Thursday, June 30, 2016

TFC Canadian Champions 2016 Whitecaps 2 TFC 1 (aggregate 2-2 TFC champs on away goal)

TFC lift the Cup

There are times when your fan loyalties can waver and falter. I estimate that time for me was somewhere near midnight. I was standing in front of my tv and was wondering why do I do this, why do I trade sleep away for the chance to watch my team spin their wheels?

And then Will Johnson scored...
Endoh, in the final seconds of the game, sent an optimistic (but it should have been futile) ball into the goal mouth area. Vancouver keeper Ousted collided with his defender Waston and the ball fell forward onto the onrushing foot of Will Johnson. He paid the price for his goal with a subsequent collision. It was hard to watch his pain while all Reds around him were celebrating.

TFC stuck to a defensive game plan throughout the first half in Vancouver last night and they arrived at half time with a 0-0 score. The Whitecaps came roaring out in the second half and scored twice. TFC seemed to have no answer for that. It seemed just a matter of time before Vancouver scored the goal that would clinch it. We must remember that just seconds before TFC won the cup, Whitecap Blas Perez had a shot go off the post. TFC was a centimetre away from elimination.
And then they found a way to win.
I found a way to hold my arms in the air and whisper/yell "Yes"!

What a karma turnaround in just days. From the last minute call against them in Orlando to the last minute heroics in Vancouver. Saturday night will see TFC end this round of continent crossing with a home game vs Seattle. Until then...

Monday, June 27, 2016

Phantom foul or feeble foul? - Orlando City 3 TFC 2

I had been tipped off and knew to expect something with TFC's road game at Orlando. A Saturday featuring a triple header of Euro 2016 games (winners Wales, Poland and Portugal) also had a family gathering in the evening. The family deal had been made that I was free to watch games all day, but that TFC needed to be on the PVR and watched later.
I arrived home to messages - Did you see that? Give you opinion on that?
So I watched with a sense of anticipation. Or is that dread?
So, for those who neglected to watch, TFC came from behind to tie twice on a steaming hot night in Orlando and seemed on the edge of a point on the road. Then, well into injury time (no complaint there, a water break, the injury to Clint Irwin, plenty of substitutions and then Hagglund going down all contributed to a lengthy time block) TFC's Moor is judged to have "mugged" Orlando's Baptista in the box and Orlando wins on Kaka's penalty kick.

Orlando City's front office might still be in a meeting to determine what they are going to get ref Elfath for an end of season present. We already know the gift that the ref gave to Orlando City.

Game decider - wish Ref Elfath was in pic - his angle would be close to 180° from this one. Wish we had video from this angle - did Moor pull back or was Baptista already leaning?

I have watched the replay a number of times. Granted, the camera is quite a distance from the field and the players and is from the opposite angle from where the ref was observing. Yet Moor and Baptista can hardly be seen as grappling. They move together and then apart. Was it nothing or a veteran defenders super subtle foul?

I have a warm place in my heart for Orlando City Lions. Fans of that team create a video blog of fan interviews and match previews and they invite me onto their match preview video blog everytime OC is to play TFC. They know their sport and they know their team. I can imagine the elation that they felt when, already with 8 ties on the season and surely heading for yet another, Elfath awarded the penalty kick when the mighty beast Baptista went to ground. On twitter, Sam of OC Lions Fans TV says that there was contact, but not enough to fell Baptista. He also felt bad that the Bendik grabbing of Hamilton down the other end was not a call.

I think the final word has to go to Coach Vanney. He has to file that incident away into two folders - future Baptista intimidation and Ref Ismail Elfath cultivation.
Intimidation -TFC will see Baptista twice more this MLS season (and who knows about playoffs?). Baptista needs to get a simple message. Stay on your feet against Toronto. He may be gently persuaded or he might need harsh reminders. This is an area that Damien Perquis can handle well.

If Ref Elfath made a jumpy call and gave a game to Orlando, Vanney has to be firm, but calm. It is not that TFC are owed anything, but a future balance can be sought. TFC does not need another Toledo.

