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Sunday 14 August 2011

Upon First Glance – Toronto FC v. Real Salt Lake

Some quick fire thoughts on tonight’s performance:

     Frings as a centre-back was both positive and negative. His composure on the ball was something not seen in a Toronto FC defender over the course of the team’s existence. His defensive anticipation and offensive distribution were keys to a solid performance, however, the major concern should this be a longer term strategy is the lack of any pace between Frings and Iro. The snail-like chasing ability of the backline causes one to pine for the days of Marvell Wynne hunting attackers down with a 15 yard head-start.  Frings knew it was a problem, as he dove into the tackle at the first opportunity so as to not let the play evolve into a footrace, a risky game plan that was almost exposed. Eckersley was reticent to progress forward too often lest the two centre-backs be left stranded and a few times they were caught out and managed to escape punishment. Some are calling it a 3-4-3 formation, which would explain Eckersley’s lack of forward progression and could be argued as the plan when they were in possession, but if so, it was not a rigid 3-4-3; Borman always started from the left-back slot but was free to move forward. Winter has confirmed it was a 3-4-3, but as with all formations, they are notations not rules.

     While Frings was solid at the back, his influence in the midfield was sorely missed. Julian, who has looked better with Torsten at his side, was stranded again, putting out fires and not getting up the pitch like he has of late. Perhaps the inclusion of Dunfield over Stinson would have given de Guzman that freedom he has enjoyed of late. Not to belittle Stinson, he’s a tidy prospect, but has a tendency to play the safe ball rather than risk a mistake, which is a noble quality, but on several occasions a lower-percentage ball would have shredded the Salt Lake defense.

     Plata, what can you say about the little firecracker (more coming soon). If any criticism could be leveled at his play it’s that he does tend to favour cutting in for a right-footed shot when a first-time effort would be the better option and is clearly possible. Too often he is not released quick enough to really be devastating. On one occasion he turned Russell inside out, it was great to watch.

     The midfield and outside-backs do not pass as smoothly as one would like leading a play to be held up and the opportunity wasted but that is a problem the whole squad over. Surely some time to gel will familiarize the teammates with each other’s tendencies and unlock the devastation of the quick attack for which the team is built.

     Kocic, considering his blunder in his last appearance at BMO Field, gave an exceptional performance this evening, earning his man-of-the-match billing with several important saves and interventions, though his distribution was a bit suspect. Left-footed goal kicks were interesting to see and his teammates seemed to forget which foot he used putting him under undue pressure with wrong-sided passes which may account for some of the poor boots up field. He did flap at the occasional cross, but was able to command his box on many other occasions. He’s a big boy, and athletic as hell; he seemed to float in the air for minutes when he dove to his left to make that big save in the first half. Milos ensured the result with a low-diving save in the closing minutes. Seeing him celebrate with Frei after the final whistle was heartwarming. Good on the young man, he’ll be TFC’s number one if and when Stefan moves on to bigger things.

     There is no excuse for that much confetti to be on the field of play. The scattering of paper was definitely the cause of that embarrassing slip that caused Borman to miss what was a gilt-edged chance. Credit to the South African for following up on the play and being there to pounce on a sleepy RSL defensive error but chalk that one up to bad luck. His obvious despair at having fluffed his footing was plain to see and his ability to shake it off and get back into the match was admirable.

     Salt Lake hit the crossbar twice in the opening half of the match. Had either of those chances gone in it would have been a very different match; that should go without saying. But it was encouraging to see TFC get a slice of luck for once with those close calls. The pattern of the season has been Toronto comes out firing, fails to capitalize on early chances and then is made to pay when the opposition scores on their first attempt. The inability to control the close of the match was slightly concerning; at times the defense seemed uncomfortably impatient with the ball. Frings in the midfield, or a fit Koevermans up top – he came off being out of gas – would have just put a foot on the ball and allowed the defense to regroup and get up-field rather than cheaply conceded the ball and allow Salt Lake continued pressure.

     It has become routine that if the visiting team wins the coin toss at BMO they reverse the direction of play forcing TFC to attack the South End in the first half. The amount of early match time-wasting that some teams get up to is maddening. Why time wasting is ok in the first half and a sin in the second is perplexing and annoying.

     Salt Lake rarely sits back, even on the road, but either that was their game plan or Toronto was dynamic in the attack in the first half, probably a bit of both. Luis Gil was a non-factor in tonight’s match, but that is the curse of youth. After his sparkling performance last weekend it was unlikely that he would have the same influence tonight and on the road.

     The crowd was great tonight, halftime always brings a slight decline in the ferocity in the stands, but it picked up and was fun to see. The warm temperature always bring out the fair-weather fans and for the first time this season the place was full and there was more “who’s selling?” than “who’s buying?”

     I lost ten bucks rummaging in my pocket pre-match, if found please return, although it was a small price to pay for a TFC victory.

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