Monday, September 18, 2017

Victor V. toys with L.A. on a Saturday night - L.A. Galaxy 0 TFC 4

If endless summer is what you require, Southern California is the place to be. Toronto FC has enjoyed the soccer summer of all time (Canadian version) and clearly wants to keep that summer success rolling along. They have not lost a game since Canada Day. Saturday night they headed to Los Angeles where September is always included as a summer month. 
However, L.A. has never been the place where Toronto FC go to keep the party rolling. For that matter TFC and keeping parties rolling has rarely gone together anywhere . TFC have only won twice at LA in their existence, so it was hard to tune into the game with high expectations. The decision to leave Altidore and Giovinco back at home seemed to increase that lost cause feeling.

Three factors were involved in the total victory of Toronto 4-0.

#1 Toronto FC are a team on a mission, willing to work and build and improve. Maybe leaving behind Altidore and Giovinco sparked everyone.

#2 LA Galaxy are not the team of yore. Without checking the standings, I think LA has only won twice at home this year. Defending from the Galaxy is sad, not much of a midfield to speak of and an attack that relies on hopeful long shots. To think I once upon a time wanted Sigi Schmid to be given the reins at TFC. Sad.

#3 Somebody forgot to read the chapter of TFC history titled "LA is where TFC go to lose" to Victor Vazquez. He wrote a new chapter instead, provisionally titled "Watch This". He destroyed the pattern of Toronto taking a back seat to LA in any category. If you ever wonder what they mean by soccer I.Q. get yourself to BMO and watch for Vazquez. 
His LA smart contributions included the first goal of the night, where he got permission from the ref to take the free kick quickly, banged the ball off the corner post area while LA were still trying to form a wall and then have an alert Drew Moor pounce on the rebound and head the ball into the net.
Vazquez's goal, TFC's fourth was a matter of Vazquez running onto a drop kick from Alex Bono that had bounced over LA defender Michael Ciani's head. It was comical.

Very little time to bask in the glow of this one. I am late posting and now have less than 48 hours before TFC host Montreal Impact.

Keep cheering and be prepared for battle, Montreal will be tough.

Not Cobi's Galaxy

Monday, September 11, 2017

Thumping San Jose TFC 4 Quakes 0

Toronto FC continues to roll through 2017 with power, style and determination. The Saturday afternoon home game performance had me quickly banishing those TFC fan skills, honed over the never forgotten seasons, of bracing for the negative. It had been two weeks since the win in Montreal and I was imagining that the international break would have disrupted TFC's finesse.

Not a chance. TFC 2017 is a team on cruise control, bordering on total control. Victor Vasquez continues to make things happen, scores a goal, continues to lead the league in assists and looked as dominant without Giovinco and Altidore on the field as he did with them. That might have been misleading towards the end of the game as San Jose seemed to be dreaming of getting back onto the team bus and had lost a player to a video red card. Coach Vanney had also subbed in both Tosaint Ricketts and Armando Cooper, two attacking players who have been gathering dust on the bench in recent weeks. They were keen to show some spark, so Vasquez had willing targets for his creative passes.
It is too easy to overlook the defending effort that is part and parcel of TFC's success. Alex Bono gets a shut out and it is true that he was rarely put under pressure. It seems a MLS truism that high scoring teams have a tendency to be vulnerable to sloppy defending when the game is out of the opponent's reach. TFC has shown a lot of discipline in that area. Their goal difference of 33 is a stat that does not get a lot of attention. Don't get me started on the lack of media attention overall, but the goal difference stat is an incredible one.

This is a team on a mission and the one aspect that I enjoy keeping my eye on is the MLS record for losses in a season. Season 2010 had two teams (FC Dallas and Real Salt Lake) go through a 30 game season with only four losses each. TFC, after 28 games, has three losses. MLS now has a 34 game season, so TFC face 6 more games, 3 home and 3 away. Should they avoid a loss here on in, it would be quite the accomplishment (although my negative fan phobia almost has me almost wanting a loss soon to take the pressure off). 

So a playoff spot is clinched. TFC have the inside track for both first round bye AND Supporter's Shield. Their position is so strong that they have the luxury of a bad night or two in the remaining schedule, but truly no indication that a detour awaits. Ok, I never like seeing TFC play in New England ever, but that is more due to the lack of soccer spectacle in an NFL environment than anything else. Oh and those damn muskets.

But worrying about New England is getting ahead of the schedule. There is LA away next weekend and then Montreal at home in the midweek first.

Keep the ball rolling....

Osorio scores...

Monday, August 28, 2017

Hottest TFC summer closes with sizzle - Montreal 1 TFC 3

It's a long season. First games are played in the cold of March and the MLS Cup Final has had the date set recently as December 9th.
The TFC we have struggled with over the years often have had trouble over the hot summer months. Sure, they had lousy springs and crummy falls, but it always seemed crueler to have rough results when the sun was shining and all seemed right with the weather.

