Sunday, December 11, 2016

MLS Cup morning after TFC 0 Seattle 0 - Seattle wins on penalty kicks

Hey, that's no way to say goodbye.

I would describe myself as more stunned about Toronto FC losing the Cup last night to Seattle than any other emotion. Frustrated and obsessed play their part too. This was not the way the season was supposed to end and it still hurts this morning.

I would congratulate and salute any Seattle player or fan today. I felt that way last night too. They did what needed to be done and Toronto could not score the goal required to put them away.

I will not say the better team won. The best headline I have encountered this morning was over on the MLS Soccer site
"Toronto FC left befuddled, shut out by "unspectacular" Seattle"

However, the extra time save by Frei, diving back and hand out to tip away Altidore's header from going in, has to be considered spectacular. It was the difference and kept Seattle alive.

I did say the night of the great victory over Montreal that should TFC win the Cup I would change the name of the blog to "By the Lake".

I was sorry to witness it, but mistakes were made last night. So the blog name stays.

What a season, what a playoff run.

TFC 2017 is just around the corner...

oh and thanks for reading.

May the holiday season lift your spirits and may a TFC related gift be under your tree...

Saturday, December 10, 2016

MLS Cup morning

Wow, baby, wow.
Until 2015, TFC had never had a post season playoff game.
Until 2016, TFC had never hosted a playoff game, nor won one, nor played any game in November.
So this morning I am wrestling with concepts that are boggling my little mind.
A TFC game in December.
Figuring out my ski clothes and my ski layers for- a game in December.

Working out a plan for Xmas shopping today that weaves around- a game in December.

Hoping I can send social media and email message reminders to all of my friends, acquaintances and family to remind them to watch on tv tonight- a game in December.
What is our parking strategy and travel plans for- a game in December.

Then if I try to take a further step and grasp just what this game in December is, the Cup Final. TFC in the Cup Final. Mind - boggled, but smile ever-present...
Reflecting upon the ten years cheering for this team, rooting for soccer to take it's rightful place in this part of the world. Knowing that the beautiful game, despite watching plenty of ugly TFC soccer over the years, can still make your dreams come true.
The first time I ever attended a sports event, we were living in south Parkdale and my father walked me over to the old Exhibition Stadium. It was so long ago, the stadium was considered new back then.
My dad has been gone for 24 years now. If I could have him back, magically, for just one day it would be today. I would say "Dad, soccer, the sport you loved, the sport of your childhood, the sport you taught me about, has taken off in Toronto like fireworks. And if you don't believe me, c'mon down to the CNE grounds."
Sure, I will worry about victory tonight and suffer/cheer as I always do. Yet by the fact that this Cup game exists, this December game exists, I feel that the gift has already been given and so gratefully received.

Go TFC...

Saturday, December 3, 2016

TFC's Cup ticket sale scatters the faithful

I know this is a classic first world problem.

But, I also feel that my section at BMO Field is more of my neighbourhood than my home neighbourhood. This might be partially due to having moved this past summer, but it rings true to me.

I have used this account as a reply to a blog post in the Vocal Minority and in a thread at the Red Patch Boys forum.

I felt there was little need to rewrite my tale of trying to buy tickets for the MLS Cup as a season seat holder since game 1....

Ok, here I am, able to testify to the bizarre day. 

Yes, Ticketmaster would not let me select my own seats or even my own section. 
I kept on trying to make the select again button reveal beloved Section 220 on their cursed best available tickets track. 

The site was suspecting I was a bot and I was selecting pictures with trees in them and getting nowhere. 

Yes, Ticketmaster shut me out.

 So when I logged in the fifth time and it gave me two seats in section 220 as my best available, I was in a panicked frenzy and grabbed them. Let me in, let me in, I’ll take anything I cried before I fell to the floor in front of my computer sobbing.

My dog came over to cheer me up.

So I have lost my section, row, seats. btw I think my seniority level amongst TFC season seats is awfully good, maybe in the double digits good. Put me amongst those first brave volunteers.

You would think that being a long timer would have saved me from this..

This banishment also cost me money – my 220 would have been 80 a seat, two sections over has me at 125 per seat.

The damned thing is that it was a huge Ticketmaster inability to deal with traffic (and, thinking about this Saturday morning, a total TFC/MLSE throwing thousands of loyal ticket buying fans to the relocation winds). 

Once I got on the phone to TFC and had the 45 minute wait I idly went back on to Ticketmaster and lo and behold now I could choose my section. I could not use my code anymore, could not buy another two tix at any price, but there were little buttons on my screen telling me that seats in the lower rows of 222 were available. Not my seats but close enough…

The trouble is bigger than just one ejection. I have been in email contact with a few section 220 neighbours and we have been spewed all over. So it not as if I can swap my pair with the folks who will find themselves amongst new faces.

 The aspect that I think TFC front office never grasps is that our section is our soccer neighbourhood. You could offer me the swankiest seats in the place and I would turn them down in an instant. Being at the game involves being with people who know my name, greet me with a smile. I send these wonderful people Xmas cards for heaven’s sake.

I should still be on a “reached the Cup Final” high. Not be feeling that I have been both evicted AND had my party shut down.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Cup final bound or a night of stumbles and glory - TFC 5 Montreal 2 (series 7-5 on aggregate)

Last night was a roller coaster ride and I hate roller coasters.
At the end of the game, the end of the night, there was joy and glory, shock and numbness and a feeling of all those games over all those years washing back over you. For a decade we have cheered for this team, felt the lows and dreamed of the highs. Year after year the blog name "Mistake by the Lake" fit both the team performance and the feeling that a fan had for this journey of deep support. So often I thought that I was mistaken to love this team, this sport, in this city, so much.
Last night, when victory had been reached and a place in the Cup final had been obtained I turned to my wonderful wife and said 'well, that was a decade well spent".
The next morning I still feel the joy of it all, but I am also trying to grasp the full journey. I do recall once telling the TFC president at the time (Tom Anselmi) at a TFC town hall that having a Toronto football club was a dream come true. I am trying to recall the details of a ten year dream this morning, from the heights.

