Saturday, April 29, 2017

Efficient with dashes of dazzle TFC 2 Houston 0

Don't you love it when a plan comes together? Toronto FC looked strong in victory last night. It was a mixture of elements at play throughout the evening as they handled the Houston Dynamo. TFC did not pursue a goal fest, although they always looked capable of adding to their total, at the expense of protecting their end of the field. After allowing a late goal against Chicago a week ago, you got the sense that shutting down the Houston scorers was a priority all game long. I think that you have to give credit to Coaches Vanney and Fraser for the continued growth in TFC defending quality. The ability to play with three in the back is due to the progress that Hagglund and Zavaletta exhibit in both defending and ball control out of the back. My hunch is that if a team has one young defender rise in ability it could be talent despite neglectful coaching. Two young defenders on the rise and the coaching gets credit. It was so encouraging, on so many levels, to hear that Drew Moor is on his way back to playing in the short term. Only one goal against in two games however is a strong indication that TFC has a deeper squad than we have ever seen.
The midfield was just as strong. It was a pleasure watching the distribution of Victor Vazquez. He is worth the price of admission. He is neither swift nor flashy. You watch him slide into passing angles so that Michael Bradley and the three defenders can easily find him for their outlet passes. Then he is a master at knowing where everyone on the pitch is and could be. Sudden passes launch attacks or he quickly finds space. I was sad to see him come off the field (though another game looms midweek and rest for veteran legs and playing time for Osorio was wise). After last night I could give the inside track to midfield playing time to Marky Delgado. He had a strong game, seems to fill the spaces defensively that Vazquez can't get to and was positive in the attack. Bradley played a strong game, I think having Vazquez around take pressure of off Captain MB. Raheem Edwards was superb. Beitashour too.
Altidore and Giovinco seemed to be a true partnership. The second Altidore goal was due to a pure unselfish moment from Giovinco.
Alex Bono fully deserved his shutout. Made some timely saves, particulary in the second half when defending legs were weariest.

All in all, a good night down by the lake. You never forgot it was April, but mild weather all night and no wind to speak of. Toronto provided effort, style and ball control on every part of the pitch.
The next game is against Orlando.
Stay tuned.
TFC attack finding wide open spaces

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Our home opener TFC 3 Fire 1

We spent our winter south of the border and returned to Ontario for the Easter weekend. So this was our first BMO Field game attended for the year. Keen readers of the blog will know it was not our first TFC game attended as we trekked up to Sandy, Utah to see the season opener versus Real Salt Lake the first week in March.
Snap out of memory lane one must. But first a complaint and a cheerful thought. Ontario this is not spring weather. We know it is coming, we experienced it already in climes such as California, Arizona, Texas and Louisiana. Yes, our route homeward involved going eastward for days to avoid going north for as long as possible. Thanks April in Ontario for reminding this potential perpetual snowbird to plan future returns for May.

It was terrific to see the familiar faces in mighty section 220. Through email, all knew we had been away for months and months, so it was great to be welcomed back. It's a funny contrast that those around me are mostly tech free, while I remain Mr. Social Media (at least through this blog and Facebook, my twitter and instagram could use some boosting). So when I take on the role of fan spokesperson, I do so in a bit of a vacuum. However most are shaking their heads at the pain of Friday night games. My combo of retired and driving in from Guelph means little difference weekday or weekend. Most fans don't have our luxury of choosing an early afternoon travel time. Friday pm rush hour is chaos in this city. Getting from work to game is a pain. I understand that US television contracts means that Friday night games will be a reality. Bradley and Altidore getting to the MLS Cup means that TFC has ratings potential south of the border. It remains a pain.

