine and lollipops? Concerns include the extent of the Defoe injury, the continued late and puzzling substitutions of Coach Nelsen, the ability of MLS refs to slight TFC on a regular basis and get away with it and
Two road games ahead in early August. Next weekend in Columbus and Kansas City the weekend after that. Today's win puts TFC into third place. At the time of blogging it is unclear whether  fellow third place teams at the start of the day, New England and/or Columbus, can keep pace (New England is winning v NYRB and Columbus does not start v Chicago until later). Stay tuned.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

DC United 3 Toronto 0 - watching the team go down the drain...

There have been a few games in recent weeks that have inspired me to write a ranting and raving blog of anger. Then I have not posted the blog. I figure I am reading the team incorrectly or seeing only the bad side of the coach or might be too hasty in declaring the season a disaster brewing. I have been thinking of combining the rough draft of these unmade posts into a composite essay.
Toronto FC stunk tonight. They are a team with no punch, no finish around the net. In the first half they outshot DC by a wide margin, but their shots were either wild or mild. Eddie Johnson scored for DC almost as if he were taunting Toronto. Attack down the wing, cross it perfectly and the unmarked striker puts it in like this....
If this performance was an indication of a prolonged tailspin, you can wave goodbye to the playoffs tonight. In a matter of days the first and second place teams in the East have defeated TFC. Not much point in having games in hand compared to the other teams when you are going to go on a losing streak. Now the teams below Toronto have caught them as both Columbus and New England are tied with Toronto for third spot. New York is 2 points back and Philly is 3.
I am just a fan who blogs, no special qualifications, no playing credentials, not even a journalism background. Here's what I am thinking...

One segment of Toronto fans are part of the problem. They are the bandwagon fans looking for the next big thing. They do not commit, they would rather be fashionable than fanatical. They create a cosy atmosphere and it becomes hard to create a sense of urgency around a team when that segment has bought into the glitz and glamour.  I am afraid that MLSE better understands the bandwagon fan than the knowledgeable ones. It is strange because those fans in the soccer know have very high hopes and high standards and TFC understands that when they sign a Bradley, a Defoe, a Gilberto and acquire Cesar on loan. Then TFC loses sight of that when the gritty games are on the line and the tough work needs to be done.

Ryan Nelsen is part of the problem. I think his players are fond of him, too fond of him. I suspect that he creates a cosy atmosphere and showing up for big games has just not been part of cosy lately. I think Nelsen is too recently a player and has too much patience and not enough vision. I don't feel that he understands the high standards of the dedicated fan and demands enough. If TFC is to become a big club, performances like tonight's demand a reaction.

Tim Leiweke is part of the problem. It is his face that is prominent when TFC sign a big name. It is his name and face absent when we stink in Washington DC.

I know that wins in Montreal and Columbus will turn this slump around rather quickly. I am fed up with the limp performances of too many players on this team. I think that Nelsen needs to step up and get himself thrown out of a game the next time a ref costs us a scoring chance. I want to be proud of this team. Skills are nice, but energy, determination, urgency, sacrifice and working together need to appear. I am leery about what version of Toronto FC is going to be on display at Montreal this weekend. Stay tuned.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

This is YOUR House Kansas City - Toronto lacks guts and skill and finish-TFC 1 SportingKC 2

Sporting Kansas City visited Toronto last night and it was a rare home game missed for me. I watched it on TSN. I had spent the day at the Hillside Music Festival just north of Guelph at it was just too much of geographical challenge to get from Wellington County to lakeside Toronto in time.
TFC went into halftime with a 1-0 lead. This was a lead that could have been greater had the ref made  a call on the taking down of Gilberto by Collin in a "last man back" situation. Toronto, both Oduro and Hagglund, hit the post. The ref, Mr. Uncle, had  been happier showing yellow cards to the home team than the visitors.
I am not sure if Ted Uncle is the name of a ref or a horrifying relative.
Then the second half began as one feared, Kansas City taking advantage of Toronto confusion and Zusi scoring to bring the game level. Toronto managed to get a better grip on the game, but playing without Jermaine Defoe (accumulation of yellow cards) meant that scoring was always going to be a challenge. Oduro created some action down the wing, but Moore and Jackson could not add some finish.
Then Oduro breaks down the wing and is pulled from behind. SKC sees yellow and you get the feeling that nothing short of gunfire is going to inspire this ref to clamp down on Kansas City. Then Gilberto gets wiped out and no call is made.

