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Thursday 29 March 2012

Upon First Glance – Oh, What a Night! Toronto FC v Santos Post-Match Reaction

    I’ll leave much of the analysis to next week’s preview of the second leg, but for now let’s take a closer look at some of the less-tangible aspects of the match played out last night.

On the Dangers of Santos – Gomez reiterated how alert and aware the TFC backline must remain throughout the entirety of the game; Suarez was quiet compared to his performance against Seattle, Quintero is quality and constantly dangerous, very glad he won’t be seen in the second leg.

On the Middle of the Park
– de Guzman and Dunfield were fantastic; recognizing danger, getting in position to put early pressure on the ball and snuffing it out regularly.

    There were a few lapses and they were a little slow in pushing the ball forward, but that extra care may have spared scoring chances at both ends.

    The much-derided de Guzman always shows his mettle in these regional tilts. I think the slower pace and added technicality – when compared to the physical blitz that is MLS – helps him to grab a greater command of the proceedings.

On Soolsma’s Move - Soolsma’s one move in unstoppable and he has now added a spin. He won several corners, delivered a bevy of crosses, and he appears fitter and stronger – bigger – than he did last season.

    As the last remaining initial influx of Winter players, he’s a keeper, and will have a significant role to play in the club this season and beyond.

On the Koevermans Yellow – Unfortunate; according to Aceval, Santos asked the referee to count out the ten yards and Danny was unaware of the request. As the taking team did not make the request and apparently Koevermans was not made aware of the situation, a warning, rather than a booking would have been sufficient.

    It is a shame to lose him, but having extra mobility and an additional midfielder – Silva most likely - in the second leg could prove advantageous in the end.

On the Referee – Santos was not impressed with his performance; Toronto thought he did a good job - as always when evaluating the referee clubs and spectators are seldom impartial.

    He did not fall for the soft landings that Santos tried to use to break up the play, but at the same time, he was very lenient in handing out bookings. There were several opportunities to flash cards for dissent, for tactical fouls, for rash, crunching challenges, and for simulation; which Salazar did not engage in.

    He let the two teams play it out; something that surely contributed to the frustration that built in the Mexican side.

    After the first red card, he did start calling some much softer calls, was slow to add haste to the restarts, and could have definitely called for more added time at the end of the match.

    It would be cruel to say he called the match unfairly, but as always there is room for discussion. Let him call the second leg, see if he can improve.

On the Penalty Kicks Not Given – The Hoyos – I believe – handball of a goal-ward Koevermans header and the Maund push on Suarez could both have been given.

    MLS refereeing and their CONCACAF counterparts suffer from inconsistency at the best of times. Penalties are often dished out for the most mundane of contacts in the box – see the calls in either side of the Monterrey-Morelia tie.

    Toronto has often fallen victim to the ball-to-hand handball, the category into which the Santos incident falls. The player’s limb is not in an unnatural position, and he is just yards away from the effort, but it does prevent a potential goal-scoring opportunity.

    Maund clearly gives a shove to the back of Suarez as he breaks past him into the box, but how much of a push? Seeing how the Mexican side was all too happy to go to ground on the evening, can they really be that upset when, having cried “Wolf” so often, their best shout goes unanswered?

    Much is made of the organic nature of the game. And I for one have no problem with a referee calling the game in deference to how the action has played out. If it is a fair and feisty match, there is no need to pull out the cards; should the game become snarky, cynical, and dangerous, clamp down on it with cards; should one team constantly seek to benefit from going down a bit easy, stop rewarding that action.

    It may have been harsh; it may well have been a foul. But that Santos brought that decision upon themselves cannot be argued.

On the Eckersley-Mares Clash – Eckersley initiated the contact, but pulled out of the challenge - it was less a tackle and more a low block. Mares let the ball get away from him and then dove in and raised his feet up – most likely as a defensive posture, but high studs often see red.

On Quintero’s Red & the Post-Match Stromash
– I caught it out of the corner of my eye as the whistle was blown. It first appeared that Quintero pulled one of those running by chicken-wing clotheslines, inviting incidental contact as he brushed by Morgan.

