Thursday, October 29, 2015

Horrors Montreal 3 Toronto O

Woe, muttering, anger and more woe is how I would describe my evening.

I foolishly watched on television TFC collapse in Montreal. Yes, the team I cheer for, the team I support by buying season tickets for since day 1, the team I write this blog about - decided to make their very first MLS playoff game a memorable one. A horror show.

Montreal scored three goals in the first half and it was akin to watching a hot knife go through butter. Hell, Drogba had time and space on the third goal to have sent a text message to his friends " I am about to score" although it probably would have been "Je suis sur le point de marquer" which clearly would have taken more time...

The question that hangs in the air tonight, hangs in the air like a ghoul in the night is "Does this team regroup and come back stronger or does it crumble?"

I was tired of hearing Jason DeVos talk about TFC defending on the broadcast. It is a concern and I am all for shoring up the back.

Trade for or sign a new keeper - nobody has confidence in the Konopka-Bendik combination at this point.

Trade for or sign a new right back - Jackson seemed to be promising, but boy did he fail the audition tonight. 

Justin Morrow deserves a contract and the left back role.

Did Vanney throw Ahmed Kantari under the bus by subbing him at half and therefore ending his TFC days? Or did he end his own TFC days by launching that dumb pass that surprised the slipping Williams and made Montreal goal two the playoff crusher? I think that Perquis and Williams, with a new keeper that they trust behind them, can be the central pairing in Toronto for next year

The trouble with TFC is just as much lack of firepower as it is sloppy defending. If there was a team ever designed to win by surviving shootouts it was this one. 

Allow 3 goals and score 5. 

Trouble is that for September and October, other than Gio, the potential big scorers melted away. Even with a home game heavy schedule and games against lesser teams- Bradley, Altidore, Findley each scored one or two goals for the final two months of the year. Jason DeVos can talk all he wants about defenders and defending - equal time must be given to the feeble attack - shut out in their first playoff game, one goal from Altidore in that critical game in Montreal on the weekend, shut out by Columbus in the last home game. With the startling exception of the NYRB game, unless TFC was playing Col. Chicago, Philly or Orlando they were a team in recent months that could not score....

Those TFC millions spent on goal scorers seemed to be squandered tonight.

Does Vanney survive this? I doubt it. Change the "At Last" making the playoffs song to "Can't Last" or "Let Blast". TFC looked worse in the biggest game of their history, so far, than they did Sunday night. A team that can't adjust, Vanney called Sunday a dress rehearsal, is a team in trouble.  I am just as willing to cut ties with the coach as I am with the Manager (Tim Bezbatchenko) and the captain (Michael Bradley).

I feel like a fool for being eager, days ago when TFC beat Red Bulls, to renew my season tickets and reserve my playoff tickets.

This team has been making us look like fools for a long time now. Makes you wonder if it is the team or the fans who are making the mistakes by the lake....

All that science - all that conditioning and the heart monitors. All the new faces and the time to make the team yours - and the final three games of the year (loss to Columbus- two losses to Montreal) felt like a joke...

Sunday, October 25, 2015

To cheer for TFC is to follow a perilous path Montreal 2 TFC 1


Who allowed Toronto FC to travel to Montreal to determine their playoff ranking?

The loss in Montreal tonight (Sunday) drops Toronto to sixth place and ends their 2015 season. Montreal is now poised and prepared (in third place) to host TFC in a one game knockout playoff mid-week. The winner of the one game will participate in the two game Eastern conference semi-finals over the next two weekends.

Did you see this coming? Do you feel that TFC has managed to uphold a thrilling TFC tradition? Where did the perpetual suffering clause hide when I signed up for season tickets all those years ago? Do you think I can write all night, peppering the page with rhetorical questions?

Caring about this Toronto FC team (an affliction that I once dared to name mistakenbylaken) takes you to dangerous places. The ups and the downs are too cruel. It was some 12 days ago that TFC defeated New York to clinch the playoffs. The joy of that unexpected peak has been followed by a bumpy descent.

I saw something bleak coming... I was so livid when TFC did not show up fully when hosting Columbus last week. In my bred in Ontario bones I knew that putting yourself in the position of needing points (or a point) from a road game in Montreal was foolish and should have been avoided.