FINALLY in minute 75 a Kansas City player gets a red card - Besler for his 457th foul. Rather than Toronto taking advantage of KC down to 10 men, they subbed on Jacob Peterson (former Toronto FC player) who scored the go ahead goal for SKC.

I do feel that Nelsen takes too long to make substitutions. The first TFC change came after KC had completed their three. It is clear that Nelsen has more faith in Jackson than perhaps he should.

The fact is that Kansas City gets away with this, they have a combo of skill and playing on the edge. Toronto FC does not have the desire or the skill to compete.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Toronto FC 2 Tottenham Hotspurs 3

A clear but cool evening lakeside tonight. This was the first friendly that I was attending since year 1 - Benfica and then Aston Villa. This is not an indication that I am a raving opponent of the summer friendly. I guess I can see both sides to the argument. Most of the time I have avoided the friendlies because of price point or having a scheduling conflict or somebody else wanting the tickets. 
It was a different crowd, of course, since it was an optional purchase for the season ticket holders. A huge contingent of folks wearing Spurs gear. I am not sure how to measure these folks. If they are expat Londoners I suppose that global travel is such that they go back and see their team periodically. It would be sad to depend on North American tours for access to your team.
The Spurs fan were not an overwhelming force. THey were not together enough for any songs and  chants and when Toronto FC scored I felt that the crowd was behind them. Of course there was little in the way of south end supporters groups for TFC, they are the most likely to be somewhere grumbling about midseason friendlies.
I am not enough of a fan of Tottenham to know the strength of tonight's starting 11. Seeing Solardo and Lamella had me thinking that they started strong. The difference between Spurs and TFC was startling throughout the first half. The Spurs were smooth, well placed around the ball. It sometimes seemed as if it were a different ball on a different surface when Spurs were moving the ball around. Spurs had a ball that zipped and zoomed, always at a top speed. At one point I observed that the ball looked like it was on a monorail, under Spurs control.
Toronto had short passes, wild passes, bumpy bouncing passes, direct to the Spurs passes and "what are you thinking passes". The midfield of Lovitz, Warner, Oduro and Bekker were the culprits mostly, although Ashtone Morgan and Gilberto were making sure that every positional group had brutal contributions to make.
There was a sense that the two first half goals were inevitable. While Toronto were reeling around, THFC rode that quality passing and movement off the ball, that speed and dominant possession until a Spur was in a dangerous spot free from any defender and the ball was in the net. At the half they had scored two and you felt that they could easily run up the score.
If the marketing angle was that Jermaine Defoe wanted to show something to his old team, that something was probably a postcard, because he mailed it in tonight. I usually avoid the stat game as a ticket to nowhere, but I would like to see how many seconds Defoe had the ball at his feet, his passes attempted, completed, shots taken and any other measure. Part of it was an appalling lack of service, but Defoe was less than a show tonight. Chris Konopka was in the net for Toronto in the first half and Joe Bendik was probably the happiest player in the press box. I am sure that Konopka is rusty. He made some saves, but twice he looked out of his depth.
The second half might as well have been two different teams. I think that Kyle Bekker played the full game for Toronto, possibly Jeremy Hall and Ashtone Morgan too.
I think Spurs had a full change except for Brad Freidel in the net. I think that Tottenham were taking their foot off the pedal in the second half. Suddenly you saw less of the constant pressure leading to extended possession . I think that Toronto forwards were being given space and time. They were being allowed back into the game, in my humble opinion.
Weideman scored a goal and then the youngster, Jordan Hamilton scored for TFC to tie it up. Hamilton looked good. He had a great first touch and was a handful for defenders.
Yet, you sensed that Tottenham could turn it back on at any time and that they did. Andros Townsend found a channel (you know, a lane or a seam) and he curled a powerful beauty around Quillan Roberts who was Toronto's keeper in the second half.
It seems that the playing time with the Wilmington Hammerheads is a benefit to Hamilton and Roberts, they looked in good form. With Jeremy Hall playing in his old right back position, you wonder if either Bekker or Morgan are going to be heading south soon.
Next game is a big one, home against Kansas City. Defoe will not be playing due to going past the limit on yellow cards. Therefore it was wise to rest Michael Bradley, Joe Bendik and Justin Morrow tonight. Perhaps  we will see the TFC acquisition Warren Creavalle Saturday.
I won't be at the game, but will attempt to watch it on tv. Thanks for listening...

