Saturday, August 20, 2016

Building your better TFC - Philadelphia Union - 1 Toronto FC - 3

Philadelphia Union is an improved team this year and they have a good chance at being a playoff team.

Therefore I approached watching the game in Philly on tv with a touch of caution. It could be a true test against one of the better teams in the East. The inability to score a winner against Houston last weekend still haunted. 

Worry not.

Toronto looked strong at the defending end (exception- the set piece mess up early) and talented at the scoring end. The TFC goals were scored by Giovinco, Moor and Altidore in the first half. The second half had fewer scoring opportunities, but TFC never looked in trouble. 

Michael Bradley is returning to form. He set up Drew Moor's goal with a precise ball into the box. Will Johnson played for the first time since his June injury.

Hagglund, Ricketts and Chapman came on as subs. Getting playing time for the likes of these subs and others such as Endoh, Baboulli, Hamilton might be the only problem to the wave of players returning from injury.

Orlando City is a midweek road game ahead. till then.

Not from tonight's game, but great view of bridge - stadium alignment

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Bono big in TFC's continuing victory summer TFC 1 RSL 0

The victory combination was an unlikely one. When we were marking our summer calendars (remember when snow and ice covered the landscape?) the early August midweek game as a showcase for Alex Bono with a timely contribution from Tosaint Ricketts must have been beyond the unknown. 

Perhaps attending three TFC games in seven days (ok, two down, one to go) can find you too lazy in the morning to look up the historical record for games between Toronto FC and Real Salt Lake. My vague feeling is that Toronto FC has always had problems getting points from RSL.

Although the 1-0 scoreline makes it seem like a "squeeker" of a victory, it did not feel close. It's funny to watch the highlights this morning, they would give you the impression that the game was all RSL and TFC stole it with a single goal scoring opportunity. TFC did not quite dominate, but they seldom seemed under any sustained pressure. When Real Salt Lake did threaten Toronto's goal, it was often against the run of play and Alex Bono was aggressively excellent. Bono had a bit of Joe Bendik's daring athleticism of that Joe breakout season from a few years ago on display last night. I think that Alex Bono has much better game management skills, better distribution of the ball to go with his brave shot blocking than Orlando Joe. Joe Bendik is doing well this year, one of the top keepers in minutes played and saves made. Pleased for him, but Irwin and Bono have a lock on the job now.

I have to give credit to Jay Chapman for his Cheyrou moment in the first half. Seba Giovinco had been fouled and brought to ground late in the half and he had lost the plot. Forget the contest between 22 players, Seba decides that his universe revolves around the ref and he must engage in lengthy conversation. On one hand you congratulate him on his English progress (unless he saves these tirades for refs with a knowledge of Italian), yet on the other hand TFC is now playing a man short. Jay Chapman begins playing in Seba's spot defensively, taking away passing lanes from the RSL defenders trying to move the ball. Chapman drifted back into a midfield spot, between Seba and the ref, and gently gave Giovinco a push. Not a push that said "shut up" but a push that pointed him into the defensive channel that needed filling. It was not a confrontation, it had no temper to it all. Chapman was just saying "play". I call it a Cheyrou moment because Benoit Cheyrou, lately, has been playing the veteran role in the midfield. I think it reflects the growing maturity of Jay Chapman. His play is not yet at Cheyrou (or Johnson or Bradley) levels, but he is heading in the right direction. I think that the Chapman of 2015 would have been hesitant to push Giovinco into play.  It was a small moment that said big things in my observation.
Pushing Giovinco away from refs was not the only positive sign on the night in the middle of the field. The young midfield of Chapman, Delgado, Endoh and Osorio continues to play well. Perhaps "well" is too high in the praise department when you consider the lack of finish. Cohesive and aware of creative opportunities going forward and willing to work together when defending is what I witnessed. They move the ball well, whether in tight spaces or changing the point of attack with long lateral passes.
The back four were strong, three of the usual suspects started (Moor, Beitashour, Morrow) with Williams rotating in as a starter for Zavaletta.
I think I need more time to fully absorb what TFC are creating when Altidore and Ricketts are put on the field. Altidore is dropping in behind Seba and Ricketts is mostly left, but sometimes right. 
I do feel bad for Jordan Hamilton. He puts in a solid effort, but Giovinco is always the focus of the attack. Plus the growing health of Jozy Altidore means that Hamilton's playing time is drawing to a close. It must be hard for a young player to shine in such a situation.