I understand the view that the TFC goalkeepers are an area of concern, but I prefer not to dwell on it. TFC are certainly set up to win by outscoring teams. Did anyone truly think that a strategy for road victories was to have Giovinco and Altidore combine for one goal and then let Konopka lock the gate?
I also understand that the back four are a cause for worry, but midfielders tracking back play a large part in defending too. Although Montreal started the second half with energy and confidence, it was two touches by Didier Drogba within a two minute span that brought TFC to the brink. It was the inability to respond with second half goals that pushed TFC over the brink.

I think that the focus on Kantari and Williams does not explain how TFC lost their minds for a five minute spell. I think that handling pressure is a concern for fans looking at both coaching staff and players. After all, the playoff clinch game versus the Red Bulls was not a pressure game, more of an appreciated gift from team to those fans who braved that night (when Texas Rangers game 5 versus Blue Jays held the spotlight). I do think that Coach Vanney holds Robbie Findley in a higher regard than his 2015 results would indicate. I do think that he waits too long into the waning stages of the game before he makes critically needed changes.

The chance at hosting a playoff game here in 2015 was made slimmer today in Montreal
TFC in Montreal is the next game. May it not be the last TFC game of 2015.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Everyone wastes my time - TFC 0 Columbus Crew 2

Momentum? It was as if the thrilling game before never happened. I am ready to rant and rave. This is your warning, run away if you can't stomach bleating...

Have we TFC fans not suffered enough? The churning, rollercoaster nature of supporting this team never fails to amaze me. Ask me Wednesday night which MLS team in the East wants to meet Toronto FC in the playoffs, my answer would have been "nobody". Ask me again after the Saturday loss to Columbus and the answer changes to "everybody".

The  recent Wednesday victory versus New York Red Bulls put Toronto up in second place, their highest spot this late in the season, ever. The first opportunity they had to give second place away, they did.    

To Columbus.

In front of the home crowd to close out the regular season in Toronto.

Sure, it could be just a letdown after the playoff clinching effort of just hours ago. I am still shaking my head at how frustrating this letdown was to watch. I am toying with the idea that SHOULD TFC reach a home and home playoff round they might be better off being the lower seed team and get their home game first and therefore over with.

It is difficult to pinpoint where Toronto went wrong today. The Columbus goals came as lightning surprises, not sustained pressure. Joe Bendik was in net and I think it's fair to observe that TFC is a playoff team despite their keepers as much as because of their keepers.
TFC had a lot of the play. They just lacked finish and true opportunities. Vanney gets a mixed evaluation from me. I was pleased with going to three forward late in the game and putting both Herc Gomez and Luke Moore, but it was too late. At the start of the game I was also liking the pairing of Giovinco and Bradley as the two forwards. I have said before that I think that Bradley is a more potent, creative player when he is forced into a scoring role rather than a support role. Late in the first half though, either Bradley abandoned the role or Vanney coached a different formation. Findley went from winger to forward, Warner from central holding midfielder to winger and Bradley came back to the midfield. Sorry, but that was a huge step in the wrong direction. It has reached the point where I would rather see Cheyrou and Warner as a pair of holding midfielders, with the occasional probing pass than Bradley mucking up the midfield. I think that Bradley has something to prove to the TFC fans at this point. The last two times that Toronto has beaten an Eastern conference team higher than them in the standings was the other night vs. NYRB and way back in the spring vs. DC United. Both games had the absence of Michael Bradley in common. I don't think that one thoughtful Toronto soccer fan is deciding to renew their season tickets for 2016, right now, based on feasting their eyes on Bradley.  A game in Montreal and the playoffs could paint a different picture. I see his skills, his positioning and his effort, but something critical is missing. It may be a coach that pushes and prods
Oh and a word on Marky Delgado. I think that Marky Delgado has potential and will contribute one day. Right now he plays like a junior player, as if his role is to always, ALWAYS defer to any senior player. Y'know "here Mr. Bradley" or "here Mr. Giovinco". He knows his role, we in the stands can predict his role and Columbus defenders sure know not to worry about him. I think he successfully took on a defender only once today. Late in the first half Delgado was wide left at one point and wide open. He was waving for the ball and of course no pass came in his direction.  When the other team won't cover you and your own team won't pass to you, something is wrong. A Vanney rush job?

Random thoughts

Tony Tchani- am I the only one amazed that he continues his career with Columbus as a starter 4 years after TFC traded him? TFC acquired him from NYRB in the DeRo trade. I admit that Tchani is a factor in my Bradley rant. TFC has a million dollar international top quality midfield general and Columbus has Tony Tchani, a player we dumped 4 years ago. And they win!

