Welcome to Partially Obstructed View. We are each restrained by the limits of our own perspective, but when we meet to share information a clearer picture of the truth can be revealed. Comments & criticisms are welcome.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

First Person View - Why Toronto FC Continues to Lose – The Unconsidered Factors

    I got round to thinking about why Toronto FC has struggled so mightily throughout the season this year. Leaving aside the psychological demands of the Champions League and the pressure of mounting losses – losing begets more losing - to look simply at the hard numbers there are some interesting factors that emerge.

    Before the league breaks for the International Window, Toronto will play their 17th and 18th matches of the season. The next highest total for an MLS club will be 15 as played by DC United.

    Saturday, the date of the match versus Philadelphia will mark 80 days since the TFC season began against Los Angeles at the SkyDome on March 7th, simple math calculates that Toronto will have played a match every 4.44 days.

    Taken as an average, that implies very little time to rest and take to the training pitch in an attempt to address some of the on-field deficiencies that have cropped up.

    Contained within that stretch were 5-week long breaks between matches, which somewhat decreases the implication that there has not been time to rest and train, but that is offset by the fact that such breaks means many of those congested matches came in much shorter windows than the prescribed average.

    The toughest stretches include 7 games in 24 days (1 every 3.429 days) from March 14th to April 7th and 8 games in 28 days (1 every 3.5 days) from April 28th to May 26th.

    A match every 4.5 days is difficult to stomach, especially given the early season is for finding form, acquainting new players and systems, and building fitness.

    Add to that hurdle the impressive amount of travel contained within those 18 matches. Already TFC has traveled to Los Angeles, Seattle, Torreon in Mexico, Salt Lake, and Vancouver – many of the longer trips they will make this season. That most of the travel was for the Champions League – save Salt Lake and Seattle – is troublesome, meaning there will be further long distance travel waiting, though the schedule-makers have been kind this season. Two trips to Houston, and a single trip to LA and Dallas each is all the long-range journeys that remain in the regular MLS season.

    By my estimation there are only three matches where TFC could have been reasonably expected to do better, given the rest and lack of travel they were afforded prior to the match. They lost on three occasions after a week’s rest – to San Jose in the home opener, to Chivas, and to Chicago – all at home. We’ll get into the details of the losses in a future piece, hopefully.

    Every other situated match was either on a quick turnaround or in a difficult circumstance – Salt Lake is a good team, especially at home; the only other week off separated the two legs of their CONCACAF Champions League series against LA.

    Scheduling and travel aside, key players lost to injury is another factor to consider. Say what you will about how much a team should depend on individuals; Toronto has suffered some personnel setbacks this season.

    On the designated player front, Torsten Frings, Captain and integral cog to both the defensive and offensive machinations of the side has only played in 4 of the 9 league matches, while missing a handful of cup games. Danny Koevermans has appeared in 6 of those same 9 matches, only starting 3. Koevermans has 2 goals in 405 minutes of play, or 1 every 202.5 minutes; which puts him on par with contributions from the likes of Blas Perez, Fredy Montero, Kei Kamara, Fabian Espindola, Dominic Oduro, Alvaro Saborio, and others, all key goal-providers who have helped decide matches in the favour of their sides. Could the projected 2 extra goals have proved crucial to getting results? Would he have scored at a higher rate if he had been fit enough to take the pitch more often, who knows? But it couldn’t hurt to have him on the pitch.

    Then there is the injury to Stefan Frei. There was much debate in the off-season as to whether Frei was expendable given the performance of Milos Kocic at the end of last season and Frei eventually lost his starting spot before being side-lined with the broken leg and ligament damage at the end of March.

    But, as fine of a shot stopper as Milos is, Toronto has lost something on the ball with Frei out. Kocic’s distribution ranges from satisfactory to Greg Sutton levels of bad. TFC had built a system that relied on the keeper as an outlet, should the back-line come under difficulties.

The concept of playing out of the back has been completely abandoned of late, most likely as a result of difficulties implementing the system brought on by the continual shuffle of personnel across the back-line, but Milos’ poor distribution was probably a consideration as well. And relying on Kocic to pump the ball up-field means possession, so key to the 4-3-3, is too often handed right back to the opponent.

    Returning from the International Break things will not get any easier for the Reds. They will be greeted with another difficult stretch of 10 matches in 32 days, perhaps the most difficult run yet.

    With back-to-back away matches in Kansas City and Houston 4 days apart before a stopover 3 days later at home to face New England. Then off to Montreal 4 days later, back home 3 days on against New York, before off to Dallas 4 days on, in Philadelphia 4 days from then, then home against Vancouver 3 days later. Off to New England 3 days after that, then back home 4 days later to host Colorado before getting 10 days off before Houston comes to town at the end of July. A daunting stretch to say the least.

    Then the group stage of the Champions League begins, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

    At the beginning of the season I wanted an excellent performance against LA and a graceful bow out in the second leg, this team did not need those extra fixtures as it tried to come together as a unit. Now they find themselves 0-9.

    It’s been a long spring and the summer looks equally foreboding. But remember - string a few wins together when the matches come thick and fast and then it’ll feel like ages between games.

    Far-behind though they may be, ground can be made up quickly with wins once the summer lull of draws descends on the league – 4 of 9 last weekend may be a symbol that the grind is fast approaching.

    Chin up.

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