The TFC victory moves their record to 9W 6D 7L = 33 points, which is good for second place in the MLS East after 22 games. In first spot is NYCFC with 36 points with 23 games played.
Stay tuned for New England visiting Toronto Saturday night...
Arrived too late for the TFC top hat offer, my regret or reward?

Monday, August 1, 2016

TFC - whipped cream smooth TFC 3 Columbus 0

The golden moments of July sunsets on the Eastern Stand
The starting 11 for TFC v Columbus Saturday night did not fill my heart with joy. My big problem was with the midfield. Coach Vanney had gone with his youth, Chapman, Osorio, Delgado and Endoh.
Where was my favourite TFC player? Benoit Cheyrou!* Not only has he been the anchor of the injury depleted midfield (Bradley and Will Johnson still out) but it was also his photograph on the ticket.  It should have been his night to shine. He was not even on the substitutes bench. I started the game bracing myself for a rough ride. Without Cheyrou to run the show, it was going to be chaos out there.
Instead it was smooth sailing. The midfield held their shape when defending throughout the first half. I thought that there was a moment when Federico Higuain was given too much space and time, but it came to nothing. Only weeks ago I was squawking that TFC's young midfield often played as if they had met for the first time just before the game. Passing with nervous energy, afraid to move the ball into space and draw defenders were two knocks against them. Osorio seemed hypnotized into always looking for Giovinco, no matter how Seba was defended. Delgado looked shaky with the ball, producing more giveaways than connecting passes some nights, and not much better defensively. Chapman and Endoh seemed to be the rising talents of the midfield, but it always seemed to be the support and guidance of Cheyrou that made their opportunities to go forward and create.

Lo and behold! Against Columbus the youthful midfield moved smoothly, as if they had become a unit. Passes crisp, subtle touches, smart movement and defending on top of it all. They turned from breakdowns to buildups and the Crew were left in the dust.
You have to give a lot of the credit to Seba Giovinco. I think his scoring slump was harming both his play and his cohesion with his midfield. With everyone pressing for his breakthrough, he grew more selfish. Now that he is back on track with his scoring, he seems more generous and attuned to players around him. The cooperation was so great, Tsubah Endoh offered the back of his head for Seba to bank his shot off of for the first goal of the night. I am not yet convinced that Endoh did enough to get credit for that goal. Giovinco scored the game's second goal, feeding Chapman in a tight spot and give credit to Jay Chapman for the little move as if to shoot that froze the defenders before sending it back to the onrushing Giovinco for an excellent goal. Giovinco continued his generous ways with his set up of the final goal provided by Jozy Altidore. Goal number 1 for season 2016 for Altidore, may this be an omen of many to come.

I came here to praise TFC, but you have to bring the tumble of Columbus into your calculations of the game. The Crew were the hosts of the MLS Cup last December. Although they lost to Portland in that game, you would not have expected them to be struggling and below the playoff line. There is enough time still to come in the season for a playoff run, but they looked rough last night. 

So the struggles of Columbus (worst goal difference in the MLS) , especially on the offensive end , could mute your observations on TFC's defending. Alex Bono was rarely tested, but that does not lessen the value of the clean sheet. I had to check the MLS stat sheet. Clint Irwin, still injured, has a goal against average of 1.07 (based on 15 games played) versus Bono with a GAA of 1.17 (7 games played). I am not going to leap so far as to claim that Bono rivals Irwin. It will be great to have Irwin back from injury, but Bono has filled in better than could have expected.
So the victory over Columbus (Trillium Cup win goes with it) ends the MLS schedule for TFC in July. 6 games - 3 victories (DC, Columbus, Chicago), 2 ties (Seattle and Columbus) and that blasted loss in San Jose. August will contain another 6 games - home to RSL and New England, road trip to Houston, Philly and Orlando and then home to Montreal during the CNE. Is a repeat of July's 11 points out of a possible 18 too much to ask for? The way they looked last night, I think that a point total higher than 11 is within reason.
Stay tuned...

Oh and a little plug. I have been invited onto The Naz and Wally Sports Hour - Zoomer Radio AM 740 / FM 96.7 as a fill in host for the next three weeks. So stay tuned will be more than an empty promise.

*I have been a fan of Cheyrou since his arrival in winter 2015, but until recent weeks I would have given the "fave TFC player" nod to Damien Perquis. The former TFC defender, (who has been signed by Nottingham Forest) Perquis would have come in second in the talent department, but would win in the overflow of passion category. With the departure of Perquis, Cheyrou takes top spot for me, for now. At age 35, I believe in the second year of a two year contract and a wave of younger midfielders looking good, you have to guess that Cheyrou is not part of TFC's long term plans.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Always take the road point Crew 1 TFC 1

It was not a recipe for sustained fame, style and glory, but it got us through the evening.

