Sunday, May 31, 2015

A hard (goal scoring) rain is going to fall - TFC 3 San Jose 1

Cloudy day, bright performance

It was difficult to walk away from the Saturday TFC game not thinking about rainstorms. The game's time slot began with a storm and  later driving away from BMO you felt seconds away from the next storm front. I may qualify as a hopeless optimist, but just as a storm brewing in the air gives you the sense of forces about to be unleashed, TFC 2015 gives you the feeling that heavy goal scoring victories are about to rain all summer long. This starts with Giovinco and his ability to create scoring opportunities all game long (the game ending with his free kick off the post). Jozy Altidore is still injured and therefore Morrow and Moore scored from in front of the net on set-ups from Giovinco. Creavalle's goal was also assisted by Giovinco, although I give greater credit to Creavalle sending a long range beauty
I think that Michael Bradley should be coached to take a shot on net within the first fifteen minutes of every game. Going cross-sport here - you know how a pass happy point guard in basketball sets up the passing option by taking some early shots? Too many teams are going to be defending against the pass from Bradley to Gio, so Bradley should shoot early to set up the later Gio passes.

TFC's present position in the standings makes a summer storm of goals a tempting treat. 11 games into a 34 game schedule is close enough to a third through for my clumsy math. Peeking at the 2014 final standings Sporting KC grabbed the final (5th) playoff spot with 49 points (14W 13L 7ties). Something tells me that more points will be needed to qualify in 2015 when you figure in the two Eastern expansion teams

If Toronto is aiming higher than squeaking into lower playoff spots (and I hope they are), then the month of June is a huge opportunity. They are 9 points behind DC United and have 3 games in hand. The June schedule has TFC and DC United in a home and home series. This June could launch TFC into uncharted territory.
This has been a blog of positives, so let me scatter a few negatives.
#1 Three goals scored, yet Jozy Altidore is still missed. I read a report quoting Coach Vanney as saying that Altidore is ahead of schedule.
#2 Good games from Osorio, Creavalle and Jackson, but TFC should be shopping still for a winger.
#3 Thin bench concern - TFC had a bench dominated by rookies (Hamilton, Manella, Chapman). Injuries to Warner and Findley have meant a chance for the young generation, but the summer signing window has to bring somebody onto the TFC bench.

Next game @ DC United next Saturday

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Starting with the sounds of supporter silence TFC 1 Portland Timbers 0

top left of picture - the fine folks who travelled from OREGON to be banished at BMO
The south end supporter groups wore black, had banners about the 2016 stadium share with the CFL and made no noise until the Dichio song. I salute them (wore black myself) and understand that although the decision may have been inevitable, that does not make it right and the potential for things to go wrong remains strong. A Toronto soccer fan has no obligation to save the CFL in this market (especially when you can argue that the Toronto baseball fan has done lasting damage and that CFL fans have enjoyed 26 years of self inflicted damage). The Argos have been a sinking boat for decades and if you think that being the afterthought tenant at BMO and the ownership of Larry Tanenbaum (who buys the team for a toonie one day and then the next day talks about NFL in Toronto as inevitable) is going to change the buoyancy of that boat, you are hoping to hard. Sorry to say it, but kill TFC and a soccer in Canada dream dies, kill the Argos and most are going to watch and attend Bills games anyway...

Back to the TFC game. It was a frustrating victory. You felt TFC had the potential for a handful of goals in the game. Some credit has to go to Portland keeper Kwaraesey who made some solid saves to keep his team in the game. It was frustrating, in a twisted way, to see the improvements in just a few weeks. They played in yesterday's game in the manner you had hoped for in the opener against Houston. Benoit Cheyrou played the part of midfield maestro throughout the day. He makes everyone around him better, frees Bradley from having to track back too deep and picked out Giovinco on an incredible long pass in the first half. I was going to describe Giovinco as the high profile star of the day and Cheyrou as the stealth star of the day...but then some online sources had Cheyrou as man of the match...

Vanney move #1 TFC fans moved to the edge of their seats with ten minutes to go - anticipating the TFC defending letdown that would gift Portland a point. One of the reasons that TFC did not give up that expected late goal was Coach Vanney's substitution of Nick Hagglund to play with five defenders in the back. It means that the team sits back and goes into a shell, but it worked. We will take ugly over deflating any day.

