Saturday, May 27, 2017

Toronto in superb form, slew Crew TFC 5 Columbus Crew 0

Anyone who went to the stadium tonight expecting that level of excellence or that many goals has more confidence and insight than I could ever imagine. The game was off to a great start within the first 10 minutes with the Vazquez pass to Ricketts, the foul in the box and the Vazquez goal on the ensuing p.k. Yet feeling comfortable with an early lead is difficult against Columbus. I would not consider myself a fan of Federico Higuaín, but I respect his skill and heaven knows he has destroyed TFC many a time. So I watched him like a hawk. As long as he was on the field I worried. On a night scoring 5 goals it is easy to forget the effort and skill on the defensive side. 

Toronto FC put on a sweet performance tonight at BMO. Long before the goals started TFC had moments of footy poetry in motion out there. It seems that Captain Michael Bradley responds so well to the addition of Victor Vazquez to the midfield. They often moved about as a pair of midfield maestros benefitting from some excellent contributions from Chris Mavinga and Justin Morrow. It's a bit funny that both of Vazquez's goals were scored from dead ball situations, because he was all thoughtful motion and pinpoint passing tonight. I recall a moment in the second half when he was boxed in out on the left and he made a bad pass to the middle of the pitch that was pounced on by Columbus. It stuck out in my memory largely because it was a rare lapse. 

I think that at 3-0 Columbus threw in the towel and subbed off Higuaín. TFC's Delgado was given a red card after a collision with a Crew player. It happened so fast and I admit that because I had been following the path of the ball and first saw Delgado reaching for it, my first instinct was that Delgado had touched the ball and that the Crew player came in late. I have yet to see a replay, but I must be wrong on the sequence. Marky Delgado deserves credit for developing his game. He can still be a day late and a dollar short when the ball is at his feet... but he is covering a lot of ground and positioning himself well when defending. With Vazquez and Bradley running the show down the middle and Morrow and Beitashour on the flanks, Delgado is not going to shine as a star. He needs to shoot from distance more often, but that is a criticism I throw at all TFC midfielders (except Vazquez, he takes at least one long crack at net per game by my primitive stat memory).

It was such a dominant performance by TFC tonight that I felt just a tiny bit sorry for the Crew. A very rare feeling in all my years following the MLS. Usually I would only enjoy thumping Montreal more than downing the Crew.

Coming into tonight's game Columbus had a record of 6 wins, 6 losses and a tie. Not overpowering, but respectable for 5th place in the Eastern MLS standings. They might have figured, considering that they came to Toronto with Giovinco out due to injury and Altidore suspended due to yellow card accumulation.
Instead they encountered an onslaught. I would be sensitive to TFC running up the score with goals 4 and 5 if not for the fact that it was Osorio (beautifully set up by Hamilton) and Hamilton (beautifully set up by Edwards) that were doing the scoring. Both came off the bench and both are down the depth chart and fighting for playing time.

A rare night. I am just not used to walking away from the stadium thinking " well that was a work of art". A good feeling, that.

Just another masterpiece...

Friday, May 19, 2017

Road strength NYRB 1 TFC 1

The Granite and Redbrick FC (just me, trying to spruce up the Grey and the Red)  continued to look a rising force in New Jersey tonight. A point on the road is often the target for a game such as this and the cagey veterans of TFC fandom tuned in hoping for just that.

The Red Bull Arena has rarely been a place for TFC to flourish. TFC with an all time great winning streak has one looking for a bubble burster of a game. NYRB have a great home record and they were stung

Without Seba Giovinco and Nick Hagglund due to injuries and Drew Moor playing 60 minutes in his comeback from injury game, TFC managed to raise our expectations all night long.

- came back from being one goal down at the half  with Cheyrou's goal
- had a penalty called in their favour at NYRB Arena (too bad Jozy hit a soft riser too close to the        keeper and had it saved).
- had a near winner as Tosaint Ricketts put one off the crossbar
- and had Ricketts put one in the net only to have it called back on a offside / interfering with play call on Raheem Edwards.

Rare in TFC history to have a draw in NYRB territory feel so much like two points squandered rather than the tie point gained.
The TFC record now stands at 7 wins 1 loss and 5 ties, still #1 in the East although Orlando is only 6 points back with two less games played.