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A steady supply of Toronto power after Houston started "lights out" TFC 4 Dynamo 2

A Saturday night game had arrived and I had yet to recover from the prior Saturday. Losing to DC United had not been a pretty sight. The failure to connect offensively was worrying and the fear that the team was going to be flat-footed and unplanned throughout the critical month of July was still gnawing at me.

This night began with Davis of Houston twice wide open on the TFC right side and twice scoring. I think both Oduro and Bloom were responsible for that side of the field, but Davis' positioning in behind the first wave of attack seemed to indicate that Oduro had neglected to track back properly. I had felt that Oduro was a significant non-contributor the week before and this score was not going to change my mind on this.

It may be World Cup hangover in the perception of the fan, but having TFC give up two goals that reminded me of Brazil vs Germany in the semi-finals was not a comfy feeling. It was not Nelsen doing a big Phil impersonation or Luke Moore playing like Fred. More of a feeling that Houston had done their homework and had exploited a flaw in TFC's formation and were going to go to town on this.

The Toronto climb back was steady, which is not the word to describe the Dynamo keeper. Keeper Tally Hall dropped the ball to enable Osorio's goal, Oduro shot and then scored due to the keeper's rebound and the teams reached the halftime tied.

I understand that it takes a long time to "click" with your peers and it is very early moments to critique the Warner - Osorio midfield, but it shows more industry than fashion. Jermaine Defoe broke down the defending horde and scored two goals to put the game away.

All this was done without Michael Bradley even on the bench. This gives me hope for the return match in hot as blazes Houston on July 19th.

And now Vancouver...

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Dreaming and drooling over next time Chicago Fire 1 TFC 1

Watching Toronto FC on television Wednesday night involved multiple stages of mental adjustment for the football saturated.
The first hurdle was grasping that this was not a World Cup game, an everything on the line, billions watching sort of contest. It was just a MLS regular season game played on a very rainy night in Illinois.

The second hurdle was figuring out the uniforms. I am a huge fan of the TFC third uniform this year, the onyx. However it takes awhile to understand that the flash of red uniform is Chicago, not Toronto. It was also confusing that the Fire were also looking just a little like the USA in colour scheme, although that could be just my Brasil 2014 brain going into overdrive.

Before I have had a chance to fully tuned into the game, Luke Moore is red carded for an elbow to the head of Fire midfielder Chris Ritter. Replays indicated that Moore was looking at the ball as he jumped and that Ritter came from behind and jumped late.

I am all for protecting the heads of players. Sure, when we wear our TFC fan hats, that elbow to the head of Ritter could have been a yellow card. I think that the ref was both listening to the chatter of Fire players and observing the extent of Ritter's injury before making his decision. I am comfortable with a ref who hesitates because he is getting information from the other refs, but player complaints should be background noise. The ref should be smart enough to know that not every injury is due to a foul, sometimes accidents happen

But once you establish that protection level, Mr Dodgy Ref, you can't be giving yellows for Amerikwa's kick to Caldwell's head and the late game elbow to the back of the head of Oduro. It just seemed that either ref scon was calling an unbalanced game or he was spending the rest of the night compensating for his rash red.