Combine a first half of effective, with flashes of slapdash,  sit back defending. Add in a young keeper named Bono, who is showing signs of confidence. Blend in a second half where TFC looked on the edge of a total collapse in the minutes just after allowing the Columbus goal. Drop in a moment of Cheyrou to Jay Chapman with the through ball to Jordan Hamilton that becomes the TFC goal and highlight of the night. Chapman, Endoh and Hamilton all deserve to mentioned as positive ingredients. The defending of Moor, Williams and then later on Hagglund, were all positive ingredients too.

You have to worry about Osorio (two golden scoring opportunities missed) and Mark Bloom (very sure from my tv screen that he kept everyone onside on the Columbus goal).

I was saddened to read the news that TFC have released Damien Perquis. He brought style and fire to Toronto and was a favourite player of mine.
I have blogged before that a central defending role is a hard one to make an instant success with in the MLS. He arrived in 2015 and at first you guessed the plan was he learn the ropes alongside the veteran Caldwell. That lasted only a handful of games as Caldwell retired and moved to the front office. 
I hate salary cap decisions - I think that faces and names build a sense of team. The TFC history is less one of team and more one of revolving door. On the soccer side I understand the argument that Perquis' spot on the field could be filled by Williams or Zavaletta or Hagglund or even a healthy at last Clement Simonin. This is just looking at the TFC roster, TFCII could be ready to provide MLS capable defenders. 
Yet, none of those players play yet with the Perquis passion. A player who can pass the ball forward with amazing precision one moment and then teeter on the edge of red card the next. 
I will miss him.

Damien Perquis TFC 2015, 2016

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Giovinco "torn shirt" blues - TFC 1 Chicago FIre 0

Seba mad like Hulk...

You can understand the frustration that Seba Giovinco must feel. He is in a scoring slump and the Toronto injury trend (notably Bradley, Johnson and Altidore) increases the pressure on him to lead the team's attack. Seba tries and tries, but the goals continue to elude him. I would like to see him eliminate his talking to the ref about the grabbing and grappling he must endure. The chatter throws him off of his game.

You can also understand the relief opposing teams must feel to encounter Toronto during this section of the schedule. Double/triple cover Giovinco and dare the remainder of the TFC squad to score against you. Toronto had the Morrow goal early, but you had the sense for too long that Chicago could catch a lucky break at any time and find themselves back in this game.

So TFC fans wake up this morning with a sense of unease. Toronto takes the victory but what the hell is going on with this team? Squeaking out a home win against a Chicago Fire team (that has not had a victory on the road in eons) should not be part of the summer success plan. This team needs a winning streak and an improved goals for stat. Get somebody else scoring and Giovinco will find his place again.

Where would TFC be without Cheyrou? He is forever shutting counter-attacks off of TFC giveaways. Delgado and Osorio seem to be on the road to nowhere when it comes to passing or dribbling. I look at the passing stats the next morning and feel mystified. Their stats look stronger than their contributions feel on the night. I am always thinking that Tsubasa Endoh shows the most movement and promise out there and he is always the first midfielder taken off the field.

I should salute the clean sheet for Alex Bono - the goal of bringing down the TFC goals against column seems to make steady progress even with keeper Irwin injured. 
Looking this unpolished at home makes road victories seem improbable. TFC play Wednesday in Columbus and next weekend in San Jose. Stay tuned.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

TFC 1 Seattle Sounders 1

Canada Day weekend glow

The TFC (MLSE) front office deserves credit for throwing a top quality party yesterday. Pre-game they booked the Muzik club, located just west of BMO Field. Food and liquids were fantastic. The Italy-Germany Euro 2016 game provided gripping entertainment. At first I was going to write this as a postscript - but then I reflected that I arrived at the stadium on such a (MLSE purchased) gin and tonic glow that my integrity forced me to place it at the fore. The party was a fan thank you/ 10 year celebration, but I am campaigning for a TFC get together every Canada Day weekend. 

It was a treat to be at a game again (even though the home leg against Vancouver was only June 21st). I think that overdosing on Euro 2016 tv games and the two televised TFC games (Orlando and Vancouver) had me forgetting how much I enjoy seeing what I want to see, not what the camera shows me.

