Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Toronto FC compete and squeak in Mexico Tigres 3 TFC 2, 4-4 aggregateTFC on away goals

Emotional result, Toronto move on.
I knew away goals were critical.
Auro had defending highlights galore. Mavinga plenty too.

Giovinco astounding,

Thought it took far too long for the Vasquez for Delgado move. Delgado was not on his game.

Felt Alex Bono went wobbly when he needed to be a tiger.

Too rattled and ragged for more.

A historic result.

Not sure if my nerves can take another round!

Sunday, March 4, 2018

The Crew will do ya Toronto FC 0 Columbus Crew 2

This blogger is so overdue for concocting a formatted summary for games that I watch on television and save my free form essays for home games. Yesterday was the BMO Field season opener, but as I continue to travel in California, I watched TFC struggle against Columbus on my iPad. I won't attend a home game until May. So here goes a blend of summary and free form. Or, since I don't have answers I will supply the questions.

What went wrong with TFC against the Crew?
1. They overlooked Columbus and had the upcoming Champions League game versus Tigres on their minds?
2. We need to give this team time to gel? Ager Aketxe and Gregory van der Wiel might be highly talented additions, but they are new to so much. New team, new league, new playing surface, new coach in a new city. 
3. Having Vasquez leave the game at half time threw off the midfield balance?
4. Perhaps the Crew have improved? I thought that trading Meram and Kamara weakened the team. If Zardes makes everyone cheering for the Crew, as he seems capable of doing, forget Kamara then look out for the Crew this season.

Until the next time....

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

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Toronto FC MLS Cup Champions 2017 TFC 2 Seattle 0

Toronto FC MLS Cup Champions 2017
Fuzzy view from Section 220
It happened.
We were there.
It all has a dream sense to it, though.

That was a victory fully, fully deserved. Redemption belonged to TFC and those true Red and Grey supporters who never wavered, but also never fully dreamed that this level of season was possible. I felt that not only was Toronto FC trying to defeat Seattle on the pitch, they were seeking to eradicate ghosts from 2016, the MLS Cup that got away.

Forgive the jumbled attempt at putting this all into words. I started writing this blog post Saturday evening. Here I am continuing to try to herd my emotions, thoughts, observations and reactions the next morning. So think of this as a muffled attempt at a first take, not a definitive essay to take you there.

If you want to read an INCREDIBLE account of TFC Cup victory and what it all means I say go to Brian Straus did an incredible job of it.

My admiration for Coach Greg Vanney went up plenty of levels as he made bold adjustments to his team and had them ready to attack.  For all the ink and pixels that will go to the stars of the MLS Cup victory, mention must be made of the spectacular games played by Jonathan Osorio and Marky Delgado. Those with more memory cells might be able to point to a game, but I can't think of the last time they played together. It is usually one or the other. To describe Osorio as struggling in the playoffs is putting it kindly. He has been awful on the ball, passing weak, giveaways plentiful and neglecting shooting opportunities. He played the game of his career yesterday when it was needed most. I am willing to listen to those who say Sebastian Giovinco has yet to fully star in a MLS Cup game, but Delgado and Osorio both were stars in my book. They seemed to show off every lesson that they have learned from playing with the great Victor Vazquez this season. They shocked me. I am sure it was a huge part in unsettling Seattle Sounders.

I thought that Michael Bradley deserved MOTM more than Jozy Altidore. A good game and a great goal from Jozy, but the tenacity of Bradley was the bigger deal. The formation of TFC can be fluid, but Bradley dropped out of the role of holding midfielder and actually ran the team from a central defending role. I had a better angle in the second half when for a time it was a back three of Mavinga, Bradley and Moor. Bradley shut them down. He made Seattle suffer. Jozy Altidore's goal just closed the door to the prison that Bradley had created.

You slowly, slowly take in reality on a game day I find. This becomes slower as the importance of a game increases. I felt that MLS Cup 2017 was turtle time in the Kennedy brain. Your senses are working overtime, but nervousness and tension and worry fog your thought processes.
One thought that came to me slowly. Post game, walking away into the cold, cold night. The next time I purchase a Toronto FC article of clothing it will have a star on it. A star, champions get to put a star on their chests.

I would be wrong to call Toronto FC 2017 everything a fan ever asked for. It was beyond that.

A few years ago, actually many a moon ago as it came out in 1993, Nick Hornby edited a book called "My Favourite Year". It is a compilation of writings about soccer seasons of note from various writers. At long last I and the TFC faithful have a chapter to contribute.

PS As promised I have changed the blog title to "By the lake". Mistake has been dropped. No mistakes made this season (wishing we had beaten Montreal during the CNE is a quibble, not a mistake). I did not dare to take mistake out of the url though. Urls are not to be messed with after 11 years...

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Jozy (from Victor and Seba) sends TFC to Cup final - TFC 1 Columbus Crew 0

I have to call it another night of tension. I remember thinking last November that I wish I could live the home playoff game with Montreal all over again, because I was so tight with fear during the game that my joy was muted. Last night was almost that sort of game. Almost.
All eyes were on Jozy Altidore in the second half of the game vs. Columbus last night. The fall onto his ankle was just out of my line of sight. Yes, I was ball watching, although it happened down my end of the field. Down he went and it looked serious enough that the two Crew defenders were helping him up.  He hobbled around, then sat down, then was attended to during a stoppage in play.  We watched as he threw his shin guards to the east side, then was down again, then being attended to by the benches on the west side. Armando Cooper was summoned and seemed to be getting ready.
How this prolonged injury drama swiftly turned into a run onto a PERFECTLY placed pass from Victor Vazquez and firing low to beat the Crew's superb young keeper Zach Steffen to score the goal that sent TFC to MLS Cup final 2017, I'll never know. I witnessed it. But the next day it still seems like a blurry dream.
I was guilty of thinking one moment, c'mon Jozy, it's not that bad, run it off. 
Then, c'mon Vanney, get on with a replacement.
Then, boom - the wonder of witnessing some beautiful soccer and Jozy claiming the goal that was required.