Next game is a Canadian Championship game in Ottawa against the Fury. You can expect to see plenty of regulars rested and Hamilton, Chapman and Osorio be amongst those to give TFC a Canadian shape.
Then next Friday it is a home game versus the Columbus Crew with the Trillium Cup on the line. I like our chances...

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Ragged power TFC 3 Minnesota 2

A fully entertaining afternoon down by the lake today. Toronto FC looked confident and cohesive in the early part of the game, ragged for a few scattered patches in the second half and then back to full power mode to finish Minnesota off in the end . When Giovinco scored the first goal it was possible to dream of a runaway "run up the score" victory. Clearly that did not happen, just not sure if it was a matter of Minnesota making a game of it or TFC too often letting them back up when they seemed down at last.

I give credit to Minnesota for a few things. They have improved defensively somewhat from their woeful start to the season. They have some quality players and gave a solid effort. They also have the vaguest name lettering I have ever seen (or actually not seen) on a MLS shirt. Soft grey letters on a white background. As a western conference team we would not see them in Toronto again in 2017 (unless TFC hosted them in the Cup). Just be warned and make sure you buy a program when they play in your town.

TFC rode their offensive side to victory. The effort from Jozy Altidore to keep possession down the left and send in the perfect cross for Tosaint Ricketts to head the winning goal from was superb. TFC clearly sacrificed their defensive side in resting Beitashour and Morrow. Those two sitting out might explain how Minnesota were able to twice crawl back into the game. Hopefully a healthy Drew Moor is close to returning, not every opponent will yield three goals in a game no matter how sparkling the TFC attack is right now.

So it was possible to walk away from the stadium in an upbeat mood. Surprising when you consider that Giovinco and Hagglund left the game due to injuries (and is it possible Alex Bono ended the game injured too?). TFC have never, ever won 6 in a row before.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Woke up just in time Crew 1 TFC 2

Now, that was a scintillating finish. A reward for all those who avoided nodding off when Toronto looked hapless in the second half. Yes, they looked confused and aimless. I also felt that the announcing team of Wileman and Caldwell were throwing in the towel way too early. There were 30 minutes left to play at one point and you felt the audio portion of your broadcast was wrapping up the game as a foregone conclusion.
Just my pet peeve in play by play talk, please describe the action as best you can, try to take me into the moment, into the atmosphere (and therefore spend the money to send announcers to the park, not this from the studio miles away crap). DON'T give me the implications of the action (scoring here will give Jozy Altidore seven goals for the season and he will be tied for the league lead was the jist of Luke Wileman's commentary at that point - he had me yelling at the tv screen before Altidore even made contact). To those who missed the game on television, Altidore's penalty kick was stopped by Crew keeper Steffen. At that point the Columbus Crew were ahead 1-0 as Federico Higuain had scored from the penalty spot (Panenka style) earlier when Zavaletta had fouled a Crew player in the box.

The midfield was not working. It was the return of Vazquez who missed the Seattle trip, a reward start for Jay Chapman, who looked excellent in Seattle, a start for Osorio with Morrow and Beitashour back to their usual wingback spots
It was a victory that Coach Greg Vanney can take a lot of the credit for, but it was not a night that I spent singing his praises. He gets slammed for tinkering too much with his lineup here. He has a deep squad and with the Canadian games coming up (opponent confirmed as the Ottawa Fury) you can see he wants to spread playing time around. Yet at the same time he is not making the best moves in terms of players who know each other and play well together. Jay Chapman did not look as good against Columbus as he did on the weekend, but playing him with Victor Vazquez was a huge factor. Is it not possible that Chapman was playing the Vazquez role in his absence against the Sounders?

In the end Vanney more than dug the team out of the hole he might have created. Mavinga was playing well, but he was subbed still in the first half. Morrow could drop back into Mavinga's spot at left back and Tosaint Ricketts came in the game to add fire power. Although Ricketts was on the field for all those meandering minutes, he scored the two goals and saved the night. Vanney's second half changes, Cheyrou and Edwards in, Osorio and Chapman out, were superb. Putting in Cheyrou was solid, it is not just what Benoit Cheyrou does but also the way that his presence on the field frees up Michael Bradley to get forward. Raheem Edwards brought speed and daring and excellent crosses. He and Vazquez had the assists in both goals. Vazquez finding Edwards on the right wing, who then chipped it into the path of Rickett's head for the first Toronto goal. I have gone on and on about the quality of Victor Vazquez and now heap on praise to Raheem Edwards. The quality of that chip/cross on the first goal is not often seen in TFC land. Then the toe tip of Vazquez on the cross from Edwards later on the left was the gift that Ricketts put the finish too.