TFC looked adequate with 11 men, then functional with 10. A point on the road should always be valued, but TFC do not look cohesive. July needs to be spectacular. I can see reserving judgement on the midfield as Warner, Jackson and notably Oduro have not had a chance to play with Bradley. Solving and settling the midfield then creates more for the strikers, Defoe in particular.

TFC have two more MLS season games with Chicago. Here in Toronto on August 23 and back in Chicago on September 13. There is the possibility that Chicago will improve their team with a summer signing or two. The internet chatter surrounding bringing USMNT player Jermaine Jones to the MLS mentioned Chicago as a destination (not sure of chatter validity). Even with another player, the Fire are in trouble. They will not get another ref as friendly as they had last night. Toronto should be marking both of those games on their calendar as opportunities to recover from last night's confusion. See you Saturday at BMO Field.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Gilberto Scores !!!!! Toronto FC takes a road point in New Jersey

NYRB 2 Toronto FC 2

It was a Friday night of delightful conflict. It was an inspired touch of scheduling that had Toronto FC visit New York Red Bulls on the night of the Brasil 2014 break. Tomorrow we have the round of 16, yesterday we had the end of group play and the MLS schedule around here pops up in the break.

I had conflicts of the delightful kind because I had family social obligations. I wanted to watch the game in peace, but a cottage invite to Muskoka from family is highly valued.

Who ever thought that I would end up witnessing the first Gilberto Toronto FC goal in a cottage driveway while smacking mosquitoes?

I always fear attempting analysis of a game on tv. I missed the first half completely. The Toronto goals were watched, but then live music and social obligations pulled me away. So I missed the NYRB late goal.

From my limited vantage, getting a point on the road is always a good thing.

Stay tuned for better blog coverage next Saturday.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

World Cup feast during Toronto FC break - Naz and Wally AM740 Zoomer Radio

I had the pleasure of being a guest on the Naz and Wally Show, a Sunday morning sports radio show on AM740 Zoomer Radio this morning (June 22).
They are aware of my TFC blog (and love) but we spoke only about Brasil 2014.

Who can blame them??

What a feast this World Cup has turned out to be. It seems that every team (ok, exceptions might include Portugal, Honduras) has decided to play with an attacking zest. Yesterday's games included Iran vs Argentina that went scoreless for 99% of the contest. Yet there was no defensive dullness. Argentina was trying to go forward, but seemed to be a talented bunch that have yet to "click". Iran defended with determination and focus, they were not about to let Argentina run riot, but those Iran counter-attacks were thrilling. They came so close and had attacking skills that had Argentina worried. Messi scored in injury time with a brilliant curving, powerful shot that eluded all.
Germany - Ghana was a thriller too. It ended 2-2, but Ghana was up 2-1 and things looked bleak for Germany. They then had the intelligence to put on my favourite International player, because I think his name sounds great at top volume, Schweinsteiger. Sorry, that should be SCHWEINSTEIGER!!!

Today is USA Portugal and the German tie means that USA has a chance, with a victory today, at taking the group!

So thanks again to Naz and Wally...they have invited me back to blab about Brasil 2014...

Sunday, June 8, 2014

TFC 1 San Jose 0 - A win with no frills

This might have been Nick Hagglund's "could have been, should have been" moment

So TFC leaves Montreal. TFC fans are miffed that Toronto was unable to score a goal and that Montreal took advantage of won the V-Cup mid-week.

TFC traded Alvaro Rey to the Crew for Dominic Oduro on Friday. I thought that Rey was on thin ice as he was not creating scoring opportunities and defending was not a big part of his game.

Walking to BMO Field the question on my mind was could we expect a greater offensive display? Points in MLS play seemed a greater priority and adding Oduro seemed a move to benefit the team right away.

