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.