Vanney move #2 It seems that the TFC wingers are a rotating squad, Osorio, Warner, Creavalle and Jackson all had some playing time. Warner was subbed at halftime and it must have been injury related because he was a solid presence. Warren Creavalle played well, he was regularly intercepting Portland passes and had a sizzling shot at net.

Idle trade talk MLS has wisely changed their rules so that the trading window aligns with the summer signing window. So TFC can't trade again until July. So I am speculating weeks ahead, but does the solid play of Chris Konopka in net put Joe Bendik in trade jeopardy?

Portland's fans banished?
It used to be that visiting supporters were kept together and made secure in the top north east corner of the stadium. Now that a new section has been built above the old one and the top north east seems to be a mile further up. Why put Portland fans that far up? It actually looked funny at the end of the game when Timber's players were saluting their fans. It looked as if they were clapping for fans above them in the clouds. It think that part of the problem is the pricing of the new eastern upper deck tickets. TFC needs to make it a better bargain. Forget about distance from the field. Fans will soon learn that for most game times you spend the game staring into the setting sun. Nice for tanning, not so nice for viewing.

Final utterings
Where was Osorio going when he blocked Gio's shot that had already passed the Portland keeper? Osorio played a good game, but being in the way of a sure goal ends up being the lowlight of the game. Ashtone Morgan continues to play well. He was given a plaque before the game to honour his new status as TFC player with the most games played.

Next game - the friendly vs Man City

Sunday, May 17, 2015

New England Rev 1 Toronto FC 1 - A big step to gain a single point

Why does a draw against New England feel better than a victory over Montreal? TFC had the potential with any loss to stumble in the standings. Instead gaining a point against the Revs and now a week's rest gives them an opportunity to treat the next home game (vs Portland) as a fresh start...

It was a big step to get a point from New England.....on the road.
It was a big step to scramble and defend and not give up a late goal on the road (how we wish that had been learned back in Toronto eg Montreal and Houston).
It was a big step to survive the injury to Jozy Altidore early in the game.
It was fun watching Chris Konopka save the day and dodge bullets.
It was a big step to watch Coach Vanney make the late defensive substitutions of Jackson and Creavalle and have it pay off. I felt sorry that Coach Vanney has to look at those two as defensive subs... but it worked.
Ok, I have to squawk. How can you call taking advantage of being in an offside position when a shot has been made on net, the keeper has lost the ball after the save and THEN the advantage is cashed in?  Should have been a win...we will get them next time.

Is this the place to ponder the New Englanders glorification of armed uprisings?

Thursday, May 14, 2015

No wings, no fly TFC 3 Montreal 2 - Montreal through on aggregate

It is a TFC financial puzzle still unsolved, at least from this fan's point of view. You would think that the economic future of the team, the spending of millions on star players, would depend on reaping income from extra games in both the Canadian qualifying and then the CONCACAF Champions League. Last night Toronto was in position to qualify, leading Montreal by a goal on aggregate late in the game when they slipped up and allowed Dominic Oduro to score against them. Yes, the same Oduro who was woeful for TFC in 2014. I do not second guess the TFC decision to let Oduro go to Montreal, he was clearly not the answer for TFC. But what circle of hell does TFC occupy that lets the obvious traded player revenge script be such a constant?

 So, if I understand this correctly, TFC is now a year away from playing another Canadian qualifying game and TWO years away from a Champion's League since Canadian qualifying will now always be for the following year? Seems like your extra revenue plan is now friendlies, friendlies and friendlies (or Argos and outdoor hockey- but what am I saying? Tim L says this is a soccer first, second and third facility!!).

Some squawk and say that TFC needs defensive help. It seems to me that the Bez/Vanney experiment abandons too many defensive roles. Morgan was always pushing up, trying to help Osorio (who is trying to be a left winger) and Morrow is pushing up and spending more time as a winger than a back.  You can't surprise the other team with an overlap when Morrow never has somebody to overlap? No suprise that other teams exploit this weakness. Stay compact in your own back and attack the spaces Toronto creates when their back four expands all over when attacking seems to be the scouting report.
TFC needs threats out on the flanks and defenders backing them up. Osorio, Findley and Jackson are not the wingers we seek. Lovitz and Delgado might have promise and potential, but the wings are spots needed to be filled by summer trade or summer signing.
We stumble on...
We tried to crush, we were crushed instead

