Tuesday, October 31, 2017

On the road to MLS Cup - game 1 - NYRB 1 TFC 2

And so we return to playoff footy... with a strategic victory at a stadium where victories have been mighty scarce in TFC history.

get out much, NYRB fans?

This was the first MLS Cup playoff game for TFC since that (shudder, shudder) Cup final disaster versus Seattle last December. When you consider that the recent season was a record breaking Supporter's Shield winning campaign, you could have had a hunch, going into this first leg game at New York Red Bull Arena, that TFC were due for a letdown effort.

Instead Toronto FC had enough attacking skills, enough full team defending and enough top level goalkeeping to defeat NYRB in this first leg game. 
The Red Bulls had opportunities, mostly in the second half, but Alex Bono was more than up to the task. The only Red Bull goal was a penalty kick after a bad moment of defending at the end of the first half. It gave NYRB hope going into the second half. Based on most of the first half play, it might have been hope they did not deserve. You had to expect something from the home team in this arena seldom kind to TFC.

Toronto was up to the task of defending and the rougher play and stronger play of NYRB as they attempted to get into the game. How Felipe did not at least earn a yellow for the hip check of Vazquez, I will never understand. Hagglund in for the injured Drew Moor was a forced substitution that paid off. I know that it is unfair to Osorio (in terms of offensive skills) when he comes on for an ailing Vazquez, but Osorio was a solid contributor. If I am going to highlight the TFC subs, special praise for Cooper. His ball hog antics were perfect for killing off a game to ensure victory. If this means that we can look forward to a return to playoff prominence for midfielder Cooper, all those summer time ball give aways will be forgiven...

This blogger was guilty throughout the second half of thinking that Seba Giovinco was having an off night. Seldom seeing the ball, unable to draw fouls, physically dominated by Long of NYRB. Then it all went Giovinco in a flash. Shielding the ball as he dribbled into the centre of the field, Felipe (the NYRB player I have always loved to hate) made a lunge that went knee to knee in front of the ref. It was an athletic feat of Felipe's to foul with his knee and then in a micro-second raise his arms as a claim to innocence.
Then Giovinco turned on his super powers. His free kick went over the wall, another NYRB defender blocking that side and a diving keeper, and into the net. I would describe the New York crowd as stunned into silence. Too bad the crowd size was minimal. 
Just another day at the office for Seba Giovinco

Speaking of small crowds for a midweek playoff game, you read idle comments that the MLS would desire a NYCFC vs NYRB playoff matchup to highlight the game in the Big Apple. Maybe the small  Red Bull Arena crowd is an indication that soccer in New York needs such a boost. I suspect that the Eastern final will be Toronto vs Columbus, but that is based on season momentum (and Columbus looking blessed vs Atlanta). The NYCFC vs Columbus match up should be interesting. 
Yes, I am guilty of looking towards the next round now. I think that should TFC score the first goal at BMO Field on Sunday afternoon, NYRB is more likely to fold their tent, pick up red cards (Hello Felipe) and leak goals, than mount a mighty comeback.

See you Sunday.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Season sunset spectacular Atlanta United 2 Toronto FC 2

I was wrong, totally wrong about the last game of the 2017 season for Toronto FC in Atlanta.

I felt that it would be a game perfectly suited for playing the bench.  I figured it wise to save the starters from fatigue and injury. Let Atlanta dominate the B team and give them nothing to work on for possible playoff meetings. Play possum. Throw in the towel and avoid the distraction of playing for the points record. Let that huge Atlanta crowd have their day and possibly contribute to their peaking too early. I thought that the notion that playing the best Toronto 11 to get all in gear for the playoffs was bunk. I figured that they could iron out the kinks in the first leg of any playoff match-up.

Did I mention I was wrong? Thrilled to be wrong actually. Coach Vanney picked his starters (although Beitashour over Hasler was a surprise) and went for it. The record for points in a season, 69, belongs to Toronto FC. 20 wins, 9 ties and 5 losses. You look back over the season and can build a case for at least one tie that should have been a win and one loss that could have been squeezed into a tie.
That's how good this team has been this season.
Their determination today in Atlanta, twice coming back to tie a game, on the road before a record MLS single game crowd (71,874) was incredible. The two leg playoff format is designed for surprises. Remember last year Toronto and Montreal found a way to eliminate the two New York teams. So hold onto your hats. Nothing has been determined, all to play for...

Helping Jozy celebrate and grabbing a cold one

Well struck

Monday, October 16, 2017

Win Ugly TFC 1 Montreal 0

Small (but sweet) mission down, BIG mission ahead
The morning after the last home game of the 2017 season, I (a fan, a blogger, a shrinking old man) must take the time to accentuate the positive.
Toronto FC 2017 hoisted the Supporter's Shield on home field yesterday. They finished their home schedule with a record of 13 wins - 1 loss and 3 ties. That was a powerful performance.

Onto some random observations, in order to stay positive. I will get back to the game in a bit.
I am a huge fan of the 5 pm weekend start time. I could vote for a 4 pm start time too, but with yesterday's weather that would have meant a huge downpour would have hit the start of the game. So 5 pm wins. The best part of the 5 start time is that post game you can meet with friends and family for a rollicking dinner. It makes a good day, a great one.