But back to last night's game

Montreal was a team that I truly feared. This summer, during the CNE, the Montreal Impact came to town. TFC was riding high, the supporter groups had the entire south end clad with gigantic banners, Montreal had a player sent off late in the first half, so TFC had a player advantage for more than 45 minutes.

And Montreal beat Toronto that summer night.

I think that the memories of that game were seared into my TFC memory cells.

So I spent Wednesday November 30th, prior to attending the TFC home game hosting Montreal in the second leg of the Eastern Final, worried. Tense and nervous.
This state of fear, worry and nervous tension is a little difficult to explain to acquaintances. Folks who might know that I write this blog or have been told of my passion for soccer. The attention has been going to TFC in this playoff run and those with a general interest are happy to discuss or join in on the happiness. So why so tense?

The glory of love for your team is sometimes like the glory of love for your kids. You bask in the fleeting glory when you can, but you are more often tortured by the chances that things might go wrong.

Montreal twice gave the TFC team and crowd a startling glimpse into that "things might go wrong" territory. Scoring the first goal of the night (and giving themselves a two goal lead-aggregate) and then scoring the opening goal of the second half (equalling the TFC accomplishment of scoring two goals on the road) Montreal had us over a barrel and cornered at the same time. So the glory of the Nick Hagglund goal (his glorious header made it 3-2 on the night) was that it was required to take Toronto to extra time. A chance to save ourselves, but not the safety itself.
Guess what my mood was as the teams took the field for those double fifteen minutes of extra time? Yes, things might go wrong.
But it was not all gloom. When I heard voices from friends around me, positive observations and a few folks picked Osorio as most likely to score for TFC, I had to voice my hunch. Not Osorio I said, it will be Cheyrou.
Benoit Cheyrou, a late game substitute with only his second touch of the ball, scored the winning goal. He headed the ball crossed into him by Steven Beitashour. The place went wild. The place was wild most of the night. The fans took their support to a new level, not just the south end supporters, but the whole stadium.

This blog post has taken me hours, so I am going to wrap it up. I just took a break to watch the highlights and my tears seem to be in both overflow and standby mode today. My favourite Nick Hornby quote is "The natural state of the football fan is bitter disappointment, no matter what the score."

Maybe I am struggling today with my thoughts and words because bitter disappointment beenbanished for the time being and I am out of my natural state!
Half time selfie from Section 220

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Tragic event strikes Chapecoense and wounds us all

Being a fan of this sport puts you into a global village. The joys are understood and embraced, but the sadness must be shared too. Today the global village has sadness indeed.
On a flight to Colombia to play in the final for the Copa Sudamericana (described as the South American club competition similar to the Europe League) the Brazilian club team Chapecoense experienced a fatal crash.
According to the BBC report 81 people were on board the plane and reports state only 6 people have survived.
I join all expressing condolences and deep sorrow at this loss.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

TFC stumble early, but leave poised - Impact 3 TFC 2

On the morning after the game in Montreal, I am struggling to get a grip on the Impact -TFC game last night ( leg 1 Eastern final for the Audi MLS Cup, if you need the full title).

I watched it on tv. It was a game that sometimes seemed to be played on an icy parking lot painted green (and only Dominic Oduro had shoes with any grip to them).
I am always hesitant to blame a player based on the narrow vision presented by tv cameras, but I have a hunch that Nick Hagglund wishes he could replay both early Montreal goals. He slipped as the through pass went by to Dominic Oduro and I felt he was caught napping on the cross coming at him that became the second goal. I still had faith, courage and perspective after that second Impact goal. Plenty of time in the game, two goals against early is not insurmountable...

I think every TFC supporter felt an incredible sinking feeling on the third Montreal goal. The Impact defender Oyongo strips the ball (from Giovinco?) and proceeds to push into the Toronto half as if he had been granted diplomatic immunity for the night. Nobody challenges and with all the time in the world he shoots and he scores. Montreal scoring three goals against TFC in the playoffs was a return to nightmare territory.

From those depths came first the Altidore goal (and I was so ready to sub him for Ricketts at halftime) and then the Bradley goal (after I had complained that he had become as predictable as Osorio in the "never take a shot at goal" category).

By the end of the game, I was so rejuvenated by the two goal comeback it was hard to feel that TFC had lost.

I ended the night feeling INCREDIBLY optimistic about TFC at home next Wednesday night. My reasons for optimism include:

1.  The critical leg 2 game will be played on grass, not that substandard green stuff that the Big Owe uses. A playing surface that hopefully (more than fingers crossed) survives the Grey Cup Sunday. I will watch the Grey Cup on tv with a startling new perspective. I will care very little for the humans in helmets and will cheer for every blade of grass. Hold your breath, field of ours, it will soon be Wednesday night!

2. The following players will rebound from their wonky ways in Montreal - first half Altidore, Osorio ( I would start Osorio and give him the first half for his confidence, but sub Will Johnson for him at halftime), Clint Irwin and Nick Hagglund.

3. Sebastian Giovinco is right where we want him, taking the field in Toronto with something to prove and a bit of fire in his belly.

4. The cloud of a second yellow in the playoffs meaning a subsequent suspended game is now lifted. That let's Toronto play a tougher, no goals against style of game.

And the last reason for optimism is more emotional, more spirited, more hope than tactic.

I blogger and fan, we fans, we brave and hardy souls, those who have raised their voices and opened their hearts over the decade to such as Adam Braz, Mista, Nick Garcia, Marco Velez and multitudes lesser and greater, now stand one game, one resounding victory short of playing for the cup. After watching Seattle- Colorado late last night, I have resigned myself to the probability that Colorado will win the second leg and put themselves in position to host the MLS Cup. We will know on Sunday as that is when they play their second leg. Whether we stand in our stadium with the chance to host Seattle on December 10th or knowing that we travel, it could be the greatest ending to TFC's already greatest season.

