Archive for August, 2011
Sunday, August 28th, 2011
Ok the Full Monty relates to leaving yourself exposed, thanks to pop movie culture. But for Toronto FC, without playing the full 90-minutes again, they left themselves “Full Monty’d” if you will. Exposed at a worst possible moment.
As was the case in a 1-0 Champions League loss to FC Dallas earlier in the week, or rather, just hours prior to hosting San Jose Saturday night, an unmarked man off of a throw in, a common set piece of all things, right in front of the goal, buried TFC’s hopes of a celebratory post game quote.
Saturday TFC had done very well at defending Chris Wondolowski of the Earthquakes. Sure Toronto’s general sporting landscape is saying “Chris who?” Well this MLS goal scoring king of a season ago is a dangerous and clever player. Tireless in how he works for a look at goal. This season Chris has nine goals, after he scored 18 last season to win the MLS “Golden Boot” Wondolowski’s decrease in goals scored is not for his lack of effort and determination. Ask anyone who has worked with Chris, coached or coaches Chris, and they will speak of what a great student of the game he is and how determined he is to be better.
It was the current US National Team call ups determination Saturday at BMO field that should have taught TFC’s youngsters how you play the game. Dialed in for the full ride. People can slag MLS all they want for it not being EPL or Serie “A” etc etc. But if you take a moment off during a game at this professional level, you will be schooled.
Wondolowski found himself facing an open net in the 87th minute with not one red shirt in his way. An easy tip in and a 1-1 final is salvaged by a team that is now winless in 13. In another Wondo-moment after he scored to tie the game, Morgan was on the right side of the ball and denied number 8 a chance at stunning the BMO faithful anymore than he already had.
Any sporting event, like all walks of life is made up of moments. Toronto FC had some good moments vs. San Jose. Eric Avila’s first goal in a Reds uniform for instance. A quality strike to the far post in the 32nd minute to give Toronto a lead. MIlos Kocic again with big saves to preserve the lead. Torsten Fring’s is simply quality like Toronto soccer fans have not seen in a long time if at all. Certainly not in a TFC uniform. For all the hard knocks he has taken and deserved at times, Andy Iro played a better game for Toronto as well. Ty Harden was solid in the back as well as Richard Eckersley. The latter has become a big fan favorite for how he plays the game with a fearless energy.
All of those moments are worth building on for TFC. What has to happen next is the equivalent of what The Blue Jays are trying to work out with their bull pen. Find a way to be sharp for the entire game, and seal the deal. Oh what a difference that could make when it comes to booking playoff flights in MLS.
Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011
Toronto FC may have come up short in Chicago. The 2-o loss to the woeful Fire ended TFC’s six game point run. But what I witnessed after the game was as much a sign of victory for this team as three points would have been in the long run.
For a number of years I rode the bus and flew and stayed in the same hotels as the only consistent champion this city has known for years, The Toronto Rock. No matter the sport, or the league, pro or semi pro, however you care to label it, there is a constant amongst winners. Attitude.
Since I have been traveling with Toronto FC, I have been watching for those same characteristics I witnessed from The Rock, to surface with TFC.
Despite the fact The Lacrosse players spend far less time together during an NLL season than professional soccer players do, I always marveled at how much chatter about a win or a loss there was post game amongst the players.
Post game with The Rock we would all go for a pop and inevitably, each group of players I would encounter, would still be talking about the game. What happened, why it happened, how to be better next game. The markings of a champion. I Always enjoyed my post game chatter with the likes of Head Coach Les Bartley, Jim Veltman, Pat Coyle and Glenn Clark. These men were always students, humbled by the game despite their success.
The odd game on the road I would walk into a hotel room and there were Paul and Gary Gait, lacrosse legends, talking with those names I just mentioned about the game they just played against once another.
Flash ahead to post game in Chicago. The banter about what happened in the 2-0 loss to the Fire was immediate. For my ears, this was a first. The culture with this Toronto FC group is headed in the direction Head Coach Aaron Winter, Associate Bob de Klerk and Player Development Director Paul Mariner all want.