I admit I was worried about the rising fortunes of Chicago. After the poor game in Columbus last weekend I was fearing the Schweinstieger the same way the Raptors "Fear the Deer". My concern after the Crew was that the stumbling would continue. This April/May TFC homestand needs to be the winning streak or else. Fair to say that Schweinsteiger provided more stumbles than fear striking. It will be interesting to see how dedicated Mr. Schweinsteiger is to conditioning. He looked a little rough in the first half and was less effective in the second. Will he wilt in the long hot Midwest summer or prove a steiger of schweins? I am looking into travelling to Illinois in August to see the rematch game
When that early Chicago Fire goal was called back on an offside call, it just might have been the required jolt to the collective system. From then on Toronto started playing with greater cohesion, notably with their passing throughout the midfield. The midfield was setup with Bradley at the back with Vazquez and Delgado central, Beitashour down the right and Raheem Edwards down the left. I felt that Edwards played a strong two-way game. You can be taken with his dazzle on the ball, but he does the unsung work of getting back and finding his man on the defending end too.
My faith restored in TFC, time for some random observations...
Giovinco went from the sacred (scoring that screamer of a free kick) to the profane (kicking a pylon, storming off to the dressing room at being subbed late in the game) in record time. At what point does admiration for his passion give way to concern for team dynamics? Does Seba really think that he is the one in "All for One"? 

My fandom for Benoit Cheyrou was severely tested last night. He was the late sub for Gio and his only contribution of note was to give the ball away and allow Accam of Chicago to score their consolation goal. I suppose that balances out in the admiration scale, David Accam is the Fire player that always scares me. He is also on my top players Toronto should trade for list...

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Discovering Columbus Crew 2 TFC 1

Methinks that Toronto FC are in the midst of a painful awakening. As much as it stings to say it, the Columbus Crew might be the perfect team to administer such an awakening.
2015 ended with Columbus hosting and losing the MLS Cup. Then they followed that with not even making the playoffs in 2016. So the Crew know well that attaining post-season heights does not magically transfer to the next year.
Right now Toronto are playing as if it does. Taking the first half lead, off of a beautifully headed goal by Jozy Altidore, just seemed to open the door to smugness. The Crew scored twice in short order and never looked back.
TFC just can't afford to allow two quick goals when their ability to score seems limited. I have not looked at any stats, but did Giovinco have a shot at all in this game?
I put my bias on the table, I think Benoit Cheyrou is the best thing since sliced baguette. He needs some playing time. I would shift Michael Bradley back to central defender until the (hopeful) return of Drew Moor. TFC depends far too much on the scoring prowess of Gio and Jozy and tries to coast along on a nonscoring midfield (my least fave stat of 2016, Osorio scored one goal, Michael Bradley scored one goal). No wonder teams smother the TFC forwards, Toronto has no offensive plan B.
I worry about this coming homestand. Chicago Fire with Bastian Schweinsteiger, then Houston, then Orlando. Remember that Columbus, Chicago and Orlando did not qualify for the playoffs in 2016, so a rise in their quality, plus the strength of expansion team  Atlanta, means a rougher road for TFC
I worry about May with two games against Columbus and road trips to Seattle and NYRB.
Toronto may know by June if they are the "Beast of the East" that they thought they were or if they are a team that will struggle to make the playoffs.
I know that the first loss of the year should not unleash such a gloomy outlook, but it seems like it is sink or swim time down by the lake.
Still kicking

Saturday, April 8, 2017

A bad case of Mavinga TFC 2 Atlanta 2

Atlanta United lived up to their early season reputation and looked the part of an established team. They are not the usual MLS woeful outfit in their rookie year and have hit the ground running. 
However, they did score their two goals on long ball breakaways and both times I would lean more towards wondering about Mavinga's (that would be Chris Mavinga, I think getting his first start for TFC) positioning and defending than praising Atlanta's skill. 
Toronto had the most of the night, but continue to squander chances or fail to find the net when you think their dominance of play for long stretches deserves a reward. Playing the end of the game with a man advantage just underlined this. I know they proved me wrong in Vancouver, but most of the time when TFC get an opponent sent off, my hopes go nowhere.
Good to see Giovinco get his first goal of the season. He lost the plot late in the game when he felt that a foul had been earned. Bad karma there.
If all goes to plan, tonight was the final Toronto game that I will watch from afar (writing this in my airbnb in San Antonio, Texas). The next home game will see me back in the stands. I relish the opportunity to yell Schweinsteiger at Bastien Schwiensteiger... stay tuned and score goals.

Zavaletta about to be semi-clunked. A semi-clunk that was met with a full red card.