Two TFC goals scored in a game, one from Hamilton and the other from Morrow.
2nd half performance was improved
Osorio and Babouli were moving the ball well late in the game
Hagglund survived a game at right back
Josh Williams picked up the red card for arguing with Ref Elfath. I liked the heat and passion. Send the message.

Clint Irwin injury
Alex Bono debut
Giovinco scoring drought continues

Friday, June 24, 2016

Argos (CFL) land on TFC turf with a thud

Two things.

I know I have written about this before, but it is both timely and important to restate my sports history. I started my life as an Argo fan. My father emigrated to Canada in 1952 and it was Canadian football that he adopted as his spectator sport. He kept his love of soccer and was an avid golfer, but he loved his Argo football. Soccer would rise back to the top when the World Cup had a team from England, but soccer was not easily followed otherwise.

I have long claimed that the first Argos game I ever attended was the Calgary Stampeders defeating Toronto 50-0 (Sunday September 22, 1963). Somehow I think my dad took me to games earlier than that. I would have been 6 years old that day (and a Kennedy was US president).
When my father died in 1992, it was a huge factor in deciding to drop our Argos season tickets. The other factors would include raising a young family AND the decline in CFL football in the Toronto market by then. We felt like the last hold outs in 1993. Soccer and basketball were going to be the sports that I coached and the sports that I followed. 

The section below was also shared as a contribution to a forum on the Red Patch Boys site. I read and post there regularly. 

It was weird.
I attended the Argo game at BMO. I did not sit in my regular section, was down in 119, so I can't really comment on the crowd size. It did not look like a sellout. Before half time I spotted somebody from the stadium security staff collecting up the Argo t shirts draped on the seats in the south end that had not been occupied. It seemed a fair collection of shirts.
The pitch looked in fine condition - all along I have been worried about October-November impact on the pitch, not the June-July honeymoon. Overall I felt my TFC fan sensibilities were protected, the Argo invasion is dialed low, every Argo signage was a temp cover, you did not feel that the stadium could be stopped from bouncing back in a day or two.
The highlight had to be The Shipyard - the pre-game licensed area where $4 Buds are cold and the chance to throw a football at a target truly got this old man ready for a night of Canadian football. However the line-ups for food were too long and became motivation for getting to the stadium early where the poutine line was incredibly short.

The lowlights - I am picking two. The Argos have no ideas on how to promote their players. No stats on the screen, you have no idea who is a vet Argo and who is a rookie. Who comes from a high profile college and who comes from an obscure one. If you arrived having no name awareness of players, you leave the same way. They are crying out for an app that fans can dip into for player info and stats. And better use of the scoreboard.
The other lowlight has to be the Ti-Cat fans. I was sitting in a section dominated by them. I salute their dedication to their team, but it can seem sometimes that TC love is competing with Argo hate in their heads. Which underlines, in my thin book, a scary situation. It seems a very old demographic, a rough and ready lunch bucket group, and they can seem as if they have been sealed underground since 1983. Hating the Argos without understanding that the Argos are not even on the sports radar for the VAST majority of Torontonians just seemed weird. It was as if they were incredibly proud of the ability to punch air. And the few dedicated Argo fans around all seemed as if they had been sealed in the same 1983 underground chamber. 

My sports passions are the world of soccer, TFC and the Raptors. The Euro has been fantastic and I was using my phone to figure out how the NBA draft was proceeding last night. The dedicated TiCat and Argo faithful seemed to be people who would NEVER have an interest in those topics. Could they provide a take on how the Brexit vote was going in the UK or plans for the summer or an interesting non-CFL antecdote? They just seemed like a sub-culture hanging on to something that used to be mainstream. I salute the attempt to revive the Argos, wish it was happening in a dedicated stadium, but money losers (Argos) can't be choosers. The CFL problem in Toronto is not going to snap back with the stadium switch band aid and $4 Buds...they may stave off the next stage of decline for a while, but the Argos have truly lost their bounce....