Monday, May 11, 2015

Squander (the sequel) Toronto FC 1 - Houston 2

A fan can have a difficult time seeing a game as a singular event. A season becomes a tangle of plot lines, character development or clashes, thrills, chills and surprises. You hope for the "ups" and cope with the "downs". TFC under Tim Leiweke has compounded the plot lines by making offseasons as gripping as seasons. Trouble is when you banish dull off seasons, having a dull game such as Sunday's new BMO Field opener seems a greater betrayal. All that buildup just to end with a feeling of having squandered an opportunity to change the TFC culture...again.
If TFC v Houston, the home opener, could be a singular event it was because we felt that the stage was set yesterday for a Hollywood ending to the Tim Leiweke in Toronto story.
His new stadium.
His new players.
His swan song.
He is leaving his leadership role with MLSE next month and what better way to bow out than with a TFC domination at the fancy expanded stadium? I was joking that if the day went according to script I was expecting news of a Tim Leiweke statue...
Instead it was flop and flounder time, a crappy performance from a collection of athletes that have yet to reach the status of a team. It was only weeks ago that Paul Pierce described the Toronto Raptors as a team lacking "it", the element within a team that makes them winners and makes other teams fear them. Keep Paul Pierce away from the soccer highlights, his analysis applies to TFC too.

I felt that it was an echo of too many other Toronto FC games, too many other chances to establish a home field advantage over the years seemed to be swirling in the breeze. Instead of  the dominating approach that the situation seems to call for, Toronto lays an egg. Part of the problem is a puzzle, home field Toronto has not yet become Michael Bradley's stomping grounds. Entering year two of buying tickets to watch Michael Bradley be frustrated is not how this plot line is supposed to run. It was not heartening to see Bradley and Altidore too often play as if they had just met recently. On a team that has so many players new to each other, the extended time that these two have shared on the US team is supposed to be the bedrock of Toronto success.

The trouble with TFC too often is that a weakness in one part of the formation helps to reveal a greater disaster in another. So the poor game of Bradley and Cheyrou in the middle of the midfield just seemed to make it easier for Houston to shut down Findley and Jackson on the wings. Now I accept that TFC is hoping that Robbie Findley is both a renovation project and at a new position, but call the experiment off. I think that Robbie Findley and Luke Moore play the same role for TFC, cagey vet with offensive skills. Great player to have off the bench late in the game, whether you are chasing a game or need offensive counter punching to protect a lead. If two vets on the bench can fit under the budget, great. TFC needs players who can truly attack from wide positions, not constant crosses that have no strategy behind them, no intended target. Both Jackson and Findley were subbed in the second half yesterday and it was a decision that could have been made at halftime (pre-game?). I am convinced that the second Houston goal, the winner, started with a cheap giveaway of the ball by Jackson inside the Houston penalty area. Ashtone Morgan and Jonathan Osorio contributed some energy and attack down the left wing in the latter stages of the second half, but we know that Osorio is not the attacking winger we seek. I would chose the GM Bezbatchenko solution (summer signings or trades) over the Coach Vanney solution (if he could teach wing attack skills- wouldn't players have them by now?).

The picture below seems destined for the textbook "How to beat TFC". Clog the middle, there is nothing to fear out on the flanks.

I hope for a different approach against Montreal. Go back to Lovitz and Delgado on the wings. Yet the true test are the MLS home games through May and June. Squander no more.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Montreal 1 Toronto FC 0

A strange qualification situation, last night's game was the first leg of two games to determine a Canadian champion and qualify for CONCACAF Champion's League in 2016. So it would be possible to defeat Montreal and then the winner of Whitecaps vs FC Edmonton and not clutter up the 2015 season.
That being said, Toronto FC did not display a burning desire to conquer Wednesday night. More of a determination to keep Montreal contained seemed the strategy and they were one moment short of having it work perfectly.
I think that in the back of Vanney's mind is that he could proceed with a cautious lineup and approach for the midweek game, because the May 10 home opener calls for something noisier.
Random thoughts

Smallest category of Toronto FC fans - those who are upset that TFC gave up on Dominic Oduro.

TFC tradition continued (1) - A young defensive pairing of Zavaletta and Hagglund looked capable with the exception of the Montreal McInerney goal.

