Thursday, August 30, 2012

Should We Stay Or Should We Go Now?

Mood: Sad, angry yet unwilling to let go of some shred of hope
State of Mind: Why? Just why? Because they're my team; sigh
Location: Hiding under SIX years worth of SSH scarves and tickets

                                                                Well? Should we?

It's been a tough few days for anyone that supports TFC - OK, a tough few, well pick whatever measure of time between April of 2007 and present day that works for you. And I'm not even going to really talk about that last minute let-down on Tuesday night, as it would mostly just be angry, depressed ranting.  I think I've figured something out though; I still haven't come to the realization that investing emotion into this team is going to bring frustration, anger and tears more often than joy; for I know that there is joy to be had; just not for us, not yet. This is not a team for the faint of heart; or the expectation of great things, or really any expectations it would seem.  

Which quite frankly sucks. 

Really; what other way is there to put it? As someone (somewhat sadly) pointed out to me after the CCL match - this is the only team that I've to call my own.  I'm not like a number of my friends that have grown up supporting the same team since they were kids, that have had that personal connection to a club for years.  I don't count the teams from the EPL and lower divisions or other international teams that I've picked as "my own" - it's not the same. Those attachments were for me mere warm-ups to having a club that I could call my own. In the past six years I've become more committed, more attached and more involved with my team. I've rarely missed a home game, I've promoted the team to friends and family (dragging them to games as much as  possible), I've blathered on incessantly to co-workers, have spent countless hours talking/discussing/hashing/agonizing over them on twitter and other social media and gotten involved with some of the team initiatives.  And yet just when it (again) seemed like things might be looking up this year and we might get a stable, competitive team; the wheels fell off - more than once.

It isn't even that I expected my team to be uber successful - I didn't think trophies would come right away. Some of those lowered expectations came before I knew much about the MLS and the parity that exists in the league; before I knew how easy it was to go from the basement to the penthouse. And yet I still had faith, I still had hope. 

Instead I've watched for six years as the team I love has been mis-managed, as players have come and gone in record numbers, coaching changes every time I blink and an ownership that has used one of the most rabid and loyal fanbases in the MLS as marketing fodder instead of focusing on the business of football. Innocence never lasts but there are days when I would still like to be the wide eyed and ignorant fan I was back in 2007 - OK, I don't actually mean that. I'd always rather know than not. It's just the knowing in this case is so often soul crushing; I envy the fan I was six years ago, the one with all of the pure joy and hope.

And I've watched the change in others - not just in the dwindling numbers at BMO, the erasure of the vaunted SSH waiting list, the annual ticket price increases - no I'm talking about those same friends that have tirelessly followed a team for years; most often without success - that are now talking about not returning, not following and likely giving up on a team that I know they love.  That is how difficult this team is to follow and support - people who have lasted through decades of supporting the same team are considering walking away from their local team; not because of the product on the pitch (OK, partly because of that), but because of the behaviour of the Front Office. 

We've spent six years faithfully showing up to games (both home and away), buying merch, buying beer and food, attending pub nights, going to end of season parties, going to pancake breakfasts and attending town halls.  And in return? Ticket increase after ticket increase (still one of the most expensive teams in the MLS to support), well over 100 players, 7 coaches, constant assurances that 'this year we've got it right', growing 'Special Event' nights and lots of happy shiny marketing about the 'best fans in the league' in BMO Financial ads. But in the end all that has done is leave a tired, frustrated and dwindling fan base. One that at least in these recent, and oh so very trying weeks, seem more than willing to walk away until some modicum of success is reached, until an executive with actual football knowledge and experience is put in charge (for all of our sanity, please step aside Tom; please) and for Management to demonstrate with their actions some appreciation of we, the exploited. 

Making matters worse was the announcement yesterday from the Montreal Impact  that they will be lowering their ticket prices for next season. That's right; they are in their first season, they're not completely terrible but (and yes, most of it is pure optics) they are lowering their ticket prices! Can you imagine TFC doing that? Instead, for four straight years MLSE and the TFC Front Office rubbed their hands with glee and got to gutting the golden goose.  After that crushing blow to the TFC fan psyche, came word they that (close to) fellow basement dweller the Portland Timbers will be freezing their prices for next season - true they're not lowering their prices, but even with the prices frozen those tickets are still less than TFC's and for a fanbase that is just as rabid, devoted and engaged. 

Which leads me to the staying or going part. The last few days have brought about some fairly intense debate about whether or not SSH will renew for next year, watch games going forward in any manner or even attend games for the rest of the season. My friend Lars Lowther over at Red Nation Online has one solution, John at Waking The Red came up with a musical option (more of a how to deal with the stress) and well, all you have to do is check any TFC follower's twitter timeline to see how divided the supporters are on what they plan to do next season; regardless of whether or not the FO freezes or lowers tickets prices.

I do want things to change; desperately. Nothing would make me happier than to hear the Teflon Tom has stepped aside and someone with actual football knowledge and experience would take the reins and remake the management of the team from top to bottom. But am I holding my breath waiting for it to happen? Not a chance. Will it stop me from mentioning it as much as possible? Not a chance. What about Mariner you ask? If you read the blog you know that I don't like the way he coaches the team or the direction he's taking the team in terms of style of play. Do I think Aron Winter deserved a chance to finish out the season? Yes. Do I want Mariner fired? No. Really, that is not the answer right now. This team needs stability; period. And if another year of low possession, dump and chase football with the same coach and the same core of players helps to bring that stability, then so be it.

As for me? Where will I be come next March? If the prices go up it will be very difficult for me to renew.  I already sacrifice other aspects of my life in order to pay for my seats each year and an increase will likely put them out of reach for me if I want to be realistic about what's in my bank account. However, if at the bare minimum they freeze - although really, this is a lower the damned prices situation if there ever was one - then yes, MLSE will get my money for one more year. Why? Because damn it they're my team. I'm not willing to walk away yet. 

I will continue to speak my mind (hi friends at MLSE); I rarely if ever buy food or drink at games, have only ever bought a couple pieces of merch and yet there I am every home match willing to cheer on my team. And yes I know that MLSE get the vast majority of their money from ticket sales.  Am I not filled with rage at being used to promote the brand of TFC week in, week out? Yes. But what supporters of any team aren't being used? Does the subtle but constant erosion of the supporter/old school football atmosphere not tick me off? Hell yes. But again, it's not done yet - so therefore neither am I. 

