Wednesday, November 22, 2017

No TFC sparkle without stars - Columbus Crew 0 TFC 0

I feel that I want to play the blame game today. It's the morning after the playoff game and I am struggling to find the positives about the TFC performance in Columbus. Let me be a little clearer. I am pleased enough with the result. A draw on the road in November in the first leg of the Cup semi-final is a step in the right direction. It is the performance that worries me. Specifically the offensive performance, the goalkeeping of Alex Bono was stellar and, excepting a few wonky seconds at the end, the defending was solid. 

I am in the camp of wary respect for the Columbus Crew. It is not the first time this season where I have noted the gulf between Toronto and their opponents when it comes to having attacking players who are able to create the space to take a shot. I am not one who goes scrambling for the stat sheet to support my take on the game, but in this area I think it reflects the heart of Toronto's problems of late. They have been shut out now two games in a row, both home and away. I was willing to describe the quarter final home game as other than a clean sheet for NYRB, but the two disallowed goals were an own goal and a direct free kick. Neither were shots taken by midfielders in open play.

So here is my look at the gulf last night. Columbus midfielders showing up on the shot stat sheet would be Artur (1), Meram (1), Santos (4) and Higuain (3). I think it is a reflection that Federico Higuain is hanging up his boots and last night was probably his last game in Columbus. A few years ago, a game with Higuain having three shots would have been a Crew victory.

On the Toronto side you have the stunning situation of Delgado, Osorio and Bradley combining for a total of 0 shots. (Vazquez (2), Hasler (1) indicates some shots from TFC midfield
I know that it is a wonky comparison. Michael Bradley was in such a defender mode, sometimes holding midfielder, sometimes even playing semi-sweeper.

But my tactical point is that midfielders who shoot, who do more than seek out and feed strikers actually stretch defenders out of position and create opportunities for all. See Columbus last night. Their late addition of striker Kekuta Manneh saw him take two shots in 12 minutes of play. One of those shots was taken in a near impossible amount of space, created on the fly turning into the approach of Michael Bradley. Full credit to Alex Bono, but the attack of the Crew midfield made Manneh's late contribution possible.
A wise friend and long time fan of TFC had a great point watching the game last night. She said that Toronto is expecting Ricketts to be a counter attacking lone striker and yet they are forcing him to come back further and further and getting the ball to him almost in the shadows of his own net. That is a lot of territory they are expecting him to cover all alone.
Although bringing back Altidore and Giovinco for the home game will create much more than last night's "wing and a prayer" Ricketts lone striker mode, I still maintain that the invisible attacking contribution of TFC's midfield makes it tougher for the forwards. Giovinco probably leads the MLS in shots taken over the last three years, but that strategy needs a playoff tweak.

So if Coach Vanney was asking my opinion after the 1st leg on how to approach the 2nd leg, it would go like this.
Go for a blaze of glory. Tell your team that if they end up losing their chance at a repeat MLS Cup appearance because of a 5-5 score, then so be it.
That exciting, attacking football is what made TFC 2017 a season to remember, a historic season, a "thrill a minute" season with an unbeaten record at home until the CNE and a force to be reckoned with on the road.
That a 0-0 score against Columbus reminds us all far too much of a 0-0 score after extra time against Seattle last December. We know that defending steps up in the playoffs and MLS refs can put their whistles away. So quit trying to squeak your way back to that moment where Seattle beats you on penalty kicks.
 Right now Toronto FC are almost in a "next goal wins" situation. Especially if it is another tight game without goals. The longer Columbus can hold TFC off (and remember Columbus held off Atlanta in Atlanta, Crew keeper Zach Steffen proved he can be the diffence in a tough game. TFC gave him the night off in Columbus) the happier they will be.

You bench Osorio, telling him that his lack of shooting is the sole reason. He has defended well, played solid positionally, his passing varies and his ability to hold onto the ball in traffic can be a concern, but he creates no space for himself and he takes no shots. Until he grasps the formula, take shots = win Cup, he is a late game sub for tired legs. 
I say bring back Jay Chapman, either as starter or on bench.
Threaten Marky Delgado with the same treatment as Osorio. Until he understands take shots = win Cup, his spot on the field could be taken by Cooper, Chapman, Hasler.
As for the back line, I think you start Mavinga, Moor, Hasler again, but Zavaletta deserves playing time and I would replace Moor with Hagglund in the second half should goals be needed. Nick Hagglund for the win.
So in summary, TFC fans can not look to the return of Altidore and Giovinco as the cure all for what ailed Toronto last night. They go into the game with the "everybody shoots, everybody scores" approach and the blaze of glory.

I can remember well the feeling of that cold November 2016 night. Remember that long before the peak of victory, Montreal was able to grab the first goal, that important away goal. Don't let Columbus into the contest in any way.
Now let me gather my thermal underwear for next Wednesday's game by the lake.

TFC are 90 minutes away from playing for this...

After last night, I fear they are working towards this...

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