Kei Kamara - a small consolation, but if the Crew were going to manage to keep Giovinco off the score sheet, at least TFC kept Kamara from scoring.

Federico Higuain - he made sure that every hint of a foul on him was augmented by rolling around and around on the pitch and then scored a cheeky late goal to squash TFC. Have I mentioned before that TFC is too nice for their own good?

Sigh....playoff picture still to be determined. Montreal@NE tonight, tomorrow Chicago@DC, Philly@NYRB....

Friday, October 16, 2015

Giovinco takes TFC to the promised playoff land - TFC 2 NYRB 1

Sorry for the delay in posting, but this was a big one. I spent game night smiling, Thursday morning writing and writing and now find myself Friday p.m. without a blog post on the biggest game of 2015.

Where to start?

They did it. Toronto FC, in the ninth year of their existence, qualified for the MLS Cup playoffs Wednesday night. Sure, it was overshadowed by the most captivating Toronto baseball game in some 22 years, but I am here to tell you that the TFC milestone deserves your attention too.

I had made my way to the game with very low expectations. Many folks attended the game disguised as empty seats. New York Red Bulls (NYRB) had thumped Toronto back in August. TFC victories since then had all come against struggling teams. I could not think of the last time Toronto had bested a team higher than them in the standings. 

Add in the fact that Bradley, Giovinco and Altidore had all played for their national teams over the weekend. Cheering for TFC to gain a point from a draw vs. NYRB felt like a foolish long shot. I kept thinking about the worst case scenario - should TFC lose their final 3 games and both Montreal and Orlando win their final two, TFC could miss the playoffs once again. This is a team that has the negative outcome historically as the default position.

Then two things kicked into gear; TFC played so well* in the first half that the missing star players seemed almost not missed at all and Seba Giovinco. 

Giovinco was bundled up and on the substitute's bench. He played for his national team, Italy, over the weekend and had arrived back in Toronto only hours before the New York game. He came on as a sub, roughly twenty minutes to play. Just by warming up on the sidelines he electrified the place. He ran onto the field to a standing ovation. Everyone knew that he had good reasons to be resting and watching from the stands (or even sleeping at home). This was a level of Hollywood that TFC fans rarely witness. 

You know by now that he scored the goal that turned out to be both the game winner and therefore the playoff berth clincher. 
Giovinco's goal was a masterpiece. It had layers galore. His first burst into the clear, where he seemed to ride the two defending Red Bulls the way a surfer takes a small wave, was worthy of a chuckle. The second move, where he seemed to be ready to shoot and then glided to his left leaving two more Red Bulls sliding off as if they were salt and pepper shakers sliding off a table, was worthy of a gasp. Then he smoothly took his shot and it was both power and beauty as it found the far side of the goal. I think the sound that came out of me was a combo of yelp and cheer. 

I dare say that not since Danny Dichio scoring in the last game of 07, that long range dipper against New England, has this ground witnessed such a moment. You felt elation and wonder mixed together. 
"Did that just happen?", part of your brain is asking. 
"Oh man, you just witnessed something incredible!" another brain segment is chiming in. TFC are about to beat the New York Red Bulls and with Giovinco the possibilities for what lies ahead are mind boggling. 
However, the Dichio goal was a consolation. It put a smile on your face and completed the season of football's fairy tale arrival in Toronto.

Seba's goal is so much more than the old Dichio delight. Seba's was the game winner and the playoff clincher. It was against one of the best teams in the league, it even made the statement that Toronto could be in a position to claim that crown. It was also a personal statement, the crowd had been chanting MVP for Giovinco all evening. How could anyone witness last night's game and not see that Seba Giovinco combined incredible skill with an equally incredible sense of occasion. Toronto FC are in the MLS Cup playoffs and Giovinco put them there.   MVP 2015.

Somebody in the TFC front office had it right on the media side. Minutes into the post game celebrations of this historic victory a video of season highlights was put on the big screen and the song "At Last" boomed around the stadium. It captured the moment in a way that few TFC flourishes do. All those frustrations, all those squandered chances, all those times sitting in my seat and wondering just how much suffering could one team inflict.

Yes, through thin, thin and at last thick, Toronto FC is my team. I was in my section for game one and have seen the players come and go. The managers arrive and fall and the winds blow hard and lonely over the south stand. "At Last" was suitably wistful for the other night, but great things are possible. So put aside wistful and thump Columbus. See you then.