Until then, TFC!

Salute Montreal for support, but image of painting delay is just too painful/delightful for me to avoid

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Make Montreal Moribund

What a strange gap in the playoffs for TFC. They last played on November 6th., weeks ago. November has snapped from warmth to winter. 

Tonight they play game 1 of the MLS Eastern Finals in Montreal. 

It seemed that Bradley and Altidore had dropped off the Canadian sports radar. I focus on them because they were the only TFC members that have been kicking a ball other than during practice. Now we find out that they were off playing for Jurgen Klinsman .... for the last time (he was fired from his US coach post yesterday).

I fear that the 5-0 thrashing of NYCFC weeks ago might have created a monster of expectations tonight in Montreal.

I think that the game should be looked upon as one of those World Cup games where it is the last of the group stage and playing in the next round is already a lock. The TFC next round is the second game in Toronto.
Victory or a draw would be nice bonuses, but TFC can bounce back from a loss. It might even be a bigger motivation for next week in Toronto if TFC have to come back from a deficit (within reason).
1. An away goal or two should be top priority. 
2. A game free of yellow cards for those TFC already carrying one.
3. A game free of significant injury from the playing surface 

Full backing to those who are travelling... I do not want to dampen your spirits and I salute your dedication. 

So perhaps I am crossing my fingers for a Montreal muted or muddled in game 1. I have little regard for Montreal's ability to weather adversity. Should Toronto continue to play as dominating as they did in Yankee Stadium, the Impact will not tone it down.

But I do look at the second leg as the night where our TFC dreams come true....

Monday, November 7, 2016

Yankee Stadium Ownership NYCFC 0 TFC 5

Toronto FC went into Yankee Stadium Sunday night and played through NYCFC as if those sky blue shirted players were made of swiss cheese. Score early, score often, keep a clean sheet, avoid injury and yellow cards. We TFC fans are just not accustomed to having everything go precisely to plan, but that is exactly what Toronto FC served up.

This morning I find the sun shining and my smile broadening and I confess that it is a strange state to be in. I don't think I was alone in looking towards the Yankee Stadium game with secret fears. It is glorious to be flying when you are so used to crashing.

I had a dream, an anxiety dream the night before TFC played this East Conference semi-final MLS Cup playoff game at Yankee Stadium.
In my dream things were bad and kept getting worse. First Michael Bradley was red carded early in the game. Then a second red card was issued to Aron Gunnarsson (yes, I am aware that he plays for Iceland as captain and Cardiff City, but my dream team TFC has flexibility).
Then for some reason my dream allowed me to be on the TFC bench and I was substituted into the game. Either, I then spent all my time trying to keep players from getting involved in altercations or they spent all of their time preventing me from picking up a red card. Then as dreams do... it faded into something else.

By the time I was sharing my recall of this dream with my family, TFC was already up 3-0 and laughing.

I have supported, faithfully attended games of, loved, blogged and thought about this team for 10 years now and the culture of things going badly must be woven deep into our fandom by now.

The final game of 2009 came to mind last night as Giovinco's hat trick brought the TFC total to 5. Season 2009 was Toronto FC's first chance at a playoff game. New York Red Bulls were the worst team in the East of MLS that year and it happened to be the final soccer game at Giant's Stadium. All Toronto had to do was win in New York and they would qualify for the playoffs.

Instead they lost 5-0. 

So when Giovinco scored late, not for a second did I feel that TFC were running up the score or making NYCFC look bad. It all made sense that a 5-0 score would put at least one aspect of TFC's haunted history to rest.

Now Toronto are to meet Montreal for the two game Eastern Final to qualify for the MLS Cup.

Am I still dreaming?

Michael Bradley played the entire game!?
Shocked that Aron Gunnarsson appeared to not be in uniform last night!?

Monday, October 31, 2016

Two goals ahead, Yankee Stadium Sunday looms large TFC 2 NYC 0

It is possible to be riding along into the day after on the elation and explosion of joy that the late two goals for Toronto FC brought to team and fans last night.

I prefer to chew a bit on the foul mood and frustration that dominated most of the night prior to Altidore's breakthrough. Tension, anger and frustration are the elements that were swirling around me as TFC took on NYC. Toronto always looked the better team and NYC hardly looked like second place in the East finishers.  I am going to avoid adding football club to New York's name as I am of the opinion that fouling club would be a better tag. It was not the first time that I have felt that the New York group went into a contest with a "mug Giovinco "strategy and not much else.

Sebastian Giovinco had an off night. First the fouling throws him off, then the lack of calls protecting him and then when he gets the calls (well into the second half, by my recall) he compounds the frustration by firing wildly on free kicks. Vanney was wise to sub Giovinco off in the late going. The attempt of the NYC player to start something with Altidore at the final whistle might have been what Vanney was saving Giovinco from.

Ref Silviu Petrescu was the wrong man for the job. He is just too lenient, too willing to listen to players and never seems able to establish a firm sense of justice to his calls. The wrong guy to take the steam out of a "mug Giovinco" strategy. 
When David Villa, who had kicked out at Armando Cooper's legs after a collision, refused to back off and was standing over the prone Cooper and lecturing him, I thought Petrescu had lost control of the game and it was still fairly early in the first half. Petrescu was practically pushing Villa away from the confrontation and Villa was still eluding him and getting back at Cooper. 
Sorry, but Villa was showing a shocking lack of respect for the ref, plus a lack of respect for a Toronto player here in Toronto. I am so pleased that Villa was kept off the score sheet and left the field to a chorus of boos.

Can you tell that I am still steamed?