Declaring that TFC "squeaked" a 1-0 win might be a touch too harsh, there were a lot of positives on display Saturday. Putting the ball into the net repeatedly from a number of sources was not one of them. This was the first time that TFC had ever defeated San Jose here in Toronto, so I give them credit for both the timely three points and the historical aspect of the result.

San Jose is not a cuddly team. Former TFC players starting for them were Gordon, Cronin and Harden. Certainly Cronin and Harden are considered good citizen types, but I think that the presence of Lenhart makes them a pain. He was poking, probing, grabbing, shoving and always complaining to the ref. Late in the game he capped it off with runs at Bendik. How does this Lenhart guy survive? It's pleasing to scan down the schedule and see that a visit to San Jose is not part of 2014. One and done suit me fine.

Jermaine Defoe scored the Toronto goal on a penalty kick. There were some scoring opportunities for Defoe and Moore in the run of play, but not much overall. Hagglund, with two cracks at net in the first half and a header that should have been in the second, might have been the biggest TFC scoring threat. Oduro came on later and paired with Defoe up front. Oduro's speed and opportunism just might create space for Defoe.
The back four of Hagglund, Henry, Caldwell and Bloom were solid all afternoon. Bendik only scared the fans once with a mishandled ball in the box. His goal kicks are improving too.

The messy midfield had some signs of improvement. The second time watching Warner in Toronto and he just might be what Tim Bez. promised when we fans were all grumbling about the Issey trade. He defends well, goes forward with the ball with skill and his passing is ok. Even when his passes go astray, you can see what he was attempting. Osorio looked a lot like Osorio 2013. Perhaps it is a matter of getting over injuries and regaining confidence. Bekker was less impressive than Osorio, but he contributed a solid game.
Jackson is coming back from concussion problems, so it was tough to see him fouled regularly in the second half. It was always late, hard tackles that followed his passing the ball well. Still Jackson seems to be unable to feed the ball to Defoe or Moore with any success, as if he remains on a different page from the strikers. This is a problem, especially since he does not seem to be creating shots for himself either. I thought before the game that trading Rey gave both Jackson and Gilberto some time to prove themselves to TFC. Now I am not so sure.
Injury concerns were part of the game. Besides Jackson having a rough ride, Lovitz suffered a head injury in the first seconds of his arrival as a substitute and Gilberto was announced as a starter but neither started nor was on the bench.
So TFC now faces a three week World Cup break. The next game is June 27 at New York. Let the global footy feast begin.

Friday, June 6, 2014

TFC send Rey to Columbus for Dominic Oduro

Oduro in Fire days
Rey leaves for Crew

TFC Twitter confirms that Alvaro Rey has been traded to the Columbus Crew for Dominic Oduro. Forgive the older pic of Oduro above, I just wanted to minimize the Crew yellow on the page.

I had the feeling that the lack of success from the midfield was putting some players on thin ice in Toronto. Cheers to Rey for his efforts in TFC red, but he never seemed to break from the potential stage to the producing stage that TFC needs from their international spots.

Oduro was born in Ghana. He has played in the MLS long enough to qualify for the US green card and therefore he does not take up an international spot. He scored 13 goals for Columbus last year, but has yet to score this year. Prior years in Chicago had goal totals of 6 and 12.

TFC history always has the burden of reminding us of what once went wrong. The last trade with Columbus that pops into my head is Tony Tchani for Andy Iro. I had been convinced for years prior to that trade that Andy Iro was an undiscovered gem and that TFC should grab him. I both apologize for such bad blogging/scouting and refrain from speculating about what Oduro brings to TFC. Even if Oduro remains a firm member of the "Can't score TFC midfield",  his arrival and Rey's departure frees up an international spot on the roster in time for the transfer window this summer.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Mess in Montreal Impact 1 TFC 0

It was my view that TFC leadership seemed less than committed to winning the V- Cup and could live without the Champions League involvement that would add games to the crowded summer schedule. Therefore, I was prepared to see a limited starting 11 and could see Montreal being the better team in the second leg last night. Instead we saw plenty of starters and Montreal not being the better team. The Montreal strategy seemed to be a simple expectation that TFC was bound to be the lesser team. TFC had to score and Montreal did not think they could. Case closed. Montreal scored a goal in the very late going just for laughs (a cheap Montreal reference).