Those who know me well, know that I am well used to protests and standing up for the rights of others (as well as myself). I'm certainly not shy and other than voicing my opinion on this blog (and other social media) why do I not take the ultimate step and turn my back until things change?  It's not in me to walk away yet - this season has done a lot to change the way that I look at things in regards to TFC - but there is still this wide-eyed innocent, hopeful fan that just wants to watch her team play every week. So for now, that's where you'll find me, at BMO, anxious, biting my nails, hoping to see something to make me shout with joy, something (anything!) to wipe away the erosion of my optimism over the past six years.  

So what about you? I know a lot of you are on the fence. I know some of you have made your choice. So please let me know whose faces I'll be seeing not just for the rest of the season but next year. Leave your answers in the comments section - and please know that I understand and respect if your choice isn't mine. Cheers.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

And Now For Something Completely Different

Mood: Really quite excited
State of Mind: I'm in a CCL state of mind - which means hyper and optimistic
Location: Fidgety supporter couch
Weather: No towrads in sight

                                         Take that Ashtone! And you take that Quintero!

It's time for the second biggest game of the season for TFC (the first being waaaay back in March) before we have to return to the mundane reality of MLS play. Was it really only a few short weeks ago that we (and by we I mean the 10 or 15 of us that went) got to watch our Reds lay a smackdown on poor CD Aguila. I said it then and I'll keep saying it; CCL games are different. If you've never gone to one I cannot stress enough what you are missing - don't believe me? Come join us!

Besides, this is the one that you want to come to. This is the revenge game. Revenge for what you say? (Seriously, you do follow this team right? Just checking). Revenge for that drubbing that Santos laid on us last spring in Torreon; for that punch that Quintero threw at Ashtone Morgon and for every insufferable word out of Hercules Gomez's mouth. Sorry, got a little worked up there; they are after all our biggest continental rivals outside of MLS and since CCL is what we're playing for these days, they get my ire up like no other.

This game is going to be much different than the CD Aguila one a few weeks ago.  For one thing Santos are a much better team; actually that's pretty much it. They're a much better team - they are the team to beat in our group - win against them and we continue; don't and we're done. And given all that has transpired not just this season but in the past few weeks there isn't much left for our Reds to play for that is meaningful. Yes respect and a stable team are both very meaningful and if they approach the former and show glimmers of the latter by the end of the season I will be well not pleased exactly but much less inclined to let my cynicism run rampant.  But I mean meaningful in the 'hey we're still competing for something, we're not going to lay down this entire season' (OK, not the CCL season anyway) and show the fans that their support hasn't been entirely in vain. Lose and any vestiges of hope that are left from the beginning of the season will be gone and along with it (barring an unlikely winning streak or even a full 90 minute effort streak) more of the already dwindling fanbase.

I'm not saying the entire season hangs in the balance because of tonight's game; but it's close in the minds of many. If TFC don't advance in the CCL will that change my support, will it cause me to not renew my season tickets? Not one bit - I'll still be there for every home game and I'll still be watching every away game, but wouldn't it be great to have some of that hope back again? Remember how it felt when they won in Dallas last fall? And how that feeling carried us through the off season? I want that again. And if we can't have it in MLS play (6 years and counting, I'm not holding my breath) then why not CCL?

Mariner rested several players on Saturday so on paper TFC will have the strongest team possible for their starting XI tonight. Which with this team isn't saying a lot given depth issues and injuries (they'll definitely be missing Reggie Lambe tonight). But with Eric "The Red Card" Hassli back there will be some toughness up front and Torsten back (and hopefully on form) bossing the midfield we'll see our Reds taking the game to Santos. And with new backline boss man Darren O'Dea already showing why he was signed to hold the defense together I have hope that we'll see a strong backline tonight.

More than anything I just want to have some fun tonight; that's all. I realize that's a simple request and may seem odd - whoever said football was fun? I did. Because I know that it can be; both in watching and playing. The game against CDA was one of the best nights I've had at BMO this season and helped remind me why I love my team and what it feels like to be joyful at a match. Why am I so bubbly and optimistic? Something about CCL games bring it out of me; maybe because it's not the oft depressing grind of MLS games; whatever the reason I'm looking forward to seeing my friends and seeing my team - is there a better way to spend a night? Not many; see you there?


Los Links: Your usual pre-game suspects - The Yorkies, Waking The Red (Duncan, John and James) and Red Nation Online.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Orange You Glad I Didn't Write A Negative Post?

Mood: Opting to laugh instead of whinge
State of Mind: Checking my head for awhile; also I may be sleep deprived
Location: Work now; bar later. After that? Much sleep

                                      See? It could be worse.  We could all be Brian

Party time in Houston! Oh wait, that was the last trip.  I mean milk and cookies for everyone and in bed by 8pm with your teeth brushed and lights off! At least I hope that's what happened. I'm assuming that's what happened as no reports of scandalous - or even saucy - behaviour have surfaced.  Ah the Dynamo - the team that is to TFC what alcohol is to The Simpsons - the cause of and solution to all of life's problems. OK, maybe not the solution; alright definitely not - I just wanted to use the clip OK? Geez. Although that fateful trip did get the ball rolling on the exodus for Aceval and Soolmsa (Suarez forgot to loan him one of his nine lives) so that was a solution of sorts for Mariner & Co. - Yes, made it work!

I've been pretty doom and gloom of late so I'm striving for a more positive tone before tonight's match in Houston - bear with me; it's been awhile since I managed that.  Let's see...Houston - fantastic on set pieces, haven't lost at home in 20 games (3rd longest streak in the MLS), have devastated TFC twice this season, wear orange (what? I like orange), are currently fifth in the league, their keeper has the best name (c'mon Tally Hall? Awesome) and did I mention they were fantastic (seriously, they're deadly) on set pieces? See? Positive!

What? Wrong team? Damn. OK; positive things about TFC...right, right...Umm, they've yet to lose in Houston this season - unless you count respect from the fans, the league, the fans - but otherwise it's an unbeaten streak! Let's see....highest hipster quotient of any MLS team - led by Eric Avila once Demit Omphroy left last season, the #xoxoBoysInTheCity Crew (if you don't follow them on twitter I can't explain it to you) can frequently be found looking fly (wait, no one says that any more do they?), drinking super hip coffee (not made by Jimmy B.; Teflon Tom & the Duke of Earl keep him locked up on off days) and keeping the swag industry (it's not an industry? Damn) alive and well.  Highest Canadian content of any MLS team - lookin' at you Whitecaps and Impact - we are TFC and we are Canadian!!  And they're OUR team; love them or loathe them - and this season it's likely both - they're OURS. Aww...see, I love our team!