* Sorry. Got so carried up with Giovinco and TFC reach the promised land narrative that I neglected game analysis. 
This was not the first night that I have thought Jackson at right back is a positive move for TFC. He had a superb game. Herculez Gomez was strong, more for his staying positionally aware than scoring threats. His goal was a classic case of taking advantage NYRB deep in their own end. Cheyrou and Warner patrolled the midfield with authority. Ashtone Morgan as a right winger had been tried before. It may have a future, though it does offer more defensive cover than precise attack. I worry about the extent of Perquis' injury. He has put the " reckless mistake" portion of his game away and looked strong before he went down. Osorio continues to show himself as a key aspect of TFC's success.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

One point short of the promised land Toronto FC 3 Philly Union 1

It was a dark and stormy eve down by the lake on a fierce Saturday, the first Saturday of October. Where did the summer go? Only minutes ago I was sitting in my seat and the CNE was swirling around us. The Philadelphia game felt as if it were played in November weather.
The HMS Toronto FC had all hands on deck and Captain Bradley, on every t-shirt, was on patrol.
Forgive the nautical theme, but the strong winds and bouts of rain were enough to tip my account into watery tale territory. Lake Ontario was providing winds that made travelling with poutine across the south end platform an adventure. All the beer booth staff in that area looked like they were going to be dislodged and hurled into the seating. It was perhaps (crossing of fingers inserted here) a sneak preview of playoff weather.

Ok, so the captain of the team is also a midfield general and Bradley was the name of a prominent US general during WW II. But don't ask me about the prominent right digit finger. I am a fan of cartoon images, but don't you feel that the cartoonist hired by TFC has no understanding of the game these athletes play...

 I admit that I was nervous at the start of the game. The consequences for losing this one was just too staggering for my little brain to take. The Seba Giovinco goal (his 21st) came early enough that you could see the confidence  build for the Reds. Toronto always seemed to have the possession advantage and the shot advantage too (off target though they may have been).

 It was satisfying to watch TFC take care of business. Yes, the Union staggered into town, exhausted from their loss in the US Cup and many of their starters resting. Yet, TFC got the job done with room to spare.
Jackson had a solid game. I like the way he uses his speed and anticipation to break up plays. That alone does not ensure you a spot on the TFC roster, Warren Creavalle was quite good at that too. Jackson was paired with Findley in the first half and Delgado in the second. A Delgado cross created the Altidore goal. Jozy Altidore gets credit for a fine finish, but we also have to note the foolish defending by Philadelphia on that series.

I am often griping that Osorio is not a true winger, but he shut me up, especially late into the second half when he was a terror down the left. The Marquez own goal was just the reward for Osorio's determination and skill getting the ball into the box. May this late game strength trend continue.
Cheyrou was his silky smooth self on the ball and sneaky tough in his tackling. Michael Bradley, on General Bradley t-shirt day, gave a spotlight worthy performance. Cheyrou is the secret ingredient in the Bradley success. Cheyrou gives Bradley the confidence to go forward and make a difference.

The Philly Union goal was scored by Steven Vitoria. I know it is a knee-jerk reaction to see every MLS player with a Canadian passport as a future acquisition... but I was impressed. In the first half it seemed that TFC were attempting to get Giovinco away from Vitoria's side of the field.

I don't want to head into the critical last three games of TFC season 2015 with my fan meter twisted far closer to faith over reason. Yet questions, those questions that seem to dance around the cranium of the seasoned TFC supporter, still hang in the air...
Can TFC find the one point needed to best Orlando for a playoff spot?
Can TFC make a true run at finishing 3rd or 4th spot to host their first playoff game?
Can Toronto FC find another gear when faced with teams above them in the standings?

NYRB, Crew and Montreal is a tough trio of opponents to finish off the schedule with. The Red Bulls will have the Supporter's Shield to play for, Columbus could prove to be the qualifying game to determine whether TFC hosts or visits for their historical first playoff game and the Montreal game could be do or die. At least a point from each game would be an accomplishment, nine points from these last games could qualify as a miracle.
If I were an Orlando fan, (facing NYCFC at home and then Philly on the road) I would be betting that six points is theirs for the taking. Toronto has two traditions, being completely out of playoff contention and having a chance but letting it slip through their fingers. Time for a new tradition and the October 14th game vs Red Bulls will be the clearest indication of which way TFC are heading. Until then...