TFC tradition continued (2) - It was interesting to watch Lovitz and Delgado play the wings. They are both clearly MLS level prospects rather than threats to take starting roles from Jackson, Findley or even Osorio. Toronto struggles to find players for the wings.

The always up to something award goes to - Luke Moore
The surprise playing time award goes to - Jay Chapman
 The can't wait for Sunday afternoon award goes  to - everyone.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Make the final --- Philadelphia Union 0 Toronto FC 1

Might I be the first blogger in history to begin a game report with a pic of Chris Konopka??

Sometimes I lose track of my bloggish intentions.  If "Mistake by the Lake" is intended to be both a fan's diary and a tactical view of TFC games, the tactical side has been suffering.  I find that watching game after game on television turns this blog into a mushy collection of media observations and a lot of mystery guesses. I think things such as "what are Jackson and Findley doing on the same wing?" or "have their been enough games for Gio to have as little confidence in Jackson getting a ball into the box as the rest of TFCdom?", but I lack the context of the field and formation to determine what is accident and what is design. TV angles and camera choices are more confusing than helpful, notably when it is a stadium you only watch a game in once a year.

Maybe the technology is just around the corner where you can have a great view of the full pitch and zoom in on different players. You could pull back to get a sense of the formation and zoom in to capture the one v one battle down the touchline or in front of the net. At least I watched today's game on conventional television (oh the streaming struggles of the game in Orlando). I don't watch curling, never will. So I associate Vic Rauter's voice (and Graham Leggat too) with World Cup television coverage from days of yore. It is always great when the TSN schedule gives us Rauter calling a TFC game. He may not be the most up to date on the squad and he can repeat himself too often, but you get the sense that he is glad to be there. I dream of the game that Vic Rauter calls with Jason DeVos. I would want Vic to send J.DV home for being a sourpuss right in the midst of the second half.

But enough sports media and on to the sport. It was very pleasing that TFC squeaked through in Philadelphia (actually Chester), winning their second game in a row, not giving up a goal since the first half in Dallas and heading back to Toronto where the home opener next Sunday beckons. My newest TFC trick is to halt the broadcast of the game with my pvr and then follow the game on Twitter. That way the tension of protecting a lead on the road is reduced. Philadelphia Union is a team struggling to score this year, yet they spent the afternoon scaring me. When they put on Sebastien Le Toux and Casey Conor, two players who seem to have a special knack for scoring against Toronto, to join Maurice Edu I felt that TFC karma calls for giving up either the lead or all the points. Chris Konopka was the Toronto keeper due to a Joe Bendik injury and allowing zero goals was a welcome contribution. The back four of Morgan, Morrow, Hagglund and Perquis were fine. Your confidence in Bradley and Cheyrou in the midfield has to be strong, because you are always going to wonder at the contributions of Jackson and Findley. Altidore and Gio as the strikers have been everything hoped for and more.

For the hibernating, allow me a summary of TFC 2015 so far. Toronto FC began the MLS 2015 season with 7 road games as their home stadium, BMO Field, was undergoing an expansion. The Philly game was the last of those road games. TFC now has a record of 3 wins, 0 ties, 4 losses
The opening game victory was in Vancouver.
The Columbus game was evenly matched until TFC went down to 10 men late in the first half- loss #1.
Both the RSL and the Chicago games had Toronto pull themselves back into games only to falter in classic collapse fashion - loss #2 and #3.
The Dallas game was a case of collapse at the start, spend three hours due to a weather delay and then look a better team in the end. Loss #4 and the start of the panic concerning coaching, formation and direction.

It may have been ugly, but beating both Orlando and Philly means that TFC returns to Toronto with a sense that a corner has been turned. They have 9 points, good enough for a tie in the last(6th) playoff space. They have a goal difference of 0, scoring and allowing 11 goals and have kept a clean sheet for the last two games.

(Now, I know that TFC has a Canadian Championship game Wednesday in Montreal, but I do not want the distraction. I will watch and cheer for TFC, but I think it would be smart to play the "C" team in Montreal. Toronto needs to make a huge splash on Sunday with their new stadium. Montreal will have the loss to Club America still ringing in their ears...).

I am not the only one who will be thrilled to find myself making my way to the stadium next Sunday to see the team, finally, in the flesh.  A renovated stadium (awash in double blue colours?) awaits.

Stay tuned.