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 Drop Jozy Altidore into the withdrawn striker role and put Giovinco out to the wing.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.