I'm going into tonight's game with zero expectations - OK, I'm trying to have zero expectations. This is a very good Houston team and a shaken and stirred TFC side that still has a gazillion more games to play in the next  week (read: 3) that includes the home match against our hated CCL rivals Santos Lagunas. So no pressure or anything. I've no idea what kind of lineup we'll see tonight - I fear that Ecks will be back in the centre with O'Dea after Dicoy's not overly impressive first game back - but I hope not. I'll try to keep my bitching to a minimum when Avi once again doesn't step foot on the pitch; although should Wiedeman start again all bets are off.

This is a close to a happy shiny post as I get on approximately 8 hours of sleep in the past 48 hours. I'll be watching and cheering and hoping that our boys at the very least just put in a complete 90 minute effort.  If they do that - even if they get destroyed - if they do that I'll be well, less ticked off than usual. Deal?


Lack of sleep Links: I suggest you read these if you want to know actual details about the match tonight. The Yorkies, Waking The Red, Partially Obstructed View and Red Nation Online.  

Friday, August 24, 2012

Wake Up!

Mood: Sick and tired of being sick and tired
State of Mind: See above
Location: For some reason; BMO field this coming Tuesday

                      Things to do: Blast this at 11 before every TFC match in the locker room

My final TFC tweet of the evening last night was this: 

I could have ended almost every night with those words over this season. It's confounding as a fan to watch them this year. I struggle with each passing game - wait, TFC doesn't have a passing game - to find the passion and joy I once had when watching the team that I love. I can handle watching my team lose - well that's obvious as I've been watching TFC for six years - as long as they put forth the effort. What I'm having shall we say difficulty with is the unsettling trend of sleepwalking through the first half (and beyond) that has plagued the most recent stretch of games.  Add to that the still oft confusing lineup and substitution choices by Mariner and what you get is our Reds still firmly occupying the MLS basement with little to no hope in sight that they might climb out.

Let's get the negatives out the way first (there will be positives; honest):

  1. Andrew Wiedeman again? Really? Why was he back in the starting XI after that sub par performance on Saturday? Was he being rewarded because it was his birthday or because Mariner is convinced of this mythical "best first touch in the modern era" that he's witnessed - because we certainly haven't. Wiedeman put in another quite frankly terrible effort and should not see the starting XI again anytime soon.
  2. RJ in the midfield. I'm not sure why this experiment continues. It is obvious that he does not perform well that deep - he is not a midfielder, nor a winger and is at his best when playing up top.
  3. Silva up top. Luis is a talented young player with speed, a lovely touch and completely at ease in playing as the attacking midfielder (and played worlds better when he dropped back in the second half). He doesn't need to be up top with Hassli in order to score goals, but putting him there takes away what game RJ has and that in effect puts the entire team down a man.
  4. Sleep-walking through the entire first half (and then some). There's nothing enjoyable about watching the two or three players actually putting forth an effort getting more and more frustrated while their less engaged teammates sleepwalk through the game.
  5. Dicoy Williams. While I was delighted to see a more logical back four, it became apparent fairly quickly that Dicoy is just not ready to be out there. He's been a long time away from regular play and obviously needs to be worked into the starting XI slowly.
  6. The Jeremy Hall (and Aaron Maund) sub.  You know what I'm going to say here; where in the hell was Eric Avila? Other than firmly nailed to the bench; again. In a game where TFC couldn't find it's way past the midfield with a map wouldn't it have been nice to see a creative player out there; being you know, creative? 
  7. The long ball. Boy oh boy isn't that fun to watch? And based on tweets from John Molinaro today we can expect another year or so of watching our Reds tire themselves out running aimlessly after the ball. Exciting!
  8. There's more but I don't want to depress you further.
Positives! You didn't believe me when I said there would be positives did you?

  1. Ecks. MOTM for me and pretty much anyone I've talked to. Back in his rightful place at right back, Ecks was a huge (OK, he's short but you know what I mean) force to be reckoned with throughout the entire match. Not only did he bounce back from a boot to the face and two elbows to the head but he kept going after losing one of his boots - that's right, he kept playing - that's effort. But more than that was the energy he brought to the field; one of the few who played the full 90 as though he was actually hmm, trying to win. Astonishing!
  2. Quincy Amarikwa. I've not had much to say about Dr. Q but last night he was a difference maker (maybe he should have played earlier?) and TFC finally came to life once he came onto the pitch.
  3. Umm...OK I'll give Darren O'Dea a bit of love. Again a solid effort from O'Dea and seeing him be vocal and challenge in the box is great. But he needs a solid partner (not named Eckersley) to truly put the TFC defense back together. 
  4. Yeah - I've got nothing else.
That was fun right? Do you feel better after reading the positives list? Yeah, me either. And believe me that negatives list could have been ever so much longer. It's a (not even complete) illustration of what an uninspiring, underwhelming performance our Reds put in against Columbus. The laundry list of frustrations from the fans continues to grow and for those of you (like myself) that continue to show up at BMO Field each week you can see they're voicing that frustration by just not showing up for games. Unless this team can at the very least show that they can put in a sustained effort for a full 90 minutes - see, I'm not even asking them to win; just bloody well try - the spot the empty seat game will become the spot the empty section game very quickly. So I say again to our boys in red - Wake Up!

You also have to ask (or at least I do) what part the lineup and style of play choices made by Mariner are playing in TFC's taking up permanent residence in that damp, unpleasant MLS basement (they should just call in a decorator and be done with it). I realize that depth is not a word that can really be used around TFC all that much but you can only look at the players being put out there each game so often without thinking maybe, just maybe someone else should be given a run out.  And the less said about the long ball the better. Besides, as I said it's not going away any time soon so we'd all better learn to love it. 

