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....

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