There are no guarantees this group of players will be champions for Toronto FC. However, what i witnessed this past weekend in Chicago showed signs of hope that the culture around the team is pointed in the right direction. Players are talking amongst themselves, veterans of the game talking with teammates and sharing their past experiences in similar game situations.
It’s a work in progress still for Toronto FC. But it does appear that finally the foundation and vision for this franchise is stronger than it’s ever been. Some players may not like the way things are being handled, and that will always be the case with any team. Those players, like many before them, if they don’t buy into the plan, will be not long for TFC.
Tuesday, August 16th, 2011
The city of Toronto is a buzz with Brett Lawrie of the Blue Jays. Toronto has been a buzz for the likes of Jose Bautista, and hopes are high for Travis Snider.
Nazim Kadri’s future was very much a topic of discussion for Toronto hockey fans last season, and once camp opens soon, his name will be front and center again as a former first round draft pick.
There is an athlete, five foot three, and 19 years of age, who is having an impact on a Toronto sports team and the I believe a lot of people in and around the city of Toronto who are missing out on a special player, a special energy and a special young man. His name is Joao Plata. An Ecuadorian who Toronto FC drafted after making a draft day deal with Chicago.
I have said it over and over again on Sportsnet Radio’s play by play of Toronto FC and on GOL TV and Sportsnet’s Champions League calls, Plata is the second coming of Pinball Clemons for Toronto Sports. Yes stature has a lot to do with the comparison. Both smaller than most they line up against on game day. Both with an engine that just not have have a slow gear. Like Clemons before him, Joao has the ability to leave his mark on a game through sheer determination as well as skill.
All three goals so far for Plata have come at BMO field. After the goal there is the dance. You can see the pure joy in Plata’s face when he scores and goal and then swiveles his hips for the home crowd. Joao is a player and an entertainer. Just what Toronto’s sports scene needs right now, while wins and playoffs are at a premium.
Plata’s impact on Toronto will only be heightened when the young man from Ecuador learns to speak better English, and he is working on it with help from teammates like Julian de Guzman.
Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment has a gem on it’s hands when it comes to a marketable young star. Plata will not likely lead Major League Soccer in any offencive categories. I would argue he does not have to. All Plata has to do in order to continue to have an impact both on his team and the city, is keep working as hard as he has been, and stay teachable and humble. There is every reason to believe this very likable young man will follow that path.
Thursday, August 4th, 2011
There is a new attitude in and out of the dressing room with Toronto FC.
The overhaul of the team is far from over, but early indications are that all the right moves are being made.
As a GM and coach, you can only hope the players you acquire live up to expectations on the pitch. The destiny of a player ultimately lies in their own hands, or feet in this case.
The air around the club is different. While ownership is still saddled with the question “why is Philadelphia going to the playoffs in year two, while TFC continues to falter?”, the players now wearing red and white are distant from any such criticism.
The calm and fire in the room burns from Torsten Frings. The German national team star has led the way on and off the field with his dedication to being the best footballer he can for TFC. Players around Torsten are taking notice of how he conducts himself in and out of the locker room.
Team meals that were once made up of separate private groups gathered with their own little discussions and thoughts have reportedly morphed into a united gathering of players hungry to prove their coaching staff right that a 4-3-3 can work and that they the players can execute, despite being mocked by announcers calling the MLS ALL star game recently.
Champions League play victories and a come from behind tie in Portland where The LA galaxy were just shut out 3-0 by The Timbers, are short term proof that The Reds are going to be ok when it comes to their MLS future. There is a plan in place and with players better suited to execute that plan, fans are starting to see some positive signs.
There are still leaks in the teams defensive play that would scare a plumber off a contract, but one must remember this is a work in progress for the team that has three wins in MLS this season.
Soccer culture and attitude were the first priorities for Aaron Winter and Bob de Klerk. To judge these two men, along with Paul Mariner on the job done to date, how can it be labeled anything less than a success?