I want TFC to bury these bums. Unleash Giovinco from the start and push for the early goals, the away goals that will build a mountain that NYC lacks the guts to climb.  I am convinced that Giovinco can score a hat trick in the first half. I am also convinced that Clint Irwin can make more saves at the Toronto end than NYC can even if they are allowed to have double goalkeepers.
Shut them down, fill their net and send them to the offseason they so richly deserve.
And make sure that David Villa gets a message, if you are not going to give respect, TFC will extract it from you.

I will now pull myself together and try to end on positive notes.

Michael Bradley. The man was fantastic. A true star. He abandoned the hang back with Moor approach and was a full box to box midfielder. His passing was superb, his moving forward with the ball at his feet even better than superb and there was no let up in his defensive positioning and tackling.

Nick Hagglund. A rough start was worrying. He and Moor just seemed to be unable to complete a pass to each other. Hagglund's plays forward were just as shaky. 
Then he found another gear. It is fitting that the second Toronto goal was from a ball sent into the goal area by Hagglund. He was solid.

It does not show up on the highlights, but I think special mention needs to go to Marky Delgado for his role in the second goal. He had just been subbed into the game and suddenly he was bossing the midfield. The ball just seemed to be drawn to him. When Hagglund sends in that wonderful diagonal cross, Delgado has left the midfield and he almost gets his head to the ball in front of the net before it falls for Ricketts. Ricketts scores off of his own rebound, but Delgado contributed to the energy that made that goal happen.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Still kicking MLS Cup playoff edition TFC 3 Philadelphia Union 1

I tell you, it felt strange walking down Atlantic Avenue towards the bright lights of BMO Field pre-game last night. TFC hosting a playoff game had never happened before. For a decade TFC soccer games in this city followed, for the most part, a simple schedule pattern. Night games were reserved for the hot weather months, afternoon games for the spring and autumn dates. In 2010, we got a sneak preview of cold, dark soccer by the lake when the MLS Cup was played in Toronto (Dallas vs Colorado - I would have to dig into the research to recall why we had two western teams in the final..). The Cup setup has changed since then and the only way for BMO Field could host the Cup was if TFC were the top seeded team of the the last two standing.
May I live to see that day...

Last night was crisp, cool on the brink of cold. Since TFC came into being, when the weather got this cold, we were at home. Sitting by the fire, under blankets, slippers on, reading a book and dreaming of spring. It was rare to continue following MLS Cup playoffs since sports tv in these parts would make the MLS vanish...

TFC reached this round last year in Montreal. It was the dreaded knockout round. TFC had me nervous and worried. They have not been world beaters for the past two months and what if they started slow and fell behind early? Could team and fans combine and put the haunting collapse in Montreal alone in the history books?

All night long the team put my worries to rest. They can score. They can defend. Irwin is ready to make the solid saves. They can put teams away. Coach Vanney still drives me a little crazy with his 6-2-2 formation, but if that is the recipe for playoff success, I can live with it.

I have been less than thrilled with Michael Bradley of late. I still feel that he plays as if paired with Drew Moor as central defender and thereforeTFC requires a midfielder that can play in front of him. Yet Bradley had a big game last night. His passing was good, he held the ball well and his tackles (except for the one that drew the yellow card) were hard but well aimed. I thought that Osorio and Cooper played a strong game in the midfield to make TFC's attack still viable and Altidore and Giovinco supplied.
So TFC now face NYCFC, in Toronto this weekend, off to Yankee Stadium the next.
The time of the Sunday game in Toronto has not been determined, but peeking ahead at the next round and the MLS Cup, it seems that night games are what lies ahead. May we walk down Atlantic Avenue on cold nights a few times more in the weeks ahead...

Monday, October 24, 2016

Win taken, outlook foggy TFC 3 Chicago Fire 2

It was beautiful late October afternoon. Late in the game, when the rays of the setting sun were falling across the south end, your eyes were drawn away from the pitch. You just had to gaze at that sea of red basking in the last gasp of the day's sun. The pitch only suffered in comparison to the sunset glow, it was in solid shape. A rich green carpet of real grass that is putting a lot of stadium share fears to bed.
 I would have been the first TFC fan to bleat and complain if the (beyond an afterthought) Argos had hurt the playing surface this season. With only the Grey Cup to schedule around as TFC trundle into the playoffs, it seems that throwing a CFL team onto the playing surface worked for year 1. A schedule that keeps the games apart was always going to be the way to go and a November when the weather turns and playoffs could prevent spacing has been avoided with the Argos failing to reach CFL playoffs.

a glimpse at October sunset glow

I do prefer the 4 pm starts, it allowed for a family meal in Parkdale after the game yesterday.

The game did not match the beauty of the sunset or the autumn air . TFC fell behind fairly early, tied it up before the half, played well and took a 3-1 lead but could not hold it and allowed Chicago a late goal. TFC = Fire beaters. More on that later.

Back to the beginning and the formation. Vanney went with a 3-5-2.
A back three of Hagglund, Moor and Zavaletta
Morrow and Beitashour as wingers.
 Cooper, Bradley and Osorio in the middle.
Giovinco and Altidore up front.
The second half subs were Ricketts for Altidore and then both Johnson and Cheyrou for Cooper and Osorio (after Osorio had scored his goal).

I found plenty not to like in this formation. TFC is known to be vulnerable to a high press and it is even worse when Hagglund and Zavaletta are forever with the ball at their feet. Morrow and Beitashour, notably in the first half, were always wide and forward. Those two young defenders (H+Z) were stranded with a Chicago player coming right at them time after time. I feel that Michael Bradley is just as likely to assume that they can't move or pass their away out of the pressure and rather than creating a forward option, he is poised to get back and defend after the give away. Another reason why I see Bradley as our future central defender paired with Moor (or is he Europe bound?).

Jozy Altidore was not contributing at the same level that he had displayed in Montreal last week. No surprise he was the first player subbed.
Giovinco scored on a pk, but it was his assist on Justin Morrow's goal that was the highlight. Control, persistence and awareness. He had it all.