Almost forgot to mention 5 straight victories, a TFC record. I must admit that has me worried about the Saturday home game. Playing expansion team Minnesota here in Toronto just might have TFC taking it all for granted. Stay hungry and stay tuned.

They have me peeking at Supporter's Shield TFC#1

Saturday, May 6, 2017

1st in the East and memories of December Seattle 0 TFC 1

Frei robbed Jozy Altidore again (but Jozy had already scored the game winner from the penalty spot minutes earlier).
In today's game Seattle Sounders managed to take some shots on net (the stats say only two on target). 
It was a rematch of last year's MLS Cup Final and you felt that TFC had more to prove, having come so spectacularly short last December. 
The new names as starters might have given you a different impression at game start. Giovinco, Beitashour, Vazquez and Zavaletta had all been left in Toronto. The new faces were Hernandez and Mavinga joining Hagglund in the back line. Benoit Cheyrou and Jay Chapman joining Delgado, Bradley, Edwards and Morrow in the midfield. Clint Irwin was back in net and Altidore the lone forward.
It started rough. Seattle put the ball into the net early, but it was called back on the offside call.
TFC bounced back quickly and looking back at the game, the 1-0 final score flatters Seattle. Jozy should have had another or two, Morrow found himself just short of goal too.
To echo Mr. Caldwell on the tv broadcast, it was a team effort. It gives a fan real confidence to watch them win on the road with so many depth players.

TFC are right now first in the East with a record of 5 wins, 1 loss and 4 ties for a total of 19 points. Orlando is only a point behind and two less games played (they play tonight), so they can leap ahead. New York Red Bulls can tie TFC in points should they win tonight.

Onto Columbus Wednesday night.
Devoted Toronto fans make the trip to Seattle

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Varied, but valued victory TFC 2 Orlando City 1

TFC had a sparkling first half against Orlando City last night. They continued the excellent passing and movement that had dominated Houston just days ago. Vazquez was distributing the ball beautifully. Delgado, Edwards, Beitashour on the wings were taking defenders on and making things happen. Giovinco and Altidore were getting the ball in good attacking spaces. Seba Giovinco scored both goals and it was possible to dream of a goal fest.
Then the tide turned.
I have a lot of respect for Orlando, they have built a solid team. You have to respect a team that gets a  very late first half goal from their superstar, Kaka, and then gets stronger in the midfield when they replace him for the second half. Toronto seemed to shrink a little as Orlando played a more muscular style of play and their midfield dominated. When TFC dominate ball possession they have the players to dazzle with. When the opponent takes over the ball, TFC seems smaller, weaker. Dare I say it, they lack a Will Johnson. Subbing Osorio in for Vazquez improved the defending in the midfield, somewhat. Cooper for Edwards was for defending purposes too, one supposes. TFC preserved the lead and grabbed the victory, so they withstood the onslaught. It was always in doubt though and that diving slap save from Alex Bono in net, as the ball looked a sure goal for Orlando, was the most memorable moment from Toronto in that half.
If the night was one part exciting passing and motion and one part experimental rugby, I must give some credit for the grappling rugby portion to ref Baldomero "baffling decisions" Toledo. Jozy Altidore in particular was impeded, grabbed and muscled and somehow Toledo found a way to make calls against him. I am all for ref respect, but I wish I could find a way to have Mr. Toledo impeded as he does his job the way he allows TFC forwards to be impeded. Perhaps a drone buzzing his butt while he makes his mysterious calls.
pre-game Coach Conway warming up game saver Alex Bono

A fan blogger salute to Coach Greg Vanney who coached his 100th TFC game last night, the club record (which might say more about the club than Mr. Vanney, but I quibble). I feel like an old-timer to recall the start of his era, in on the heels of the firing of previous coach Ryan Nelsen (who has gone onto?) back in September 2014. Who thought then Coach Vanney would last this long? Or qualify for playoffs in his first full season? Or take TFC to the MLS Cup final in his second full season?
It is time to clear away those old clouds of doubt and salute the accomplishment. Greg Vanney, longest serving and most successful TFC coach. Long may he reign win.