Friday, February 2, 2018

Short offseason, long blog

Don’t cry for me, TFC faithful,
The truth is, one has to wander

This first offseason blog post is a fractured mess. One part apology, one part TFC preseason game summary, and many parts scrambled.
 My egg and welcome to it.
I am blogging from a desert camp site in Southern California (in the Anza Borrego Desert State Park). We have been fortunate in many ways and in the midst of our second winter in a row, far from the ice, snow and bitter cold that is winter in Ontario, I know that I am going for the highest readings on your envy meter.

Hate me, if you must. I am retired, we own an Airstream Basecamp (the tiniest of their models) and we love the U.S. Southwest. My wife is even more dedicated to combining travel with adventure and discovery than myself. We left Ontario January 3rd and came west the long way. We went south to Florida and picked up the westbound Interstate 10 near Jacksonville. Most of our January was spent in southern Arizona. We have wonderful relatives in the LA area (Whittier), so we are drawn to California.
All of this background ramble just leads us back to TFC. OK, the route back to our beloved team was laced with bragging, but I knew where I was going. You are probably aware that TFC are holding phase 1 of their preseason training camp on the campus of UC Irvine. As the freeway allows, that is around 40 minutes south of my aunt and uncle’s home. So Monday past (January 29) we headed down to see TFC in action. They were playing three 45 minute games versus UC Fullerton, another local college team. 
It was a wonderful experience. The campus is very scenic, trees and landscaped grounds, everyone strolling around in shorts. This is not the university in January experience that either I or my kids ever encountered. Just south of the Orange County “John Wayne” Airport, you can see planes taking off in the brilliant sunshine. The fields look to be in top condition. It would have been just another great day in California, but encountering your team and mine, the mighty TFC, pushed things to the top level. It was a “pinch me, I’m dreaming” moment.
There was no effort made to promote the game, that I knew of. I had to tweet to find out the starting time of 11am. This may be due to the fact that TFC’s games to follow involved pro teams in stadiums (Jan 31 vs Tijuana in San Diego and today Feb.2 vs LAFC at the UCLA Drake Stadium EDIT UPDATE, that game has ended 2-2 TFC goals from Endoh and Giovinco). However even with this low key, middle of Monday, approach, I was surprised by the sparse gathering. My entourage (wife and me, uncle, aunt and our dog) nearly outnumbered the few parents and friends of UC Fullerton players. It was a true thrill to watch TFC this close. It was as if your favourite team landed in your local park. A few times I did feel like calling out to the locals “Do you know how good these guys are? “

Game #1 TFC line-up was
Zavaletta Hagglund Mavinga
Hasler Vasquez Bradley Osorio Morgan
Giovinco Altidore

Score was 3-1 - TFC goals, Altidore, Hagglund and Osorio.
Remember that Justin Morrow had played for the US in a friendly the night before in Carson and Marky Delgado had been on the US bench. Alex Bono had been part of the US training camp.
I thought it was interesting to give Ashtone Morgan the opportunity to play down the left with the first team. He certainly stretched the college defensive formation and made some plays, but he needed to look a lot stronger if 2018 playing time is the goal. 
The only first teamers in the second “game” of 45 minutes were Drew Moor and Jordan Hamilton. You could see that Moor was playing with a coaching influence in mind. It was hard to get a sense of who was impressing from a TFC depth perspective as UC Fullerton made a huge switch and put on their half dozen bench players.
We did not stay for session #3, though I could see that the next squad was going to include Endoh, Ricketts, Spencer. Later I read that TFC whomped UC Fullerton 7-1 in that final game. Hardly seems fair though, the college squad number 18 at the most and TFC would have hit them with a set of fresh legs all eager to make a training camp impression.

Off season news In a nutshell
The Toronto FC story since the Cup victory, has been 
- Raheem Edwards selected by LAFC in expansion draft and then dealt to Montreal (blame Bob Bradley)
- Steven Beitashour had to take his free agent moment and accepted an offer from LAFC. Truly sorry to see him go, but the MLS free agent wait is so long, it was not the right time for him to take a pay cut in an emotional decision.
-Armando Cooper was also a free agent and has ended up in Chile. He was not going to be a starter, so a parting far down on the heartbreak list.
-TFC drafted Tim Kubel a defender and Drew Shepard, a keeper, in the first rounds of the MLS draft. They signed midfielder Liam Fraser from their Academy to a pro contract.
-The biggest splash signing has been right back Gregory van der Wiel, former Dutch international ( teams in career were Ajax, PSG, Fenerbahce, Cagliari). It explains why Beitashour was tempted away, TFC money was going towards the bigger TAM signing.

I have been long of the opinion that greater patience should be shown to defenders trying to leap mid-career into MLS. Then along came Chris Mavinga, shaky in his debut vs Atlanta and a star the rest of the season. The only criticism I could muster for Mavinga in 2017 was the suspicion that he was letting attackers get past him because he knew he had time and space to make a spectacular recovery clearance. If van der Wiel can match Mavinga, TFC has taken a big step, a huge step.

February should be an unusually active month for TFC fans. The two game Champion’s League first round with Colorado is played at the end of the month. Toronto takes a break from California training camp soon, but has lined up friendly games in Mexico in the weeks ahead. I don’t know the exact location or opponents yet. Our travelling plans keep us in California for most of the month and I have no intention of straying from the warmth to visit Denver. I am hoping to coordinate my travels home in April with the TFC game in Houston on April 21.

Thanks for reading my scramble- stay tuned. Still Kicking