What's sad for me about this season - other than the relentless losing, revolving door and continuing mismanagement - is that I'm slowly losing my optimism. I'm the hopeful one among my blogging brethren (as I was reminded of earlier today) who back in the day was always sure that things were going to work out; that this year was going to be better. In fact I'm the one they tease and poke fun at for my insistence on looking on the bright side. I'm not one of the SSH that will give up my seats next year and I'm not going to stop going to games. But I want that feeling back again; where I was so excited about going to see my team play - every game was an event! Now, I'm still excited but it's a dulled, tarnished excitement - I just want that happiness back - for me and for my fellow fans who's expectations get lower and lower with each passing week. I don't expect playoffs (hell, I never did for this season and I don't for next), I just want them to try, to rise above all the behind the scenes nonsense they've had to deal with; to become more than the sum of their parts.  I want my team back. 

See you on Tuesday?

Low Links: The Yorkies, Waking The Red, Typical TFC, RNO and RNO again.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Will It Be A Columbus Comeback, Or Another Comedown?

Mood: Uncertain
State of Mind: Hoping for the best?
Location: My happy place

It's Trillium Cup time! What's that you say? What's the Trillium Cup? Umm, you do watch TFC right? OK, you can be forgiven for already forgetting about the basically manufactured rivalry between our Reds and the Columbus Crew back in 2006. As our closest (at the time) geographic rivals this made a certain amount of sense - after all what is sport without a good rivalry - and thus the Trillium Cup was born. It does rankle a wee bit that in the brief time the two teams have contested for the TC (given for aggregate wins over the course of the season) that TFC have only managed to win it just once; that being accomplished on the strength of the 4-2 victory in Columbus last season - most memorable for TFC fans as the game in which Stefan Frei was injured and lost to the team for the remainder of the season.

And the history between the two teams has not been shall we say, congenial? There has been some bad blood during road trips - I liken it to Crew supporters' jealousy over the at times tremendous travelling support that TFC has been known to put together; especially for games to Columbus. So there is always a heightened atmosphere around these matches regardless of what is happening in the season for either team. In this case of course is the floundering of the good ship TFC with little or nothing left to play for this season except to try to salvage a little pride (and maybe win some CCL matches) and why not with a wee bit of silverware?  It's unlikely but hey, worth a shot right? I mean, what else do we have? Oh that's sad; all of our hopes on the Trillium Cup? Oh dear - hey CCL, how you doin'?

Unlike TFC the Crew are still well in the race for one of the final playoff positions and having something more tangible than pride (and that shiny cup that we stole last year) to play for makes them a somewhat fearsome opponent. Did I just call Columbus fearsome? Why yes, yes I did. And TFC will need to see better from the entire team in order to pull off a result tonight. And of course history has not been kind to TFC in their trips to Columbus with last year's shocking (it was, trust me) win being the only time they've come away with 3 points. Who's nervous? Umm, I am. 

I will be curious to see what Mariner decides to do with the starting XI tonight - does he rest players with games in Houston and against the hated Santos Laguna coming up in the next six days? Or just put them out there and ask them to do their jobs? They are professional athletes, this is what they train for and are paid for; and if you ask any one of them if they'd rather play than sit around or practice - they'll all answer play. I doubt we'll see any change to the CB pairing, but I hope that RJ moves back up top and allows Silva to drop back. I also say give Dunfield a rest - he was invisible on Saturday - put Avi in and give Amerikwa a shot (but please keep Wiedeman on the bench) since Lambe is still unavailable.  

It will fall to Hassli, Johnson and Silva to try to penetrate the Crew defense which is one of the best in the league and for a Danny Koevermans-less TFC, this is not an easy task.  Hell, it wasn't easy with Danny...sigh.  As always set pieces will be a "oh dear god no" area for our Reds with the likes of Crew DP Jairo Arrieta causing all sorts of difficulty for opposition team (so deadly with the ball).  This isn't going to be an easy one kids - hell, they never are with TFC - I'll be watching and hoping that they give us something to cheer about. 


Shiny Trillium Links: The Yorkies, Waking The Red (Dave, James) and Red Nation Online.

Year Six and Still A Few Kinks

Mood: So very tired - hard to maintain a hopeful energy these days
State of Mind: Trying to adjust to the new normal - playing badly is the new normal 
Location: Back from vacationland

                                  The theme song for the past six years for TFC Supporters

Once again into the abyss we go my fellow fans - we really can't have nice things, can we?  There is no turning away from the fact that this incarnation of TFC is just not very good; and they're not going to magically get better by the end of October. There may have been a brief moment when things could have come together but coaching changes, player departures, injuries and six years of fan exploitation and team mismanagement by the front office have taken their toll. If you still attend matches (and I know that a few of you are gluttons for punishment like me) you've been witness to more than a couple of lacklustre, poorly executed attempts at playing football by our Reds in the past weeks. It's been frustratingly, mind numbingly depressing to watch. 

There's little to no joy on the field to be seen from the players, the fan apathy grows more evident each match (hello empty seats) as well as supporter group malaise (hello lack of tifos, empty seats and grimness in the stands). I've spent a fair amount of time in the south stands this year and with each passing week I see resignation that wasn't there before, less engagement and where we used to poke self-deprecating fun at our team and ourselves for our lot in supporting such a team (OK, we still do that - have to laugh or you'll cry) instead you hear anger and frustration - and who can blame them or any other fan that comes to BMO week in and week out? It's wearing and it's tiring and just plain difficult to "get up" every week for a team that always seems to be on a road to nowhere (6 years of confusion and counting).  I go to BMO every week thinking (hoping, wishing) that they're going to win - I really do, regardless of my oft pessimistic tone - but this season has taxed my optimistic soul like no other. Saturday's match did nothing to dispel that and in fact coupled with Wednesday's not so sublime effort it has made it worse. 

The game against SKC pretty much typified what TFC has become: by the end of the game there were a minimum of four players playing out of their normal positions - three of them defenders! - when there didn't need to be. But that's TFC in a nutshell; out of position (out played, out shot, out maneuvered and out done).  The game on Saturday was always going to be difficult; coming up against the league leaders was never going to be an easy task, regardless of having 6 players available that weren't in the previous match. It was the players that got chosen and their ultimate placement that caused numerous problems throughout the game

The starting XI didn't surprise anyone - even those of us who are not (and likely never will be) convinced that Ecks is a CB - yes, he's filled in adequately but with the signing of O'Dea and the availability of three different CBs I had hope that Ecks would finally get to return to his proper place at RB and that Henry or Williams would start next to O'Dea. But no, coach Mariner likes the idea of a short, speedy, somewhat positionally challenged CB as part of his backline instead of utilizing one of the players that actually play that position.  