So it is not the loss that bugs me, it is the offensive ineptitude. It is troubling that we TFC fans have been promised a new meal (MLS playoffs) while being presented the same old menu. Toronto having a midfield of no style, no guile, no vision and no hope has become a tradition. Here we go again.
Nelsen sends out the TFC midfield in Montreal consisting of Bekker (0), Hall (0), Rey (0) and Lovitz (0). The stat following each player is their 2014 goal total in all competitions. As the second half wore on and the need for TFC to score a goal increased Nelsen was able to put on Osorio (0), Gilberto (0) and DeRo (0). Are we shocked that none of the above scored in Montreal? Was Jermaine Defoe swarmed by the Montreal defenders all night long? Was Defoe getting possession of the ball further and further from the net all second half? Has my fave player Gilberto developed two main challenges in his game, keeping on his feet and not giving the ball away to the opposition?

Yes, the post World Cup TFC midfield could be Bradley (1), Warner (0), Orr (1) and Jackson (1). Is that enough? The central combo of Bradley and Warner could have potential, yet beyond that lies little. I suspect that Rey and Jackson are on thin ice. You can't take up an International spot on the roster and contribute so little in Toronto for any length of time (unless your name is Reggie Lambe). Orr, DeRo and Bekker will provide bench strength for the midfield. I think Osorio should spend time in Wilmington. He has been pushing himself back from injuries too often this year and playing time will be an issue for him. Of course, he was one section of goal post away from being the hero last night.

Now San Jose here at BMO Field Saturday and then we can relax and watch Bradley and Cesar in the World Cup for the rest of June.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Strong finish, stumbling until Defoe's strike TFC 3 Columbus Crew 2

More to come JD
A beautiful day down by the lake, but you could not describe much of Toronto's play as beautiful. Could it have been that plentiful sunshine and perfectly mild temperatures were the conditions to lull fans and players alike? This was a big game against Columbus. May was supposed to be a month of TFC working their way into contention based on success at home.

For too much of the game TFC looked like a lost cause. In general the passing was terrible and the awareness of each other was poor. The strategy seemed to be simply "get it to Defoe" and he was being covered and bumped and throttled by Columbus. The Crew opened the scoring and they made it look easy. TFC/Defoe were able to reach halftime tied thanks to a too rare penalty call (that was the first penalty kick Toronto has had all year).

Bradley Orr had gone off injured early and that muddled the midfield. Lovitz came in and took the wing, the middle was then Osorio and Bekker and the other winger was Jackson. Osorio and Bekker have their strengths, but they never seem to be on the same page.  TFC spent most of the day passing very badly and although all were guilty, it seems that the central midfield pairing are the root of the problem. Since no attack is generated from the middle of the park, the opposition can pay more attention to closing down the wings. Jackson did not have a strong game. You are inclined to give him a break as he is coming back from a concussion injury, but he and Rey(who did not play) have to contribute more to have a TFC future.
The first portion of the second half was a case of Toronto spinning their wheels and Nelsen waiting a bit too long to make his substitutions.
Gilberto was on the sideline waiting to go into the game when Columbus scored their second goal from a corner kick. Bendik picked up a yellow card for complaining on that goal, but I did not see any merit in his argument. Things looked bleak at that point.
Nelsen could be praised for adding Gilberto (for Jackson) and then DeRo (for Osorio) and going all out in the attack. Looking at the subs and the roster, he may have had no other choice. Jeremy Hall was the only defensive sub on the bench. DeRo's determination, I think, makes him the perfect late game sub.
I won't go as far as to say that Gilberto turned the game around, but the game turned and TFC's effort and success increased. It was Gilberto heading the ball to Defoe that gave TFC their second goal. It was a fantastic shot of power off the volley for Defoe. It was an "aha" moment - aha the simple strategy of get the ball to Defoe will pay off. Ok, a small "aha", his quality is incredible.
Then we end with Doneil Henry's winning goal. Yes, it was one of those games where the celebration and joy, the sheer energy at the end could erase the doldrums. All those bad passes and the feeling that Columbus was getting a visitor's special (applies to Montreal, New England and Colorado) of getting maximum benefit from minimum effort at BMO field, vanished in a roar. Henry wanted that goal. We wanted that goal. The game was won and the month of May was saved.