And so ends Season 10 and a knockout home playoff game versus Philadelphia Union awaits Wednesday evening.

I am a fan and truly hope that TFC can find another gear, another mode and roar through the playoffs and win the Cup. Yet, beating Chicago, the worst team in the MLS this year, by one goal in your final home game of the season is not exactly setting the world on fire, it it? Since losing to Montreal here in Toronto at the game during the CNE, just what has TFC accomplished? They lost Giovinco to injury that night and they struggled since, drawing (4 games) and losing (2) and only beating Chicago twice in September and October. They were in the hunt for the Supporter's Shield and first place in the East going into that Montreal game. They finish in third, a point behind NYCFC and four points behind NYRB. By holding themselves to two months only defeating Chicago (twice) they left 14 points squandered. Playoff power is truly needed now. Bundle up...

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Holding pattern - Montreal Impact 2 TFC 2

Nobody can accuse TFC of storming towards season's end and the playoffs. It feels more like meandering towards the playoffs.

TFC continues to lack firepower and inspiration, the same mushy playing style that they have been wading through since the last time they played Montreal. It was good to see Seba Giovinco play a game and look healthy, but he was not the magic elixir that may have been hoped for. Except for two surprising, scrambling in front of the net goals, TFC continues to create little in the way of shots and goals.
Sure, some good things happened. Altidore was back on track with a goal. Ricketts on as a late game sub and providing the game tying goal was fantastic. TFC has spent the year missing a spark from off of the bench. It was great to see that dimension added. 
But it is the same old story as every opponent knows to pack the back and force TFC to pass it around the outskirts.

So the playoff picture for TFC is either they will stay in third or find a way to grab second from NYCFC. Should Toronto defeat Chicago in the last game of the season next weekend AND Columbus draws or defeats NYCFC, TFC would do it. Somehow, I am not going to bet on that happening. Chicago is out of the playoffs, so meeting them for the final game is not ideal. They either fold and provide TFC with false hope or they play spoiler and frustrate TFC.
Now, could you excuse me, I need a nap.

Snooze, you lose (or rather draw against Montreal). Could have been worse.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Pointless TFC 1 DC United 2

Talk about a dream
Try to make it real
You wake up in the night
With a fear so real
You spend your life waiting
For a moment that just don't come
Well don't waste your time waiting

               - Bruce Springsteen  

Rarely, nay never, do I start my blog post with quotes from old Springsteen classics, but the phrase "spend your life waiting for a moment that just don't come" seemed to sum up my feeling about TFC home games since losing to Montreal back during the CNE. They have been awful. They can show energy for stretches and hold onto the ball, but creating opportunities seems beyond them. Opposing teams seem to anticipate faster than TFC appear to know each other.

Two games left to play and the avalanche of offensive power and goals, goals, goals is just not going to happen now. If any MLS team is not drooling about meeting TFC in the playoffs, they have not been paying attention.
Tonight the starting midfield of Bradley, Osorio, Lovitz and Cooper represented a 2016 offensive output of 1 goal, 1 goal, 0 goals, 0 goals (a recent signing in Cooper). Defending against TFC means paying attention to Altidore. Shut him down or limit his goals to one and you have a chance with Toronto. Drew Moor and Justin Moor are more likely to score than anyone in the midfield.

I don't think that we are dealing with players who are squandering their talents, I see no reason to question the effort. TFC began the night with more energy than of late. It did not translate into the long awaited goal fest.

I blame the coaching. The midfielders all seem to lack any shooting abilities and awareness of each other. It takes guile, speed, skills and a fair bit of ego to get yourself and the ball into shooting opportunities.
Those qualities were once again absent or at least the ego is lacking.
Cooper had some moments of skill and surprise, although I am not sure of his position within the midfield. Did he have the green light to roam around?  I must once again propose Michael Bradley pair with Drew Moor in the back and put Cheyrou at the base of the midfield again.

Endoh started the year as a promising rookie. He seems to have regressed. Lovitz started well last nigh, got lost as the game wore on. Osorio missed getting his foot to a scoring opportunity early on. I want Osorio to succeed as much as the next fan, but something is missing.

It is hard to come out to the stadium and be so frustrated. It becomes difficult to imagine this team turning it around and reaching the playoff stage of the season with any zest, style, confidence or winning ways.
The return of Giovinco might be a magic bullet, but this is a team that has not won in Toronto since August 6th. Remember TFC began the season with an eight game road trip and finishing the year with plenty of home games was supposed to be an advantage.

Advantage officially squandered with a recent home stretch record now of two losses and three ties. 

p.s. I would establish a celebration rule for TFC players. You can go towards/into the south end and celebrate a goal IF it is in injury time and you have scored a goal that puts TFC ahead by two goals or more. To watch Jozy Altidore go into the crowd following his goal in the 35th minute and then have DC score within minutes was too much. Talk about counting your chickens before they have hatched. Talk about looking foolish. Talk about the cart before the horse. Talk about lack of pride and intensity.
Look away

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Muddled attack woes continue TFC 1 Philly Union 1

The frustration level rose steadily throughout Saturday's game. It might only be a just a little higher on a season long timeline, but blogging next morning I remain frustrated. TFC looked as flat as a pancake for the first half and once Philadelphia had a goal, it was TFC unable to be creative, unable to pass 
It's the attack (or lack thereof) that bugs me.  The goal against was a pain (and should have been a lesson for Toronto players who NEVER seem to find that sort of space or take advantage) but TFC bounced back from the three allowed versus New York Red Bulls. Defending seems to be under control.  October and November success needs more than reducing somebody else's opportunities.

The midfield starters were a puzzle. Fine players, each one of them. But when you start Osorio and Bradley in the middle and your wings are covered by Cheyrou and Johnson it is just a matter of time before they are all working in the middle of the pitch. Vanney has tried to hand the wing attack to Morrow and Beitashour...and Morrow did score the TFC goal. It still makes for a mess of a midfield.