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Better one than none, but potential has a shelf life.. TFC 1 Whitecaps 0

As part of the pre-game ceremonies against the Whitecaps last night, TFC took the time to salute Jonathan Osorio for reaching the 100 game mark. Considering that the other TFC player who has reached 100 is Ashtone Morgan, one wonders if the spotlight brings the wrong things into focus on the TFC player performance over potential measurement. I feel that TFC is in real need for a summer signing or a trade to bolster their attack, but I would be shocked if either Osorio or Morgan were coveted by other teams.

Somehow by the end of the night the salute had backfired in both my mind and his play. Osorio did not play a bad game, perhaps a typical Osorio game. He was rarely caught out of position defensively, but then with Cheyrou and Johnson in the midfield Osorio does not need to defend. No goals, no assists, no shots.
I suppose I am more comfortable with the salute over the alternative, which would have been to ignore it. Still TFC has long struck me as too quick to dub something historical without looking too hard at whether it reached a worthy standard.

When scoring a goal (or taking a shot on target) means thinking three steps ahead, too many TFC players think one or two steps ahead, slowly it seems. The ball gets moved around, the players move around, but the scoring chances rarely develop. Last night, in the first half, there were large segments of play where TFC looked like a group of athletes that had met, for the first time, the night before.

Seba Giovinco is being quoted after the game as describing the first half as TFC at their worst. I agree. There are very few measurable stats in this world that I can safely claim to exceed Seba Giovinco in. Years lived and years watching TFC play like crap are the two that spring to mind. I know that I am ignoring the solid defending and excellent goalkeeping as I bleep about the ineffective attack.

The TFC schedule ahead is a series of continental crossings. A MLS game in Orlando this Saturday and then the game in Vancouver next week and then a home game July 2nd. I will hold my tongue and hope for coherence. The elimination of the US from the Copa last night at the hands of Argentina should send Bradley back into our midst. Stay tuned...

June sunset at stadium

Monday, June 20, 2016

Enough for now, need more later TFC 1 LA Galaxy 0

The night was as beautiful as June can offer, which is a very high standard indeed. Standards were on my mind as I approached the stadium. A regularly scheduled MLS game in June 2016 is a game played in the shadows. June has been tournament time, both the Euro overseas and the Copa south of the border. A feast of global soccer delights the fan in me, but would a night with TFC be a quality cliff too evident, too steep?
The Copa explains why Michael Bradley is not in TFC red for the night. Giovinco is on our shores and therefore on our turf, but you feel badly for him. Italia looks fine without him, but come the knockout stage you worry about Giovinco being tortured by television. Can he avoid watching a game where his national team needs his offensive talents and he sits cursing as he was never invited to the party?

Back to Saturday night. LA Galaxy were the opponents. They have a historical advantage over Toronto,  clobbering TFC on a regular basis. Saturday night LA seemed muted. Were they faltering or was Toronto dominating? Keane with Ireland at the Euro and Stevie G. nowhere to be seen, we fans of old EPL players had to be happy with DeJong and the ghost of Ashley Cole. How can you be a team named Galaxy when you lack stars?

Toronto's area for looking coherent and team-like is the defending end. TFC's keeper Clint Irwin looked excellent last night. The idea behind acquiring both him and defender Drew Moor from Colorado has held up well. Built upon a keeper and a defender who have played together, TFC's defending end may not shine, but they have reduced the goals against that haunted 2015. They played more of a stay at home style versus LA, so Morrow and Beitashour were rarely caught up the wings.

The Toronto goal was just another defender contribution. Giovinco takes a corner kick late in the game. No breakaway motion in the box, TFC seems to lack players with scoring instincts. So Giovinco overkicks the ball and sends it to the far wing for Benoit Cheyrou. It is almost a TFC tradition to watch players pass the ball to those who they have confidence in, rather than players in scoring position.
Cheyrou wandered with the ball enough that central defenders Zavaletta and Moor, playing forward in the box to act as attackers for the corner kick, seemed to hesitate. It was a good thing they stayed put, Cheyrou sent in a nice pass to Zavaletta who headed it onto Moor and goal was the result.