You could argue that the return of Bradley from the World Cup and combining him with Warner could solve the middle midfield muddle. I am not sure that any combo of Jackson, Rey, Lovitz and Osorio solves Toronto's winger worries (although the return of Bradley could raise the winger game too). Online chatter mentioned that Toronto could have a chance at DaMarcus Beasley returning to MLS post World Cup, but he is more of a left back than a left winger.

Hmmm, looking ahead - TFC had best rest up in June (World Cup break and therefore only two games- one home v San Jose and one away v NYRB). The schedule after Canada Day turns hectic. July has 7 games plus the Tottenham friendly. August, September and October each have 5 games. TFC presently sits in the last playoff spot, tied with Columbus. Something as dreamy as ties on the road and wins at home would give Toronto 15 points for July. That would be a powerful playoff position....

Thursday, May 29, 2014

V Cup, V Cup, we'll give it to thee Cup - TFC 1 MTL 1

The game last night had me wondering just how little TFC management wants the extra games of Champions League on their 2014 schedule.
Joe Bendik was in net. It would not surprise me to see Chris Konopka get the start in Montreal.
The back four was strategic. Play Morgan (rest Morrow- late sub), play Hagglund (rest Bloom), play Caldwell (red card in KC means he can't play MLS game vs Columbus this Saturday) and play Henry in order to rest him Saturday. Orr and Hagglund had success against the Crew earlier this year. I expect to see them playing centrally Saturday, flanked by Morrow and Bloom.

The midfield is a concern. Playing Hall and Orr as your central midfielders sure seems to be giving up on offensive drive. Neither of them will dribble the ball into space much and their passing is often on the shaky side. Lovitz is a promising rookie, but not yet a solid MLS starter. Rey seems to be playing his way out of Toronto. He can't expect to hold onto his international spot on the roster with a total of zero goals. He is a puzzle. He seems to have the skills to create opportunities, but does not seem to create the momentum to turn his chances into shots or crosses.

Up front they went with Gilberto and DeRo. Gilberto deserves a blog post of his own. I am holding off, saving myself for the retrospective. DeRo worked hard and had a chance or two. I felt sorry for him past the 60 minute mark. He needed to sit and make way for fresher legs.

Justin Mapp accomplished Montreal's mission in just seconds. Found some space, weaved and twisted, beat a man, created just enough space to get his shot off and grabbed the Montreal away goal. I would have preferred to see Bendik at least diving in a vain attempt rather than standing frozen. Based on last night's play (and assuming the same TFC line-up, though I suspect that Wiedeman and Richter will find spots) I just don't see TFC scoring in Montreal.

It is funny that Nakajima-Farran tweeted on the day after his trade from TFC to Montreal that maybe he should have hit the post on his penalty kick in Vancouver. At the time I thought it was just a part of the thought process of shifting his loyalty from one team to the other. After seeing TFC look so confused in their finishing against Montreal, maybe he was picking up on TFC's lack of interest in the V Cup this year.