This season has been the summer we always dreamed of. Probably even greater than most of our dreams when you consider how low the bar has been set.

June, July and August 2017 has had TFC hammer out a record of 8 wins, 3 ties and only two losses in MLS play (plus June had a tie and a win in the Canadian Championship vs Montreal). Talk about your summer of love.

So Sunday afternoon TFC went to Montreal. They played against the team that would most like to derail Toronto FC's super season and get into playoff position themselves. Giovinco scored twice, Jozy Altidore scored one and TFC shut them down. It was enough of a canny road victory that I hesitate to use the word "dominating". TFC did what they had to do, showed quality when needed and defended well.

The moment Giovinco sealed the win in Montreal
I have to share a few quibbles about the broadcast on TSN.
1. Luke Wileman seems to have caught the Gerry Dobson broadcast vibe, forever talking about the implications of things instead of describing the moment. All fans know that good things happen when you win and bad things transpire when you lose. Stop talking about what winning will mean to point totals or records being broken.  We are enjoying the season of all time, if somebody has tuned in and is oblivious to TFC's great year, they deserve to stay in the dark.  PLUS Don't talk about Alex Bono's clean sheet when minutes remain in the game.

2. What was the deal on the camera completely missing the Altidore goal ?

3. The insanity of TSN using both graphics and having Wileman talk about the coverage of curling to follow the Montreal - TFC game. Curling in August? Curling In AUGUST! My heavens, maybe neither the nation nor the sports television channels of this nation deserve a team like TFC.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Toronto FC - Top team and cruising TFC 3 Philadelphia 0

TFC destroyed one of the quibbles that has floated around season 2017 last night against the Philadelphia Union. Toronto FC have had trouble (limited trouble though, drawing when they should be winning) playing against teams that should give them no trouble at all. Colorado is the recent home game memory and DC United on the road at the start of August.
Give me a quibble and I will run with it. No killer instinct, no creativity in the attack, can't unlock a bunkered down defending team, something off with the mental approach as they expect weaker teams to just lie down and let them score at will.

Forget all that.

TFC looked strong from the beginning last night. The first half saw Giovinco scoring a curling beauty from a free kick. Then Hasler headed in a corner kick from Victor Vazquez. The second half had Vazquez and Altidore on the give and go to free Altidore in front of the net and score the last goal of the night.
Philly made some noise in the second half. Firing shots from everywhere, they hit a few posts and crossbars and kept a little hope flickering. TFC never let them get beyond that stage.

Speaking of stages, I love the TFC home game during the EX. It is always the date on the schedule that I look forward to. We spent the entire day at the EX.  Yes, we ate too much, bought a few dumb items (slippers for her, a cooling towel for me). We are too old for any rides, but love the sights, the sounds and the smells
The EX (or the CNE, the Canadian National Exhibition) means a lot to our family. It goes beyond the end of summer Toronto tradition aspect, the gathering ritual that we mix in with that "where did the summer go?" feeling.
My late father-in-law was an executive at the CNE for many a year in the 80's and the place holds special memories for us all.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Make the final.... Chicago Fire 1 Toronto FC 3

seconds from the end

TFC went to Chicago Saturday night.  The Chicago Fire have been Toronto's rival in the standings this season, even sneaking ahead of them recently when TFC had an off night and tied DC United on the road. However Chicago has dropped back since then. They have hit a rough patch and have strung together a few losses.
Still this game had been shaping up for months as the Eastern Conference showdown. A game that would contain playoff position and possibly top of the conference implications.

Toronto emerged with a solid victory, not that it was a solid performance throughout the night.

TFC scored early (Marky Delgado-14th minute). Toronto had enough rough patches (sloppy passing, trying too hard to feed strikers closely marked) to mix in with their long stretches of domination that it was not a terrible, unexpected shock when the Chicago Fire tied the game up (David Accam in the 54th minute, Accam is always a player I fear, although his goal was just converting a rocket of a shot taken by Bastian Schweinsteiger that slammed into the post and bounced into Accam's direction).

Then it was time for a new combo, midfielder and wizard Victor Vazquez and the newest signing Nicolas Hasler. Chicago had just cleared a scoring opportunity and might have relaxed when they needed to press. They gave Vazquez enough time on the ball, Hasler checked his run to stay onside and then went at the right moment. Vazquez's pass was a thing of beauty, Hasler later admitted that it was the first goal he had ever scored with his head. It looked as if Vazquez and Hasler have been playing together for centuries. The delivery of the ball from Vazquez was a wonder, just beyond the defenders, still short of the keeper, Hasler running onto it as it fell. I have watched that replay countless times already. A moment of wizardry.

Chicago had no answer. The Ricketts and Giovinco breakaway goal was the icing on the cake. 