The lack of a balanced attack has long been a TFC weakness. We are 14 games into a 34 game schedule, so three games short of half way. Trailing Giovinco's 8 goals, TFC has Johnson with 2 and Moor with 2. Delgado and Endoh have one each. Bradley, Altidore, Osorio, Chapman, Morgan, Lovitz, Hamilton, Babouli and Cheyrou are all forwards or midfielders who have yet to score in 2016. With an attack such as that (would it be more stunning, if it was not typical TFC?), your defending has to be incredible. Summer transfer signings (salary cap may not allow much) or trading some defenders (Hagglund, Williams, Bloom?).

Perhaps the heightened urgency of Euro 2016, as a spectator spectacle with every game of top importance to somebody, harmed the Toronto - LA game for me. It was nice to have a victory, but game 14 of 34 with months and months stretching out ahead can seem small. I hope to have the criticisms and concerns seem small too. There is still time to grow and adapt.

June at the soccer stadium...

Thursday, June 9, 2016

From the purists' textbook - Montreal Impact - 0 TFC - 0

When is the moment that you grasp that your fan status for your football (soccer) team has taken hold of your life and you are hopelessly enmeshed in footy culture?
When you are at home and on your feet applauding the television set because TFC has ended the game in Montreal with a 0-0 result and now go onto the final round of the Canadian championship.

There was a lot to like in TFC's performance. Cheyrou continued his top form from the week before, this time paired with Will Johnson (I liked how the Canadian Press report that I read on the site called Johnson a defender). The two of them were set deep in the midfield, never tempted to get forward into the attack, always providing a blanket to smother Montreal.
Moor and Zavaletta were the central defender pairing and then they were bolstered by Hagglund in the second half. Talk about parking the bus. TFC was playing with a back five and two ultra defensive midfielders. Oh and Morrow came on late in the game and therefore defender Morgan became a quasi-midfielder. All this defending made the contributions of Lovitz, Osorio and then Giovinco all the more valued. Just one goal from TFC would have put the game and the series to bed, but enough counter attack threat was provided.

It was no surprise that Coach Vanney chose to sacrifice his starting attackers, Mo Babouli and Hamilton Jordan, when it was time to make substitutions. I know that Jordan scored two goals last week against Montreal, but he offered much less last night. I am not sold that Babouli or Jordan Hamilton (edit - my research has not revealed a link to Hamilton Jordan - Chief of Staff in Jimmy Carter's White House) are on the brink of providing TFC with a young attack. Michael Salazar of Montreal (even though Hamilton outscored him 2-1 over 180 minutes) shows promise. Vancouver Whitecaps had a 15 year old in their starting line-up last night (eliminating Ottawa with a 3-0 victory)

So onto the next round vs Vancouver... later this month.

The Cup in question...

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Muhammed Ali - gone but unforgettable

a moment, a motion that took me out of my seat...
Today is a tough day. Tough, rather than shocking, to hear the news of the death of Muhammed Ali. Tough to order my memories and gather words that are worthy of the man, his story, his understandable fame, his abilities and how the admiration of fans such as myself (hardly unique) became a part of the legend.
So much has changed. I describe his fame as understandable, but perhaps I am just revealing my age and the context of the time. Boxing was a huge sport. Heavyweight boxing was the top dog of the boxing game. Everyone knew who the champ was and the heavyweight champ was the king of the world. 

Now, I could not tell you who the heavyweight champ is. I would not care to see him or anyone else fight. It all seems too brutal now. Perhaps that was a huge part of the Ali mystique, that he combined charisma and charm with brutal and vicious fighting skills. Of course, the mystique gave away to the Ali tragedy, his uncanny ability to take a punch, to slip a glancing blow, ended with a life marred by decades of Parkinson's.

Ali was a boxer, but he was also a media star (television without Ali and Howard Cosell would have been so dull) and an almost accidental political figure (defending religious freedom, seeking dignity in the African-American/ civil rights struggle and the defiance of US military policy regarding the Vietnam War). You could not be a teen pretend hippie and not be entranced with Muhammed Ali. After all, I had spent 72 and 73 with a George McGovern bumper sticker attached to my jacket. My liberal credentials were at stake.