As for that final seconds claim for a foul in the box against Jozy Altidore, I did not see the play clearly and I have not watched a replay. I think that the foundation reason for the heated confrontations with ref Ismail Elfath is based on the game in June in Orlando.  It was the last time he officiated a  Toronto FC game. He awarded a last second penalty, "The Beast" had fallen in the box and Kaka won the game on the ensuing penalty kick. TFC players did not think that Moor had fouled then and did feel that Altidore had been fouled.  The yellow card awarded to Altidore for arguing or swearing or abusing the ref is one he should accept proudly.

I am going to continue my campaign to play Michael Bradley as a central defender. Sure, He and Moor are a pairing that might lack in height and size. I think that the height and size argument is why TFC plays a rotation of Erik Zavaletta, Nick Hagglund and Josh Williams paired with Moor in the back) but we are encountering teams that bunker in their  Could Osorio play as a holding midfielder? Could Cheyrou? Could Will Johnson or Marky Deglado? Yes, to everyone of them. 

Now, clobber Orlando.

Jet flyovers seem to put TFC to sleep

Monday, September 19, 2016

Somebody's messing with my route to happy TFC 3 NYRB 3

I want to cheer, I want to feel that this team is building towards both top spot in the East and then playoff success. Instead of cheering, I am just turning down my grumbles to a low level.

I want to be happy with drawing at home against New York Red Bulls, but TFC still have gnawing areas of concern. Yesterday was a game where sloppy defending returned to combine with a muddled midfield. Jozy Altidore provided the skill (two goals) and the rest of the team gutted it out. Ok, the Bradley goal was a quality effort too.
You walked away from the stadium feeling turbulent. Reminded that neither Giovinco nor Ricketts were involved eased the worry. Nobody can accuse them of peaking too early. Osorio is still not taking shots. Delgado had a crummy game. Lovitz and Endoh came into the game as subs and they gave some wing quality to the TFC attack. The new player, Cooper, had a few moments.

Let me get back to the sloppy defending.

NYRB took advantage of a lucky break with their first goal, an own goal put in by Beitashour. I felt that TFC had the better of the early play and that
Then Erik Zavaletta stumbles and gives NYRB a second gift. I might as well throw it in, although the NYRB third goal was the result of some strong play from the guys in crayon yellow and blue, I still felt that Zavaletta lost himself on that goal too. A big step forward, pressuring the ball, would have put Bradley Wright-Phillips offside.

I have a proposal. Play Michael Bradley and Drew Moor as your central defender pairing. I am convinced that Benoit Cheyrou needs playing time. He may have lost a critical step in his defending, but his movement forward and his passing are excellent, maybe better than Bradley's. It is also sentimental of me, I am fairly sure that Cheyrou's contract expires as season end. He must be facing his final weeks in Toronto. Let him contribute. 
TFC get the week off and then face three home games in 8 days. Three victories, please.

September Sunset

Sunday, August 28, 2016

No idea as to why TFC have no ideas - TFC 0 Montreal 1

Is it a statistical blip? A trivia fact in the making? "Did you know that in TFC's Championship year of 2016 they never won a game with a man advantage?"

Or is this a darker omen? Could this be their Achilles heel? A window to a deeper problem, both on the strategic side (coaching) and the execution side (playing). A team that can't score when it truly needs to can have the greatest goals against statistic, but that won't get the job done.

For the third time this summer, TFC experienced having an opponent sent out of the game with a considerable amount of time to play. Every time they have had an advantage for the entire second half. If my memory serves me, Justin Morrow scored soon after the first sending off in San Jose. Since then TFC have gone a minimum of two hours and fifteen minutes (three 45 minute halves of football) of not scoring a goal despite having an advantage in players on the field. 

I think this was the first time it had happened in a home game. It was a thundering disappointment of a game.  TFC arrived after a very successful run of three road games, two victories and a tie. They went into the game as top team in the East (still there, but NYCFC could catch them with victory in their Sunday game). They had never lost to Montreal in a MLS game in Toronto until last night. The fans seemed poised to take TFC support to the next level. Instead, TFC came up with a clunker. Now 2016 has seen Toronto lose to both Montreal and Vancouver here at BMO Field. It is not a good trend that TFC falter in heated rivalry games.

When you lose a player against TFC, when you have to bunker down or "park the bus",  you know who provides the attack. Giovinco and Altidore. Scoring potential from the midfield? Bradley, Osorio and Cheyrou all share the season stat of ZERO goals scored. Johnson, Delgado and Endoh each have scored two goals this far into the season. So you smother their two forwards and dare them to come up with penetrating runs or dangerous crosses from out of the midfield.

Here is my idea, for what it's worth. The next time TFC face a team with a player sent off, go tough, go ugly. Shift Michael Bradley to forward and put on Nick Hagglund and play him as the other forward. Drop Jozy Altidore into the withdrawn striker role and put Giovinco out to the wing. Place the scoring emphasis entirely on midfielders. Stop this endless deference that is displayed by the likes of Endoh, Osorio and Delgado. If, with the ball at your feet, you present no scoring threat - then the other team will treat you as a perpetual passer. Passing last night got them nowhere. Montreal let them switch the point of attack as many times as TFC wanted. After all, it was not leading to much of an attack. I suspect that the hope that the recent signing of midfielder Armando Cooper would provide some attack in the middle of the field is in the category of wishful thinking without evidence at this stage.
Now TFC get a break in the schedule. No game on the Labour Day weekend. Away game to Chicago the following weekend and then September 18th return home to play NY Red Bulls.
September needs to be a "scoring goals" step up month for a host of TFC players. Or the promise of summer will be turning into a fall for TFC's autumn.
Nothing happening near the goal in this stage of warm-up, could also have been applied to the game...

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Top of the East ... (Orlando City 1 Toronto FC 2)

and in contention for the Supporter's Shield (top team in MLS).