This was especially frustrating when Doneil Henry (playing at right back of course) was subbed off due to a knee injury in the 37th minute - who came on in his place? Logan Emory. What was the composition of the backline after Emory came on? From L-R: Emory, O'Dea, Ecks, Morgan - yes, that's three defenders all playing out of their natural positions. Three. And you could see the difference; especially in the play of Ashtone Morgan - he is going to be an excellent left back but he is not meant to play on the right. You could see the hesitation in his game, the mistakes due to unfamiliarity (and directly led to the foul, that led to the free kick, that led to the goal; sigh) and the team sorely missed the overlapping runs up the left side at which he has excelled this season.  This was even more noticeable as time and time again Ryan Johnson (also playing out of position) looked for someone, anyone to send him a ball and let him move forward on the attack.

It was a sad state of affairs and one that wasn't necessary. With what is basically a new team (again) why not put the players in their actual positions and see how they fare?  This is yet another lost season and even with CCL to potentially lift the spirits of the team and the supporters, the next two months are essentially an audition for the remaining players, style of play (kick the ball, chase the ball) and quite honestly the coach. 

Although some of those new players should be kept far away from the field unless as a second half sub. I am of course talking about Andrew Wiedeman. I've not been overly impressed Andrew "best touch in the modern era" Wiedeman as of yet. I've referred to him as a puppy; he's eager, he tries hard, has the occasional nice moment and is willing to run, but doesn't quite seem to know what to do with his feet. He was all of that and more on Saturday with errant pass after errant pass and quite frankly just looked aimless. So why (when he was obviously having a terrible game) was he left in for almost the full 90 minutes when there were options (read: Eric Avila) on the bench? With both teams missing chances and an opportunity for points still a remote possibility; why wouldn't you switch things up by taking off an ineffective performer and putting out one that works well with Silva and Johnson?

There were some positives to Saturday's match (I'm not completely doom & gloom; yet): Frings rebounded from a disinterested and lacking effort on Wednesday to going back to bossing things and showing some focus and energy.  Luis Silva (should have been playing where RJ was imo) continues to show flashes of a very talented future player. And what about new backline bossman O'Dea? I have no real issues with how he played - although I do feel like he wandered a bit much; especially with Ecks as his partner - he made some nice challenges in the air and I can see the potential. However, I'm not ready to crown him king just yet.

What I don't want to hear is talk of the moral victory - hey we held the best team in the league to one goal - moral victories do not a team make. I'm not saying I expect my team to win every game (I'm not that silly) and a hard fought loss can sometimes feel like a win; this wasn't that. This was well just meh. That is the only way to describe it. 

The TFC revolving door roller coaster is still firmly in place and we need it to stop. One year of stability; just one year - that is apparently too much to ask for as a supporter of our club. Regardless of your thoughts on Winter, he deserved - hell we deserved - to see him at the helm for a full season to see what could be done. I'll say the same thing for Mariner. Do I like his coaching style? Not really. But for the sake of any kind of stability in this club either turf him at the end of this season and really start anew or leave him at the helm until the end of next season. Give this version (6.2) of TFC a chance. Maybe they'll surprise us; gods know they haven't yet.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Olympians, New Back Four and Oh Yeah A Match

Mood: For some reason fairly optimistic
State of Mind: Who needs 1st place? We've got the CDN Women's National Team
Location: Still Vacationland

Can we change it to Wayward Sons? Entire team full of wayward...
It's a beautiful day for football - no I'm not talking about the return of the EPL today (although I know you're all glued to the TV right now) - but the return of some gorgeous weather and six of the seven players that TFC were obviously sorely missing on Wednesday night. There's some sort of hoopla going down near BMO as well - The Ex I believe they call it. No, not the Hex; that's a different thing - and some of our Canadian Women's (Bronze medal winning) National Team will be honoured before the game. So I'll say this for the perpetually late faithful: LEAVE HOME EARLY TODAY!

A quick look back at Wednesday's effort by our Reds - and it doesn't need to be long because there's not much to talk about. This is what stood out for me on Wednesday night:

1. The first half was terrible. I know you're shocked by this but it really was.
2. In the first half the terribleness was highlighted by the frozen midfield. Zero movement, zero energy, zero setting up the attack - I can't call to mind anything positive.
3. Ty Harden...oh Spork, just no. 
4. Frings - could he have looked more disinterested in what was going on? 
5. Second half was marginally better - they scored some goals!
6. Hassli got his first goal but then decided to take shots from wherever he happened to be with the ball. I know that fans yell "shoot" but you don't have to listen to them!
7. That second goal was a thing of beauty - one of the best goals you'll see at BMO ever. See? I can be positive!
8. They let the worst road team (and one of the worst teams in MLS) come back and get a point against them; at home.
9. Fans - what is with you? Why can you not make it to BMO for kickoff. Or for the first 10-20 minutes? By the end the stands were fairly full but I'll resist posting another of my "seats dressed up as supporters" pictures that I took just prior to the first whistle. Maddening.

I know that our Reds were undermanned on Wednesday but the Timbers are not in any way a team to really fear and TFC let them take that game and do with it what they wanted. Have I mentioned how terrible the midfield was? Is Terry Dunfield really that important to this team? And in a game in which he needed to prove himself I'm sad to say that Avi did not have anything resembling a good game (see terrible midfield) and will likely not see the pitch again this season. Hassli put in a good performance in his first starting appearance for the Reds - other than the "shoot the ball from anywhere" aspect, I'll take this version of Eric "The Red Card" Hassli any day. Although why (hello midfield) more balls weren't sent into him was a concern. The cobbled together defense looked like exactly that. Ecks is Ecks and Morgan was pretty solid but well, never again with that combo OK? Otherwise it was typical TFC; poor start, they woke up after the half but couldn't sustain it. Just another dull, depressing day for the fans. Sigh.

Late Links: The usual hilarity from The Yorkies, post-game breakdown from Waking The Red and player ratings from Red Nation Online.

On to today's game. Facing our Reds on this beautiful day are the team that we love to hate, Sporting KC (although I always think of them as the Wizards) with Teal "the traitor" Bunbury and Jacob "Captain America" Petersen - although he's injured and won't be playing; silver lining! - on their roster and their pajama-like kits (seriously, they look like baby blue PJs) what is there to like? Yes I know that they're the number one team in the MLS right now and have a fairly potent attack with Kei Kamara and CJ Sapong joining Bunbury up top. Kamara has been a constant thorn in the side of TFC and will need to be marked closely today. 

