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