I love what tuque day (sponsored by KIA) has become. It used to be a wonderful parting gift, a harbinger of the snowy season approaching and the time you were about to spend away from TFC. Now (fingers crossed and touching wood) it is a gateway to playoffs, a reminder that the games ahead will be chilly. The fact that TFC ended their home schedule with TWO hat give aways means everything to the fashion challenged and man I know I'm one.

Back to the game at hand (and sorry I can't stay positive for much longer)

Just what does Alex Bono have to do to be named "Man of the Match"? Score a goal? Sure, Jozy Altidore buried his chance and was the game winner, but most of the night it was Bono (and his goal posts) keeping Montreal from filling the net. Maybe Altidore needs the confidence boost after the Trinidad experience (the US Men's National Team was eliminated from World Cup 2018 participation by a loss in Trinidad), but Bono was the man according to an unscientific random sample of section 220.
Two weeks apart, due to the international break, and Toronto FC looked far too clunky, disconnected and disjointed versus the Montrealers. Sure, credit given for victory when only records and home field pride were at stake. Speaking of home field, sorry but the stadium share with those bloody afterthought Argos remains an issue. That flood of rain just before game time might have been too much for the pitch.

I will always hate the Argo intrusion into the National Soccer Stadium.

Victor Vazquez should be taking all TFC penalties during the playoffs. On a scale of difficulty, hitting two shots off the same post is up there.

Timing and cohesion and playing time are important. Yet, I would still prefer to play only the B squad for the final season game in Atlanta next weekend. Call it fatigue recognition, injury prevention or just giving Atlanta no recent awareness of the form of our starting 11. I say play Irwin in net, defenders Hagglund, Hernandez and somebody else, midfield should be Edwards, Endoh, Osorio, Cooper and Cheyrou, with Ricketts and Hamilton up front. Result far less important than rest. The beauty of the two leg playoff format is that TFC can chase cohesion in the away game and then have the home game to enhance it.

Season 2017 = no worries, MLS Cup playoffs 2017 = all worries. May we worry all the way to December. Still cheering...

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Toronto FC Supporters' Shield winners 2017 TFC 4 NYRB 2

Bucket hat designed for September sunsets
A crisp September Saturday night, a huge victory in Toronto to clinch the Supporters' Shield and the recent two game losing streak is easier to forget, if not forgive. The joy of accomplishment banishes the nagging thoughts that this could have been nailed down with points from the Montreal game or the road struggle in New England. Better delayed than never.

Toronto FC looked a level or two better than New York Red Bulls all night long. Still the game had many roller coaster elements. Early going was TFC asserting themselves and taking a two goal lead. Then NYRB had their answering goal and the half arrived with questions.
When NYRB scored their second goal on a penalty kick to tie the game in the second half, I had to dampen down those traditional doubts and worries. Were TFC going to find a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory? Are mistakes by the lake just part of the atmosphere in that part of the city?

Full marks to Toronto FC for roaring back in those final fifteen minutes. It did seem that the ref had given the Red Bulls a signal that no yellow cards were going to be shown and they had freedom to play a crunching game. TFC players were forever moving the ball quickly to avoid that crunch. It hurt the flow, but did not 

Vazquez scored from the penalty spot after Altidore was grabbed. Altidore broke later into the box and crossed the ball to a sliding Justin Morrow to earn his hat trick.

And to think that this entire performance was without Seba Giovinco.

When the announcement rang out, Toronto FC are the Supporters' Shield winners for 2017, I had a misty moment. All those lost seasons, all those woeful teams without direction, hope or leadership popped up in the memory cells. It felt sweet to be witness to these better days, but pride in sticking it out through the lean and leaner still years is woven into the cheers of today.

Now onto the Cup.

by the Lake observations
- One of the few pleasures of the home game mess against Montreal in September was discovering a post game radio hosted by Gareth Wheeler and Terry Dunfield on TSN 1050. Very sorely missed last night. 
- When the bench players came out to warm up it was great to see Nick Hagglund and Benoit Cheyrou greeted with warm applause. Both have arrived back from injury, hopefully healed, at just the right time for the season close and playoffs. Cheyrou got into the game late.  His hard nosed tackling and his silky ball skills are 
- I was thinking that last night's TFC bench might have been the most talented ever. Keeper Clint Irwin,  young Canadians Raheem Edwards and Jordan Hamilton, Steven Beitashour, Cheyrou, Hagglund and Jonathan Osorio. Youth, veterans, Canadians, but talent everywhere.
- As much as I felt that NYRB tactics were too far on the rough and tumble side, I am still cheering for them to go out and beat Vancouver next weekend. That would put them into the playoffs, 7 points clear of Montreal with two games to play. It would put Montreal in the position of playing in Toronto with only pride and rivalry on the line on October 15th (which is still a dangerous combination). Something tells me that the October 15th game will be needed for Seba Giovinco to work with a starting squad. 
The final weekend of the season game in Atlanta turns into what I have dreamed about for months, a chance to protect stars from injury and give the subs a chance to play. Last night sealed the Supporters' Shield and first place in the Eastern Conference. What a luxury to go south to Atlanta with nothing on the line.

Keep smiling.