TFC will have a much stronger (in theory anyway) lineup today even with Reggie Lambe out with injury. Today will mark the debut (finally) of new CB Darren O'Dea who according to all reports acquitted himself very well in Ireland's game against Serbia on Wednesday and was very vocal at TFC's practice yesterday. Whether he is the answer to righting some of our Reds' defensive woes is something everyone will be watching for today. The new partnership of Silva and Hassli will continue up top and RJ (back from international duty) will drop back to the midfield which should hopefully serve him well. And it would seem that the energy and willingness to hurl himself into games that Dunfield possesses was a missing ingredient on Wednesday; with a couple of new partners in the midfield (likely Wiedeman joining Dunfield, Frings and Johnson) we'll see if that continues to contribute to some sort of success for TFC.

Our Reds are beginning another long stretch of playing every three or four days and are already dealing with injury concerns with both Jeremy Hall and Reggie Lambe out for the next couple of weeks. So not only do they need to come together as a new team (again) but staying healthy will be key; especially with the match against CCL rival Santos Lagunas coming up (MLS success is not even a glimmer) as TFC's only chance at producing a memorable end to the season.  Other than the hopefully rejuvenated lineup our Reds will have some inspiration before the game as members of the Bronze medal winning CDN Women's National Team will be honoured before the match - likely in front of hundreds of fans sadly - hopefully they ask the ladies for some pointers on how to defend and hang tough against a very strong opponent.  It's a gorgeous day out; perfect for watching our team. I hope that for once (and that the lure of the CWNT is strong) that the faithful are out in force before the game to cheer our boys on.  Be there or be a parallelogram!


Link-O-Rama: The Yorkies, Waking The Red (Duncan, Duncan and James) and Red Nation Online.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Timbers vs. the Timbits

Mood: Excitedly worried - what? That's a thing.
State of Mind: Ty Harden gets to play? Oh dear; feel my optimism fading fast
Location: Vacationland

It's been 10 long days since we last got to see our Reds play and like any other time in TFC land it's been somewhat eventful. The last match against Chicago was predictably awful as our Reds were outplayed, outgunned and just plain out done for pretty much the entire 90 minutes. Yes RJ did score a goal in that game and a more TFCesque style goal you could not find; well for the other team that is. Marco Pappa made a very uncharacteristic (yet typical TFC) gaffe and RJ scored the epitome of an "against the run of play" type of goal. But hey it was exciting for a bit, wasn't it? However, it wasn't to last; we all know the match ended with TFC beaten down, broken down and just plain down - two men down in fact, Emory for card accumulation and Jeremy Hall to injury - not exactly the way to build upon the positive outing (ok, it was a beatdown) over CD Aguila the Wednesday before.  Right, I forgot; no one was there to see that game...sigh.

Other than the loss to the Fire continuing to illustrate the flaws in our team, the one thing that angered me the most was the second half sub of Jeremy Hall for Reggie Lambe - Hall was of course injured in the second half (and is still unavailable for play). What I expected was to see Eric Avila come on at the half (or whenever Reggie got subbed off) - the opportunity to steal points was still there and Avi is (IMO) a better attacking player than Hall. And of course in the hindsight is 20/20 world had Hall not played, he wouldn't have been injured...etc, etc, etc....but I'm not really steamed about that - just continuing to be frustrated with how Avi is being ignored by the current coaching staff. There have been countless times in recent matches when he (potentially) could have made a difference but still never gets to even step on the pitch. 

I would have liked to have been wrong about that Chicago game but most of us had a bad feeling beforehand and unfortunately it come to be....this is pretty much how I felt after the game:

                               There's nothing you can ever say; nothing you can every do...

Late Links: If at this late date you haven't read these recaps here you go - The Yorkies, Waking The Red and Red Nation Online.

Let's get ready to rumble! It's time for the Battle of the Basement (again).  It's time for TFC to shed their TimBit (everyone run after the ball together, kick the ball way down field, repeat) like image and use the Timbers to climb out of the MLS basement. This will be one of their few almost guaranteed chances to secure points and begin that precarious climb. 

Tonight's match should prove to be well, interesting at the very least. Toronto is playing with a very shortened bench due to international call-ups (Terry, Doneil, Ryan, Dicoy and Darren take a bow), injuries and one suspension. The suspension on Logan Emory from the last match is unfortunate as had circumstances not required (and absolutely rightly) that this past Saturday's game against Columbus be rescheduled so that the Crew could attend the funeral of Kirk Urso then Emory would be available. Instead tonight will see the likes of Adrian Cann and Ty (The Spork) Harden in the starting XI as well as Ecks back in his natural position at RB...time for a little Retro TFC action!

However, even with the 'so thin it's see through' lineup for TFC, this is still a winnable game for our Reds. The Timbers are by no means a powerhouse and have been free-falling for most of the season. They are arguably the worst road team in the MLS, having not won a single match away from Jeld-Wen Field. Add to that their inability to score goals (only two in their last ten on the road) and even TFC's defense might be able to withstand whatever assault Kris Boyd and Co. can throw at them.

The real concern for tonight's match is how will the players that have barely played in the past months fare in an actual match? Other than a few minutes against that English team last month neither Cann or Harden have played and when was the last time that Ecks got to play at Right Back? And assuming (and I am assuming this) that Avi gets the start in the midfield will he be able to shake off the rust and contribute enough to maybe get some regular playing time?  What I think is the positive side is that these guys are dying for some minutes and will likely put in a killer effort to show why they should have the chance to set foot on the field again in the near future.  And with five games in fourteen days Mariner will need to have options; hopefully the almost forgotten will be able to prove themselves as such.

Really the only other question is who will show up tonight? And I don't mean players I mean fans. Not that CCL games are any sort of barometer for attendance but the apathy continues to grow amongst the fans and mid-week games (summer or no) have not been well attended regardless of the fixture.  I'll be there as always and I'm dragging my youngest brother along with me for his first ever MLS match.  Hopefully he doesn't come away scarred for life...


Lots of Links: The Yorkies, Waking The Red (Duncan, Duncan again & James) and Red Nation Online.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

What Do You Mean We Have To Play MLS Games?