Then came 1974. George Foreman was such a strong man that when he knocked out Joe Frazier, Frazier actually bounced. I can remember students at my high school telling me that Foreman was going to kill Ali. He had no chance. I might have argued strongly for Ali, but had my secret doubts.
Never one to avoid an uphill battle, I saw this as a case of sticking with a hero despite the odds. 

Back then tickets were sold for closed circuit television broadcasts. Maple Leaf Gardens had sold out, so a second location at the CNE Coliseum was established. We bought tickets to watch the fight there, we being myself, my stepfather Nick Valenti and my good friend George Sperduti. George was an even more determined Muhammed Ali fan than I.

I re-watched the fight today on Youtube and I can highly recommend the documentary "When We Were Kings" about the 74 Ali-Foreman "Rumble in the Jungle". Watching today brought back memories of just how worried an Ali fan could have been that night. Foreman was a monster and you were relieved every time Ali tangled him up or launched a flurry of punches to stem the tide. 

When Ali finally made his move in the eighth round (pictured above), when the monster Foreman had become a tall tree ready to be toppled, it unveils itself to me as a still thrilling moment after all these years (42 come October!).  That moment of victory, that moment when the tide finally turns, almost has nothing to do with athletics or fighting or tactics. It has to do with wisdom and nobility overcoming power and brute force. 

In 1974 the Toronto area had a less diverse population than you would find today. I remember the significant black presence in the crowd that night and the joy that overflowed when Ali knocked old George Foreman out. I felt the joy, but was also thrilled to see the singing, dancing, hollering that grown men displayed in the arena that night.  Ali vs Foreman might have been, logically speaking, just two men fighting in a ring. Yet also, in the larger cultural context, it was proof that the world could be a beautiful place. The rightful king had returned to the throne.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Jack calls it "closing out the quarter" TFC 4 Montreal 2

Watching the Raptors this season, one aspect of play that was always under the scrutiny of Jack Armstrong (NBA tv analyst "extrordinaire" in my books) was how they played at the end of any quarter. "Closing out the quarter" is what Jack would bring our attention to. Don't squander a lead and allow your opponent back into the game in those final minutes. The Raptors struggled with it often and often it was the second string players, too thrilled with scoring opportunities and a comfy lead, that would let things become lax at the defensive end.

Wow. Time to apply Jack Armstrong to TFC soccer (both Bismack Biyombo and Lucas "Bebe' Nogueira of the Raptors were shown on the big screen in attendance last night - that would be a striker pairing). TFC looked strong and smooth for the first 84 minutes last night. Seeing two goals from Jonathan Osorio and two from Jordan Hamilton was thrilling. TFC has been struggling to score in recent weeks and a 4 goal night was fully beyond expectations. 
The return of Benoit Cheyrou was the tonic the midfield had been requiring. His passing and his dribbling, his vision and positioning were all top level. Good games from Beitashour and Morgan, the central pairing of Hagglund and Zavaletta was fine, keeper Irwin with very little to do, all aspects seemed under control.

Then they failed to close out the quarter. Montreal scored two late goals that suddenly make their burden easier on the second leg of this semi-final.
It is smart to try to avoid the second-guessing, hindsight assisted, Monday morning quarterback sort of blogging style. So I gingerly put some of the blame on Coach Vanney. Sure, you want fresh legs late in the game, but two Toronto FCII players onto the wings? And Jay Chapman on for Benoit Cheyrou? Didier Drogba was still on the pitch and it was clear that Montreal was not throwing in the towel as long as they were playing Drogba.

It seems to be a self imposed hex that either vanishes or intensifies with the first goal in Montreal next Wednesday. The view that TFC will jump out with scoring next week is hopeful in the extreme. Montreal were missing many starters last night, more due to international duty than injury. Montreal played the entire second half down a man following the red card to Bernier late in the first half.
So TFC in Montreal have to score the first goal and then close out the quarter.


Smallish crowd, biggish game