I spent most of the day (Thursday, day after the Orlando City game) staring at the standings.

I am usually a fan/blogger who believes that atmosphere and observation, tactics and history all combine to tell the story.

That statistics and number crunching is fine for OPTA and nerdy coaches, but the true lover of footy goes beyond the stats. Goes into the blue sky (as if a cloud) and dreams about the possibilities and surprises that the game provides.

But today those MLS standings have been singing a song.

Top of the East, 6 of 8 remaining games are played in Toronto. The only road games are Montreal and Chicago.

The early Ricketts goal was a lightning bolt, credit to both Giovinco for the throw-in and Ricketts for both speed and finish.

My concerns about TFC as a hardened road team, concerns fuelled by that July night loss in San Jose and the wonky tie in Houston in August, have been evaporated by the Philly and Orlando games.
TFC proved they can dampen down the opponent and Altidore provided the late goal that went missing in those men advantage games.

I look forward to the CNE game Saturday. Bring on Montreal and celebrate what a summer TFC have given us.

The best is yet to be.... (he said hopefully).

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Building your better TFC - Philadelphia Union - 1 Toronto FC - 3

Philadelphia Union is an improved team this year and they have a good chance at being a playoff team.

Therefore I approached watching the game in Philly on tv with a touch of caution. It could be a true test against one of the better teams in the East. The inability to score a winner against Houston last weekend still haunted. 

Worry not.

Toronto looked strong at the defending end (exception- the set piece mess up early) and talented at the scoring end. The TFC goals were scored by Giovinco, Moor and Altidore in the first half. The second half had fewer scoring opportunities, but TFC never looked in trouble. 

Michael Bradley is returning to form. He set up Drew Moor's goal with a precise ball into the box. Will Johnson played for the first time since his June injury.

Hagglund, Ricketts and Chapman came on as subs. Getting playing time for the likes of these subs and others such as Endoh, Baboulli, Hamilton might be the only problem to the wave of players returning from injury.

Orlando City is a midweek road game ahead. till then.

Not from tonight's game, but great view of bridge - stadium alignment

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Bono big in TFC's continuing victory summer TFC 1 RSL 0

The victory combination was an unlikely one. When we were marking our summer calendars (remember when snow and ice covered the landscape?) the early August midweek game as a showcase for Alex Bono with a timely contribution from Tosaint Ricketts must have been beyond the unknown. 

Perhaps attending three TFC games in seven days (ok, two down, one to go) can find you too lazy in the morning to look up the historical record for games between Toronto FC and Real Salt Lake. My vague feeling is that Toronto FC has always had problems getting points from RSL.

Although the 1-0 scoreline makes it seem like a "squeeker" of a victory, it did not feel close. It's funny to watch the highlights this morning, they would give you the impression that the game was all RSL and TFC stole it with a single goal scoring opportunity. TFC did not quite dominate, but they seldom seemed under any sustained pressure. When Real Salt Lake did threaten Toronto's goal, it was often against the run of play and Alex Bono was aggressively excellent. Bono had a bit of Joe Bendik's daring athleticism of that Joe breakout season from a few years ago on display last night. I think that Alex Bono has much better game management skills, better distribution of the ball to go with his brave shot blocking than Orlando Joe. Joe Bendik is doing well this year, one of the top keepers in minutes played and saves made. Pleased for him, but Irwin and Bono have a lock on the job now.

I have to give credit to Jay Chapman for his Cheyrou moment in the first half. Seba Giovinco had been fouled and brought to ground late in the half and he had lost the plot. Forget the contest between 22 players, Seba decides that his universe revolves around the ref and he must engage in lengthy conversation. On one hand you congratulate him on his English progress (unless he saves these tirades for refs with a knowledge of Italian), yet on the other hand TFC is now playing a man short. Jay Chapman begins playing in Seba's spot defensively, taking away passing lanes from the RSL defenders trying to move the ball. Chapman drifted back into a midfield spot, between Seba and the ref, and gently gave Giovinco a push. Not a push that said "shut up" but a push that pointed him into the defensive channel that needed filling. It was not a confrontation, it had no temper to it all. Chapman was just saying "play". I call it a Cheyrou moment because Benoit Cheyrou, lately, has been playing the veteran role in the midfield. I think it reflects the growing maturity of Jay Chapman. His play is not yet at Cheyrou (or Johnson or Bradley) levels, but he is heading in the right direction. I think that the Chapman of 2015 would have been hesitant to push Giovinco into play.  It was a small moment that said big things in my observation.
Pushing Giovinco away from refs was not the only positive sign on the night in the middle of the field. The young midfield of Chapman, Delgado, Endoh and Osorio continues to play well. Perhaps "well" is too high in the praise department when you consider the lack of finish. Cohesive and aware of creative opportunities going forward and willing to work together when defending is what I witnessed. They move the ball well, whether in tight spaces or changing the point of attack with long lateral passes.
The back four were strong, three of the usual suspects started (Moor, Beitashour, Morrow) with Williams rotating in as a starter for Zavaletta.
I think I need more time to fully absorb what TFC are creating when Altidore and Ricketts are put on the field. Altidore is dropping in behind Seba and Ricketts is mostly left, but sometimes right. 
I do feel bad for Jordan Hamilton. He puts in a solid effort, but Giovinco is always the focus of the attack. Plus the growing health of Jozy Altidore means that Hamilton's playing time is drawing to a close. It must be hard for a young player to shine in such a situation.

The TFC victory moves their record to 9W 6D 7L = 33 points, which is good for second place in the MLS East after 22 games. In first spot is NYCFC with 36 points with 23 games played.
Stay tuned for New England visiting Toronto Saturday night...
Arrived too late for the TFC top hat offer, my regret or reward?