Hear that horrible, loud noise? That is the sound of me kicking myself for not getting to Illinois for this pivotal game. It had been on my wish list all season long.

TFC with the best record in MLS in late August? Pinch me. I must be dreaming.
TFC on a roll as the time to say "Let's go to the Ex" arrives? As a Toronto kid, born and raised, I always circle the home game during the Ex when the schedule comes out. Summer's last hurrah means more to me than my little words can muster today. TFC take on Philadelphia Union Wednesday night. Of course I will be there, with the CNE on I plan to make a day of it...

Why title the blog post "Make the final..."? When you have the legend Vic Rauter call the game, you just have to use his tag line.
-Still Kicking

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Timbers shivered TFC 4 Portland Timbers 1

We had long looks at the two sides of TFC 2017 last night.

The worrying side, the hold the ball side that can't / won't finish off opponents. The team that plays down to the level of weaker, bunker mentality teams. The TFC that passes too much, that shoots too little, gets predictable and static and gives up on motion and surprise. This was the TFC that gave us a first half of frustration. It seemed a continuation of the DC United road game. TFC, the much better team, unable to put the ball into the net.
This is the TFC that haunts us. Echoes of the MLS Cup last December abound. Will TFC 2017 take us to the brink of glory and then flounder again? Destined to be a day late and a dollar short? Bested, not be an equal but by a plucky, lucky denier? Cruelty over victory? Winter dreams of "what if" instead of "well done".

Then we basked in a second half of execution. The "victory over cruelty" TFC showed up, vanquishing Portland and keeping all dreams alive.
How to define the nature of the attacking breakthroughs is a tough challenge.
There is an element of finesse, pinpoint passing and delicious awareness of each other. Example #1 of that would be goal 2 last night. Delgado with the perfect diagonal forward pass to put Giovinco into a threatening spot on the edge of the box, Giovinco relaying that ball quickly into Vazquez's path and Victor Vazquez sliding that ball net ward. Awareness, skill and timing were key. Vazquez had to put more effort into his celebration than he had to put into scoring the goal.
However TFC is not all Barcelona style "tiki taki" of football, both the second Justin Morrow goal and the Marky Delgado goal were opportunistic blasts. As if the scoring player was fed up with all the touches and surprises and twists and applied the brute force to bury the ball deep into the twine.

How's this for a theory? Seba Giovinco is more of a MVP player not scoring but creating for others. Both Justin Morrow's first goal and that Victor Vazquez goal were due to Giovinco's set-up, but more importantly his sense of generosity and awareness. Giovinco, once upon a time, had less faith in others and would try to do it all himself. Not that Seba is perfection, his annoyed tackle AND his kicking the ball away AND sarcastically applauding the ref might have easily resulted in a red card in that second half.

Grab bag - It was tough to see Nick Hagglund go down with another knee injury. Hope it is minor. Jason Hernandez had to be the unsung hero of the night, he filled in the central defender role perfectly. I was impulsively predicting that Nicolas Hasler would get his first goal for TFC last night. A few bright moments on the ball, have yet to decide how Hasler compares to Beitashour.

Next Game - Later in the evening the Columbus Crew (of all teams to benefit TFC) helped Toronto by defeating Chicago Fire 3-1. The next up for Toronto is the long anticipated road trip to Chicago next weekend. The Fire still have a game in hand, but Toronto lead them in both the Eastern Conference and for the overall Supporter's Shield. So bring on the Fire and bring on next Saturday. Stay tuned...

Saturday, August 5, 2017

TFC falters, Trump's fault DC United 1 TFC 1

Nobody can accuse TFC of peaking early. Nor have they truly hit a summer swoon with a July and  August record so far of LWDDWD. That is 9 points of a possible 18. They are not running away with the Eastern Conference, but hold onto first place above Chicago. They are a team in need of a winning streak. Tonight was a candidate for building a streak. Alas.

TFC visiting DC United tonight was an exercise in frustration. A fan should be content with a point from a road game, yet the destruction of NYCFC last weekend easily raised expectations.

DC deserves credit for pressing early. They deserved the early goal. The red card to Lloyd Sam was deserved, but what a crazy time in the game for such a rash tackle. DC defended well, the frustration was that TFC held the ball for eons without finding a way to break DC down. Take more shots maybe? Take on defenders and try to dribble beyond them (instead of multiple long passes to forwards double covered).

TFC has no recent history of taking a man advantage. It is almost a weakness of theirs. I suppose the equalizing goal was scored (an own goal) while TFC had a man advantage, but c'mon.

How do I somehow entangle the bizarro presidency of DJ Trump into TFC's frustrating night? Proximity to the White House alone could do it. Or DC United felt their spirits rise on the day that the Trumper left their city for an extended vacation.

TFC get a true week of rest before meeting Portland in Toronto next weekend.
Wonder which TFC will show up?

He must have shown up for picture day