Sure, I will watch the Montreal game on tv. Of course I will be cheering if TFC finds their spark. However if Montreal scores and scores and shuts Toronto down, I will not be surprised.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Scrappy win and midfield mess - Toronto FC 2 NYRB 0

It was a game with a TFC pleasing,lightning start and a score settling finish. In between these two peaks was worry, tension, strong defending, missed opportunities and one messy midfield.

The midfield remains under the microscope. Nakajima-Farran is gone but not forgotten. Michael Bradley is with his World Cup USA squad. The new guy from Montreal, Collen Warner has yet to take the field. Bradley Orr provided a brilliant pass to Defoe that create the first goal, but I have a hard time remembering any more offensive production from Orr for the rest of the day
Let's pretend that Warner turns out to be the undiscovered gem of holding midfielders and sits and sweeps and tackles and tidies up and sends our midfield into glorious attack. Without Bradley for the next  4 MLS games and 2 Canadian Championship games, who in the midfield looks poised for glory? Osorio is struggling, Rey is puzzling, Bekker's passing and dribbling never seem to be probing and Jackson has concussion problems. I suspect we face more than a month of muddled, messy midfield.
It was a brighter story up front. Jermaine Defoe's goal was a rocket of a shot. Although I missed the foul that put him to the ground when Bloom tried to send him away later in the second half, it was clear that New York was getting physical with Defoe. I thought his frustration was justified and the playacting of New York was horrible. Luke Moore seemed to be a solid partner for Defoe, I look forward to more of Moore. Gilberto remains scoreless. There are those who say that his skills make him worth supporting and that he will turn it around and start scoring. It is less a personal analysis, rather a hallowed Toronto tradition that mistakes and lakes go together that lead me to say Gilberto is Pablo Vitti returned. Some say we gave up too early on him too.

Joe Bendik was fine, New York Red Bulls never worried him too much. The closest was when somebody collided with Bendik and Wright-Phillips missed the open net. However there still is the problem of Bendik's distribution. Every goal kick is a hard blast. Too many of them became New York possessions within seconds. There needs to be a variety of goal kick lengths and player alignments.
Away to Kansas City is a worry. Home to Montreal should be fun. See you by the lake.

A great day, great company and a great scarf!!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

WhiteCaps 2 TFC 1 - tied on aggregate - TFC wins on penalties

     This pic was from the week before. Defoe did not play in Vancouver.

I did not expect this result. Toronto winning in Vancouver after taking the game to penalty kicks?  I felt that if Toronto was unable to pile up an early lead, the Whitecaps would have the home advantage as the game wore on.

However, the late scoring chances seemed to be TFC's. Bendik was a monster in the extra 30 minutes and the WhiteCaps seemed to fade.

Just some jumbled observations.

Luke Moore, playing in his first game for Toronto, looked ok. He was not earth shattering on his own, but I would like to see him paired with Defoe on Saturday to better evaluate him.

Gilberto had two games to score against a 17 year old Canadian keeper. Vancouver has every right to see a bright future for young Marco Carducci. Toronto has every right to think that Gilberto will never score while wearing a TFC uniform and the earlier they end this experiment the better. The Nelsen strategy of playing him until he scores seems to have backfired.

Daniel Lovitz (a second half sub for Kyle Bekker) showed a lot of pace down the wings and was moving the ball into great spaces. He had a shot late in the extra time that forced the Carducci save of the night. Hope they play him on Saturday.
There were times late in the game when you looked at Toronto's players - saw Moore, DeRo, Lovitz, Bradley, Hagglund, Orr, Nakajima-Farran and Osorio- and wondered if they were all on a first name basis yet. Despite that they seemed to be working it out on the fly.

The lapses of Doneil Henry continue to be a worry. It may have been a borderline call, but Henry should not be throwing himself into such challenges when instead he needs to smother.

It was nice to see some playing time for Ashtone Morgan, but he did not play well enough to look like he has won a starting role again.

After watching Montreal back into the finals (Edmonton had them on the ropes) I think the momentum has to be with Toronto. The first leg in Toronto helps, but we can count on strange things happening in Montreal.