Monday, August 1, 2016

TFC - whipped cream smooth TFC 3 Columbus 0

The golden moments of July sunsets on the Eastern Stand
The starting 11 for TFC v Columbus Saturday night did not fill my heart with joy. My big problem was with the midfield. Coach Vanney had gone with his youth, Chapman, Osorio, Delgado and Endoh.
Where was my favourite TFC player? Benoit Cheyrou!* Not only has he been the anchor of the injury depleted midfield (Bradley and Will Johnson still out) but it was also his photograph on the ticket.  It should have been his night to shine. He was not even on the substitutes bench. I started the game bracing myself for a rough ride. Without Cheyrou to run the show, it was going to be chaos out there.
Instead it was smooth sailing. The midfield held their shape when defending throughout the first half. I thought that there was a moment when Federico Higuain was given too much space and time, but it came to nothing. Only weeks ago I was squawking that TFC's young midfield often played as if they had met for the first time just before the game. Passing with nervous energy, afraid to move the ball into space and draw defenders were two knocks against them. Osorio seemed hypnotized into always looking for Giovinco, no matter how Seba was defended. Delgado looked shaky with the ball, producing more giveaways than connecting passes some nights, and not much better defensively. Chapman and Endoh seemed to be the rising talents of the midfield, but it always seemed to be the support and guidance of Cheyrou that made their opportunities to go forward and create.

Lo and behold! Against Columbus the youthful midfield moved smoothly, as if they had become a unit. Passes crisp, subtle touches, smart movement and defending on top of it all. They turned from breakdowns to buildups and the Crew were left in the dust.
You have to give a lot of the credit to Seba Giovinco. I think his scoring slump was harming both his play and his cohesion with his midfield. With everyone pressing for his breakthrough, he grew more selfish. Now that he is back on track with his scoring, he seems more generous and attuned to players around him. The cooperation was so great, Tsubah Endoh offered the back of his head for Seba to bank his shot off of for the first goal of the night. I am not yet convinced that Endoh did enough to get credit for that goal. Giovinco scored the game's second goal, feeding Chapman in a tight spot and give credit to Jay Chapman for the little move as if to shoot that froze the defenders before sending it back to the onrushing Giovinco for an excellent goal. Giovinco continued his generous ways with his set up of the final goal provided by Jozy Altidore. Goal number 1 for season 2016 for Altidore, may this be an omen of many to come.

I came here to praise TFC, but you have to bring the tumble of Columbus into your calculations of the game. The Crew were the hosts of the MLS Cup last December. Although they lost to Portland in that game, you would not have expected them to be struggling and below the playoff line. There is enough time still to come in the season for a playoff run, but they looked rough last night. 

So the struggles of Columbus (worst goal difference in the MLS) , especially on the offensive end , could mute your observations on TFC's defending. Alex Bono was rarely tested, but that does not lessen the value of the clean sheet. I had to check the MLS stat sheet. Clint Irwin, still injured, has a goal against average of 1.07 (based on 15 games played) versus Bono with a GAA of 1.17 (7 games played). I am not going to leap so far as to claim that Bono rivals Irwin. It will be great to have Irwin back from injury, but Bono has filled in better than could have expected.
So the victory over Columbus (Trillium Cup win goes with it) ends the MLS schedule for TFC in July. 6 games - 3 victories (DC, Columbus, Chicago), 2 ties (Seattle and Columbus) and that blasted loss in San Jose. August will contain another 6 games - home to RSL and New England, road trip to Houston, Philly and Orlando and then home to Montreal during the CNE. Is a repeat of July's 11 points out of a possible 18 too much to ask for? The way they looked last night, I think that a point total higher than 11 is within reason.
Stay tuned...

Oh and a little plug. I have been invited onto The Naz and Wally Sports Hour - Zoomer Radio AM 740 / FM 96.7 as a fill in host for the next three weeks. So stay tuned will be more than an empty promise.

*I have been a fan of Cheyrou since his arrival in winter 2015, but until recent weeks I would have given the "fave TFC player" nod to Damien Perquis. The former TFC defender, (who has been signed by Nottingham Forest) Perquis would have come in second in the talent department, but would win in the overflow of passion category. With the departure of Perquis, Cheyrou takes top spot for me, for now. At age 35, I believe in the second year of a two year contract and a wave of younger midfielders looking good, you have to guess that Cheyrou is not part of TFC's long term plans.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Always take the road point Crew 1 TFC 1

It was not a recipe for sustained fame, style and glory, but it got us through the evening.

Combine a first half of effective, with flashes of slapdash,  sit back defending. Add in a young keeper named Bono, who is showing signs of confidence. Blend in a second half where TFC looked on the edge of a total collapse in the minutes just after allowing the Columbus goal. Drop in a moment of Cheyrou to Jay Chapman with the through ball to Jordan Hamilton that becomes the TFC goal and highlight of the night. Chapman, Endoh and Hamilton all deserve to mentioned as positive ingredients. The defending of Moor, Williams and then later on Hagglund, were all positive ingredients too.

You have to worry about Osorio (two golden scoring opportunities missed) and Mark Bloom (very sure from my tv screen that he kept everyone onside on the Columbus goal).

I was saddened to read the news that TFC have released Damien Perquis. He brought style and fire to Toronto and was a favourite player of mine.
I have blogged before that a central defending role is a hard one to make an instant success with in the MLS. He arrived in 2015 and at first you guessed the plan was he learn the ropes alongside the veteran Caldwell. That lasted only a handful of games as Caldwell retired and moved to the front office. 
I hate salary cap decisions - I think that faces and names build a sense of team. The TFC history is less one of team and more one of revolving door. On the soccer side I understand the argument that Perquis' spot on the field could be filled by Williams or Zavaletta or Hagglund or even a healthy at last Clement Simonin. This is just looking at the TFC roster, TFCII could be ready to provide MLS capable defenders. 
Yet, none of those players play yet with the Perquis passion. A player who can pass the ball forward with amazing precision one moment and then teeter on the edge of red card the next. 
I will miss him.

Damien Perquis TFC 2015, 2016