Still it was tense until that final whistle. Columbus was the team that I feared meeting most in the playoffs. The Crew were perhaps a toe away from the tie they needed as they missed some golden opportunities in those last minutes.

So TFC returns to hosting the MLS Cup final for the second year in a row. I am willing to argue that they have managed the "win ugly" or "just get to your destination" system needed for final Cup victory this time around.

Perhaps I have been watching way too much Netflix "Stranger Things" this fall. I am developing a theory that connects TFC with "the upside down", the alternate evil universe that parallels our own in unexpected ways.

TFC 2016 playoffs were a glorious goal fest. Knockout game = scored 3 goals, two legs against NYCFC = win 7-0 aggregate, two legs against Montreal = win 7-5 aggregate. 
Then on to the Cup final. Man, did we expect goals galore. To the stunning dismay of every Toronto FC fan, Seattle comes in from "the upside down" and takes victory despite playing dull, dull football. The magical save of Frei on Altidore in extra time must have involved strange powers from a Netflix production. I do recall seeing odd flakes floating in the air at the time.
(I have spent time on the CNE grounds looking for the tree with the mushy cavity that the Sounders used for their Toronto arrival just prior to Cup 2016. No success yet, but photo evidence is eagerly sought.)

So, in my Stranger Things alternate evil universe, TFC  learns and embraces "the upside down" for playoffs 2017. No running up the score. No firepower, no extended displays of offensive brilliance, just enough will do. A goal here and a goal there. TFC in playoffs 2017 have scored three goals and had two scored against them
They have vanquished all Eastern competition by pulling their powers from "the upside down". They seek to out-Seattle Seattle.

My tension begins to unwind. I start to entertain reasons why "Mistake by the Lake" should be adapted as a series for Netflix. I see "11" as both a starting number of players for a team and a memorable character. I think the pressure of anticipation of going to host the Cup again is going to mean more than my tension unwinds.
Keep warm, keep reading and keep it together.

December 9th awaits.

"Now the final stage of our plan is winning the MLS Cup. Last year, you could not score when you needed to score. This year, you go into the game thinking of both the flea and the acrobat. Seattle thinks they own that dimension, you must create a new portal."

No, not a second time

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...

Monday, November 6, 2017

Bad cop and flat tire on the road to MLS Cup - TFC 0 NYRB 1

Have you ever travelled down to BMO Field with a nagging sense of dread? There is something about November that contributes to an unsettled feeling. TFC playoff games are still a new contribution to a lifetime of November chilling rain and the feelings of loss and a need to ward off the dark cold.

I felt that the TFC -NYRB game could go wild in a number of ways. Even with that premonition, it was a horribly unpredictable mud wrestle of a slugfest. Two TFC goals disallowed! A red card to Jozy Altidore (and Snidely Whiplash, I mean Sacha Kljestan of the NYRBs)! A weird long shot deflection goal for NYRBs. Both Bradley and Giovinco get yellow cards for protesting!
Is it possible for the entire fan base and most of the province to be issued yellow cards for protesting? I would wear that one proudly.

Here I am blogging Monday morning. I thought I needed to cool off before pounding the keyboard. Still steamed though.

A Sunday afternoon  that was was plenty ugly. I think that NYRB provided some of the ugly. Their tactics were based on size and grit when defending. However the refs provided most of the ugly, chiefly head ref Chris Penso, with special mention of the VAR Ted Unkel. Clearly a man fully thrown off by the switch back to standard time.

VAR ref Ted Unkel inaction yesterday

The non-call against Giovinco earlier in the first half when he was brought down in the box was the turning point and the start of the ref losing control of the game (imho). NYRB played physical against Seba Giovinco all game. How did NYRB defender Long not get a yellow for persistent fouling in the second half? Giovinco's yellow was a reaction to the third or fourth takedown. It was interesting to me that the MLS highlights did not include the Giovinco being fouled in the box moment. It was shown on the stadium screen at half time - looked from that angle that a NYRB defender knees Giovinco in the left side of his torso to bring him down. Would love to see that again.

TFC go through to the next round, meeting the Columbus Crew in the Eastern Conference two leg final. To those unclear on TFC losing yesterday but still advancing - the total score after two games with NYRB was 2-2, but TFC had the tie breaker having scored two goals in NY over NY scoring one in Toronto. The away goal tie breaker is a TFC fans' best friend today.
Mark Tuesday November 21st on your calendar. That is the night of the game in Columbus.
Something has to be done about this stupid playoff schedule. The international break is too wide and arrives at the wrong time. The MLS Cup being played on December 9th seems incredible when we already know the final four competing on November 6th.
Stay tuned, keep kicking and check your thermal underwear collection and monitor your blood pressure medication.
Next game at BMO Field Wednesday November 29th vs Columbus Crew.