    Further video review – of which there is none – showed that the two players looked to be exchanging pleasantries when there was a coming together. Who initiated the confrontation; who shoved first; who reacted and in what manner, is lost to the moment. 

    Quintero was the nexus of the Santos frustrations; he lashed out at de Guzman, getting a high forearm involved after he didn’t get a call some twenty minutes earlier. He was looking for trouble; Morgan was no innocent either, battling from the left-back position all night.

    Let’s reserve judgment for when proper evidence comes forth.

    The big assembly appeared to begin when Quintero - furious at the red card he was shown - approached the prone Morgan to share a bit of advice with the young lad.

    In his haste to impress his opinion he seemed to shove – inadvertently of course – the TFC trainer who was attending to the stricken defender.

    The trainer in turn - most likely in defense of an injured ward - sought to make space for the poor boy lest he be trampled, by gently nudging Quintero away, kindly making him aware of the lack of space for such a discussion at the moment.

    Thus began the earnest group discussion of whose space was where - an ugly scene, perhaps, but a fitting end to leg one and a tasty entrée for leg two.

On Gomez’ Comments – Herculez – apologies for miss-spelling the name in the previews – ridiculed TFC for celebrating a draw; they were not celebrating the result, they were commending the performance. The fans recognized the team they support in those ninety-plus minutes; while the team got from the fans the energy they require.

    Gomez can be forgiven for not understanding the complexities of supporting Toronto FC, but to be purposefully provocative is another matter.

    In that vein, his lightly-veiled threats of violence should Toronto pursue a similar tact in Torreon, while a bit over the top, need be heeded.

    Virtually every end of a tie since the CONCACAF Champions League has been reincarnated has ended in one form of bad blood or another playing out on the pitch.

    The Santos fans will not have been happy with their perceived injustices, as exhibited by the reactions of the players and management. Things could well get ugly in the second leg.

On the Result
- Much has been made of the need to take a winning score-line into Mexico for TFC to have any chance of progression, but this team is better when they don’t try to sit on that comfort.

    They will know they have to come out and play in Torreon; as they did in Dallas and in Los Angeles. The mindset from the off will be to score goals. That is the strong point of TFC, its attack, to press that advantage is where victory lies.

On the Linesman (Assistant Referee) – Motioning for the Santos player to get up – awesome.

On the Security Guard in the Melee – Seeing Koevermans holding back a security guard following the confrontation at the end of the match was a little peculiar, if unexpected.

    It will be interesting to hear if that story ever comes out.

Random Notes:

Sportsnet needs to get some microphones set up near the Supporter’s Sections – I sit in 109, a few sections over - and they were loud tonight, something that does not come across on television.

Well done to everyone who came out; solid crowd, lots of people willing to stand for the entire match.

The South End seemed to have swollen and inched up the sides of its adjoining stands; same too for the North-West corner.

 I do wonder sometimes if the extra fervour at these Champions League matches has something to do with fewer seats in the hands of season ticket holders who use them as business lubricant.

The ticket grabs of 2007 and 2008 saw many seats fall into the hands of those who sought control of a hot commodity, rather than passionate followers. Too often random patrons discussing anything other than soccer have soiled my ear-ways with chatter throughout the match.

The smaller crowd is younger, louder, and more hostile on these midweek nights, especially when the weather is compliant in the atmosphere – the swirling winds and rain giving added impetus and energy to the display. The sunny nature of the mistake by the lake on lazy Saturday afternoons is detrimental to the passion.

For some reason there were twenty-odd screaming Mexican teenage girls in my section, while their shrieks were unwelcome and largely unwarranted, they only served to engage the quieter fans to voice their displeasure with the opponents.

Are you as excited for Wednesday as much as I am?

What to make of Saturday’s match versus Columbus? Overlook another MLS match, against a mildly disliked foe with an eye to the Tussle in Torreon? Or go for the three points? More on that pre-match.   

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