Mood: Pessimistically Positive (what? that's a thing)
State Of Mind: Waiting for the crash back to earth
Location: Hot, hot, hot supporter's couch

Time for a reality check folks. Tonight our Reds are not playing a tired minnow from El Salvador and are instead back to MLS play and face the Chicago Fire - or Dan Gargan's team if you like.  This is not going to be an easy game; regardless of the amount of confidence garnered from Wednesday night's decisive (and oh so fun - you should have been there) CCL win. The Fire are currently clinging to the last playoff spot and not only has TFC not beat them in over a year, they've never won at Toyota Park - not exactly the circumstances to make you think 'oh they've got this' is it? 

There are a lot of questions about players for both teams this evening.  Of course chief on TFC fans' minds is Eric Hassli who has yet to play a minute in red.  He did make the bench on Wednesday night (although that was likely more for presence than anything else) and from all reports is likely to be named to the bench again tonight.  But Hassli's availability raises an interesting question - should (or when) he be fit enough to join the starting XI where does that leave the growing partnership of RJ and Silva? The difference between the two games in which they played up top together (Rapids & Aguila) vs. the Dynamo match in which they did not is telling (even over such a small sample). Silva's ability with the ball cannot be understated and his touch and field sense have been stellar in the past few games. He's not only scored a couple of very nice goals but his service on Wednesday was responsible for Reggie Lambe's first goal and as I said; his influence was felt throughout the game.  

So whither Hassli upon his return to full fitness? I have to assume that he takes Silva's spot up top and that with Luis playing attacking mid that Eric Avila will never again set foot on the pitch. I'm not discounting strong play from Lambe (on fire of late), Frings is always solid and Dunfield hasn't done anything wrong (and Mariner loves him).  But having watched Wiedeman and Amarikwa in the past couple of games not do anything to distinguish themselves, isn't it time for Avi to get a chance? He makes a huge difference in the team's attack when he's on the field and with this game (OK, every game for TFC) being a crucial step in their attempted resurgence wouldn't you expect that more proven players should be out on the field?

On Chicago's side of potential roster changes are newcomers midfielder Alvaro Fernandez and DP striker Sherjill MacDonald.  It's unlikely that both (or either) will see time this evening but it does give the Fire more depth - wouldn't it be nice to have bench depth, sigh - not only for tonight's match but down the stretch to the end of the season.  For the players that will take to the field the Reds as always need to be cautious of the super speedy and dangerous Dominic Oduro and midfielder Patrick Nyarko. And as newly signed CB "boss" Darren O'Dea (what a difference O'Dea makes?) will not be joining TFC in Chicago (or anytime soon it would seem) we'll continue to see the same backline of Henry, Ecks, Emory and Morgan for the foreseeable future.  The Fire will, (like every other team in MLS) look to exploit the Reds defense with set pieces and balls into the box as our Reds have still yet to figure out how to properly defend or man mark in these situations.

It would be fantastic if TFC go into Toyota Park tonight and steal some points; it's just very, very unlikely.  As much as I've been living off of the high that Wednesday's night win brought this is not CCL and well, there's a good chance that this is going to be an ugly game.  I hope that they can stay tight at the back, that Silva and Lambe continue their outstanding play of late and that our Reds can leave Chicago with a positive performance heading into next Saturday's game against Columbus. 

                                                A little retro nod to our opponents


Long Weekend Links: The Yorkies, Waking The Red and Red Nation Online

Thursday, August 2, 2012

If TFC Wins And There's No One There To See It, Did It Really Happen?

Mood: Stunned happiness
State of Mind: That happened right? You're not messing with me?
Location: My happy place - which last night was BMO

A decisive win, FIVE goals, a beautiful night and Ryan Johnson got a rest! I swear I'm not making this stuff up - I understand why you wouldn't believe me as no one actually went to the game last night - but the 5,324 of us that were there will swear on a stack of TFC scarves that this did indeed occur.

I got to BMO insanely early - I was perhaps a little bit excited for the game - and was a bit worried as I saw an awful lot of orange CD Aguila kits as well as El Salvadoran kits and flags.  And while I did see lots of TFC gear by the time I got to my seat in the South Stands (yes, I abandoned my West Stand seats again) I wasn't worried about which kits I saw; I was worried about the sea of empty seats.
The East Stands about 5 minutes before kickoff - everyone dressed up as a seat tonight!
I wish I could say that everyone was fashionably late but it seems as though the TFC faithful chose last night of all nights to stay away.  I don't get it; if there was ever a match to come to this season, this was it. The weather was pretty much perfect, it was an 8pm start (everyone has been clamoring for a later start time for the midweek games), if you bought the package for your tix it was actually quite inexpensive and this was a chance to see our Reds compete in the tournament outside of the Voyageurs Cup that could actually mean something.  Not to mention it was against the weakest side in our group so the chance of a victory was pretty damn solid. So it is disheartening to see that so many TFC fans stayed away last evening - the announced attendance of 5,324 comprised of at least 1,000 CDA/El Salvador fans which means that at best around 4,000 TFC fans came out to cheer on our Reds. I know that this has been a difficult season and that supporter apathy has been growing and I knew it would be a smaller crowd last night but I had mentally ball-parked 10,000 people - disappointed and mildly flummoxed is what I am.

But for those of us that did make it down to BMO we were treated to something that's never been seen before - FIVE goals and RJ getting a rest! It was a rout plain and simple and not even learning that the Aguila team had to spend the night in the Miami airport and only got to town this afternoon could take away from the very good game our Reds played.

The game started off with TFC looking energetic and much more awake than they did on Saturday - I took this as a good sign. And they came out firing; what we thought was the first goal was waved off as offside but that didn't matter as only minutes later Luis Silva unleashed a textbook header from a Frings corner kick into the left corner of the net - this was a seriously gorgeous goal - early happiness!  But they didn't let up - in what was his finest performance as a red Luis Silva (MOTM by a landslide) had a lovely little give and take with Reggie Lambe who easily slotted a perfect pass from Silva past the Salvadoran keeper - 2-0! Jubilation!