Overall, we have to be unhappy with getting only one point. It was a tie that felt like points lost, not gained. Hard to decide whether it was promising that TFC had so many faces missing (Irwin, Moor, Bradley, Altidore, Johnson, Morrow either injured or on the bench) and still looked strong or has Seattle fallen so hard they make everyone look better?

The formation took some adjusting to, both as a spectator and it seemed for the players. It looked a 3-5-2 most of the time.
A back three of Zavaletta, the return of Damien Perquis and Nick Hagglund was a new combination. This trio held up well, with the exception of losing their minds on the Seattle goal. I am a fan of Perquis, although that does not make me blind to his flaws. He can be rash or impulsive with the ball in his own box. I think vs Seattle was the first time we have seen Perquis without Moor by his side this year and that is an experiment I would end. I suppose that would end the three across the back then.

The two wingbacks were the long awaited return of Mark Bloom and Beitashour. I felt that Bloom was on the invisible side most of the night. Perhaps it was due to the lack of support behind him. Hagglund as a left side player seemed new and it might have been too much to expect chemistry after such a lengthy layoff. I don't recall Bloom playing at all in 2015 and we are months into 2016. 
The youngster central midfield of Delgado, Endoh and Chapman took time to gel. I thought that Chapman's passing was crisp and he took defenders on down the channels too. Endoh improved as time went on. I did not think that Delgadcomfortable in a central holding role. He was too stationary when the TFC back three had the ball. I worry that he has not made a study of Bradley and Cheyrou over the months and months. A few decisive steps or a looping run so that defenders can play the ball to space or your feet and you see the field ahead always seemed to be either missing or too many steps to get to for Delgado. I know he is young and has both talent and potential, but I don't see him, YET, as a natural candidate for a future first team role.

In the second half it seemed that play down the middle were long balls, bypassing Delgado or play down the left wing using Beitashour and Endoh. Delgado might have picked up some scraps from passes back into the middle, but he never seemed to be the true playmaker. I disagreed with Vanney taking Chapman and Endoh off and moving Delgado forward in the midfield, supported by Cheyrou and paired with Osorio - that it did not produce a late goal was zero surprise...
Up front was Jordan Hamilton and Seba Giovinco. Hamilton is playing with greater confidence and his goal was a reward for a night of effort. When you consider how quickly Seattle bounced back with a goal, I hope that a TFC coach has had a talk with Hamilton regarding his post goal celebration (he went so far into the supporter section I feared for a second that he was going to order a hot dog and a beer).
I was hoping the Seba Giovinco would be in such turmoil over Italia bowing out of the Euro 2016 on penalties that he would score 4 goals for TFC as the start of his campaign for World Cup selection for the Azurri. Perhaps he was too intent on scoring his goals all on penalty kicks. He needs to stop fighting with refs about the treatment he gets from defenders. It does not enhance his game.

July beckons. Of the next 7 games, five are at home. The road games are stuck together, a Wed. night in Columbus followed by a Saturday in San Jose. TFC need a returning Altidore and some wins for the month to take the sting out of missing Bradley, Johnson and Irwin for this next stretch. Stay tuned.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

TFC Canadian Champions 2016 Whitecaps 2 TFC 1 (aggregate 2-2 TFC champs on away goal)

TFC lift the Cup

There are times when your fan loyalties can waver and falter. I estimate that time for me was somewhere near midnight. I was standing in front of my tv and was wondering why do I do this, why do I trade sleep away for the chance to watch my team spin their wheels?

And then Will Johnson scored...
Endoh, in the final seconds of the game, sent an optimistic (but it should have been futile) ball into the goal mouth area. Vancouver keeper Ousted collided with his defender Waston and the ball fell forward onto the onrushing foot of Will Johnson. He paid the price for his goal with a subsequent collision. It was hard to watch his pain while all Reds around him were celebrating.

TFC stuck to a defensive game plan throughout the first half in Vancouver last night and they arrived at half time with a 0-0 score. The Whitecaps came roaring out in the second half and scored twice. TFC seemed to have no answer for that. It seemed just a matter of time before Vancouver scored the goal that would clinch it. We must remember that just seconds before TFC won the cup, Whitecap Blas Perez had a shot go off the post. TFC was a centimetre away from elimination.
And then they found a way to win.
I found a way to hold my arms in the air and whisper/yell "Yes"!

What a karma turnaround in just days. From the last minute call against them in Orlando to the last minute heroics in Vancouver. Saturday night will see TFC end this round of continent crossing with a home game vs Seattle. Until then...