But our Reds sometimes just can't let go of old habits; in one of the evening's few miscues Milos misplayed - and by misplayed I mean completely failed - on a CDA free kick when he didn't control the initial kick allowing Yaikel Perez to easily put the rebound into the net. Much looking around and groaning amongst everyone; was this where the rails were going to fall off? Was TFC going to revert to their old tricks and fall to pieces?  Not on this night - mere minutes later Terry Dunfield (really, not making this up) used his knee to deflect a ball from Ashtone Morgan past the keeper. Game on! Celebrations everywhere as you could just feel that this was going to go well - Have I mentioned how much I love CCL games? - and after a minute of added time, it was time for a break.

Half time was spent discussing, OK more like thoroughly enjoying what had happened on the pitch.  We tried for some serious analysis which resulted in more talk of how we were dumbfounded by the lack of butts in the seats; getting a first hand account of the Milos miss from @wakingthered and @redwineroz who decided to come join us (abandoning the six people in their section) in the south stands for some silly fun and my thoughts on Wiedeman - has some speed, obviously wants to do well but he's trying to do too much. It was kind of like watching a puppy; he's not quite sure what to do with his feet at all times - this is where my ire at Avi's non-inclusion in the lineup begins to rise again...I don't understand why Mariner will not play him; surely he could have been one of the second half subs? 

Second half! We were all giddily predicting some crazy final scores at this point (I was hoping for 7-1) and almost immediately our Reds added to our glee.  As they continued to run around the hapless Salvadoran team Ashtone Morgan sent a long ball into the box that Lambe deftly sent just inside the left post - 4-1!  When was the last time you saw four goals at BMO; from the home team that is?  And then it happened - no, the heavens didn't open up; no one fell to injury - no, Ryan Johnson scored!  Seriously. And he did by keeping control of the ball and dancing around the fallen keeper and coolly slotting it into the right hand corner - have to admit that we all thought it was going to go wide but no, he kept his head and score! 5-1!!  FIVE goals; five. .a feat that has never been accomplished by our Reds at BMO. Just fantastic.

The rest of the half had us all hoping for a Reggie Lambe hat trick (and coming up with many, many sheep puns - see The Yorkies post-game in the links), getting into the Ole spirit of things as TFC strung together several (more than three is several) passes in a row and just being silly and giddy. Did I mention that RJ actually got subbed off?  RJ got a rest - must be one of the signs of the apocalypse.  I've said it many times; CCL play is just different - the vibe and the crowd (tiny but enthusiastic) make for an unforgettable experience.  The team played some very nice football and did not fall into old habits. And then there's Luis Silva; what a game he had. Just fantastic throughout the entire night - great movement, perfect passes, his influence was everywhere - Man Of The Match with no exception.  

This game should be a huge confidence builder for our Reds going into Chicago this weekend. They need to take their uncanny ability to do well in CCL play and translate it to MLS. It will be a sterner challenge but if Silva and Co. can come close to replicating the intelligent play that they showed last night then the Fire should be worried.  One final note from last night:

               Managed to get pretty much the entire song - we're enthusiastic if nothing else

You'll see in the video that a few more fans did trickle in but it does illustrate what 5000 people at BMO look like...sigh.  Oh and here's a few pictures too!

Link It Up Baby: The Yorkies, Waking The Red and Red Nation Online

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Wednesdays Are Where We're Vikings

Mood: Optimistically Excited
State of Mind: MLS who?
Location: Secret Supporter Couch
Weather: Strangely no rain - Towrads on vacation?

It's that time again; when we forget about MLS (oh wait, we kind of already did that) and instead look to CCL (Concacaf Champions League) for hope and glory. Unlike almost six seasons in MLS our Reds have seen some success in CCL; capped off by their (unlikely according to some) run through the tournament last year, where they were oh so close to advancing all the way until they ran into Santos Laguna down in Torreon. Sadly it was not to be as they ended up losing 7-4 on the aggregate, but it's time to start anew and that begins tonight against CD Aguila from El Salvador.  

Watching our Reds in CCL play is often the most fun you can have as a TFC supporter - maybe it's the vibe in the crowd (I use that word loosely) or having new teams to cheer against or just the fact that it's not MLS play. Whatever it is there's just a different feel to it and should not be missed. It's also a different style of play and under former coach Aron Winter the team did quite well in adjusting and saw some success (final four!) in CCL.  Whether new coach Paul Mariner is able to make the same adjustments will be unknown until oh about 8pm tonight.  As TFC are in a group with non-MLS teams there's a more possession style of game on display and that is not currently TFC's forte. 

Coming to town is the El Salvadoran side CD Aguila, currently fourth in the Primera Division and as their fans are quick to point out they were CCL champions as recently as 1976!  The Super Orange (seriously, that's their nickname) are considered the weakest team in TFC's group for this stage.  Maximum points against Aguila are paramount as the format of the CCL has changed for this year and only the top team in the group advances to the next round. Considering our Reds are up against our old "friends" Santos Laguna the need to win both matches against Aguila as well as take points from Santos cannot be stressed enough.

One of the questions being asked is whether or not Eric (the Red Card) Hassli will be playing this evening.  Apparently it's a game time decision but as it's still not clear if he's 100% recovered from his ankle injury I don't expect to see him before this Saturday's game against the Chicago Fire. The Reds should be able to handle Aguila without his presence and why take the chance that he may be out for even longer?  There are 3 more games in this round of CCL, plus MLS play to worry about so I hope to not see his name anywhere near the lineup.

Instead I expect that Luis Silva will start up top with Ryan Johnson and that the rest of the lineup will more closely resemble that of the one that took to the field in TFC's last win two weeks ago against the Rapids. Although Kurt Larson from The Sun is indicating that Andrew Wiedeman and not Eric Avila will start in the midfield - I hope that he's wrong as I feel that Avi's movement and speed with the ball would be welcomed in this match.  However he doesn't appear to be featuring much in Mariner's plans and perhaps the size of Wiedeman will be a plus against Aguila.

I look at tonight's match as a way for TFC to get some of their mojo (no, not *that* MoJo!) back after they frittered it away on Saturday.  I don't expect huge crowds which is unfortunate as it's a beautiful night, it's a later start time (that everyone has been begging for) and this is the closest that our Reds will come to anything resembling playoffs this season.  And as I said above - it's really, really fun! And don't we all need some fun; especially as TFC supporters.  Besides if you don't go the only way to watch is on the Concacaf website as it will not be broadcast on TV. I'll be there as always; giddy, hyper, anxious and ready to cheer them on to victory.  Be there or be a parallelogram!


Los Links: And here are your usual suspects - The Yorkies, Waking The Red and Red Nation Online.