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Saturday 25 August 2012

Upon Further Review – Toronto FC at Columbus Crew

Some assorted thoughts on the match:

Game in a Simple Sentence

    Toronto FC undone by a poor, deflected start with a late surge proving to be too little, too late, as they lose to Columbus 2-1 at Crew Stadium.

Projected Lineup Accuracy

    Players on the Pitch – 9/11; in proper position – 9/9; the other two positions were properly mapped, but incorrectly filled.

So, what went wrong?

    Robert Warzycha’s decision to field Milovan Mirosevic as one of the deep lying midfielders, rather than the youngster Cole Grossman, was nothing out of the ordinary. He had played there before and in search of points at home against a struggling opponent it made sense to cram as much creativity onto the pitch as possible.

    The inclusion of Emilio Renteria, in lieu of either Dilly Duka or Justin Meram on the right side of the attacking three, was peculiar, but made sense as well. Duka and Meram are both young and streaky players; Renteria is too useful to have riding the pine all the time.

    There was mention made on the broadcast of it being a late decision, most likely neither was fit enough to go the whole match, so they started from the bench.

On the Other Side of the Ball

    Freddy Hall making his league debut for the Toronto was unexpected, but was as good a time as any to give Milos Kocic a rest and see what the new signing can do.

    The return of Dicoy Williams was an encouraging sight, the heart-dropped upon hearing he was called into Jamaica – he was injured for his country at last summer’s Gold Cup and only just returned to action.

    It allowed Paul Mariner to move Richard Eckersley to his more natural right-back position, especially important given the lack of options in that position on the day.    

In Praise of the Opponent

    Renteria put in an impressive shift out on the flank. He was much more mobile than he appeared at time up top, doing a great job of hugging the touch-line, stretching the Toronto back-line, and tracking back to quell the forays of Ashtone Morgan. His final service needs a bit of work though.

    Renteria pinning him back made Morgan nearly invisible, until the final twenty when the whole team turned it on and he committed to playing more forward and getting involved.

    Chad Marshall did a fine job of matching up with and shutting down Eric Hassli, keeping him always within reach. That close attention did open up gaps for Luis Silva to exploit and run through – that is if Toronto could ever possess the ball for a spell.

    He had one brilliant headed clearance at the back-post to prevent a left-sided Ryan Johnson cross from reaching Silva.

    Federico Higuain was great; proving himself to be a Guillermo Barros Schelotto approved signing indeed. Jairo Arrieta was a touch subdued, but his running, along with that of Renteria and Eddie Gaven, created the space within which Higuain could operate.

Hall’s Handling

    That nervous bobble on his first save attempt – a rasping, low Renteria drive from the right - was troublesome, but he laughed it off easily enough.

    There was nothing he could do on the opening goal; those sorts of deflections, that handcuff the keeper, are killer.

    His distribution, from goal kicks in particular, was fantastic.

    Good distance on them, the sort of trajectory – high enough to get over people, but low enough to arrive there quickly and prove useful – one wants, and accurate enough to pick out individuals, rather than just lumping it up field.

    Would go so far as to call it the best seen from a Toronto keeper.

    He did well to charge out and steal a pass off the boot of Higuain, after Williams had misjudged a ball from the back.

Dicoy, No Nonsense

    After a shaky start, and a role in the deflection that led to the first goal, Dicoy settled quickly. Very little flash to his game, he provided a good physical companion to the organization of Darren O’Dea.

    Really liked the way he would on occasion ignore the run and focus on cutting out the pass. Several times he ended potentially hazardous counterattacks by intercepting the crucial pass – preventing Arrieta from being sent in alone and then blocking a Gaven shot on the follow up on one occasion

    Stepping up in prevention is a dangerous tact to be sure, one that will occasionally be punished, but if the ball doesn’t get there, the chance is over. Such a mindset betrays a good reading of the game and a certain confidence in a defender.

    When he did get caught out by the movement of Arrieta, who then pulled the ball back from the left to Higuain in the arc, O’Dea was in swiftly in to break up the attempt.

Dropping Off & the Deflection

    The opening goal came from Higuain being given time and space on the left, moving in-field he feed the ball to Gaven for a strike from that side of the arc.

    Higuain was contained – more or less – but the trouble began when Terry Dunfield not continuing to track the movements of Gaven. It was a very odd decision; given how simple it would have been and that the pass to Gaven was the most obvious move for Higuain.

    Dunfield even dropped off more when Gaven received the pass, as if he was to be part of some quick break the other way.

    Gaven was not particularly quick to get into that space, almost strolling into it, and most of the TFC players had dropped deeper into the box to clog up the passing options.

    That must have been a directive to start the match – to take away the pass and let the keeper deal with any shots from distance.

    Andrew Wiedeman and Torsten Frings, the two closest players other than Dunfield, both played conservatively, dropping into the holes rather than pressuring the man, then it was too late for either, or Luis Silva - slightly higher and further right - to get over and defend.

    Dicoy stepped up, but turned as the ball approached. It seemed to skim off him and handcuff Hall who was moving to his left as the ball passed him into the right-side of the goal.

    It’s hard to be too critical of Williams on this one. Could he have squared up to the ball and taken it somewhere more painful?  Sure, but that goal was strangely – given how tenacious he normally is in defense - on Dunfield, if any one.

    It is always terrible to concede so early; any game-plan goes immediately out the window.

Serioux Ornery

    Adrian Serioux has been kind of ornery on the sideline – and in recent weeks in the preview and post-match shows – calling for more physicality, returning some of the aggressive defending Hassli faces onto the opposition’s forwards, imploring TFC get stuck in.

    One gets the impression that if he was out there, he’d be getting stuck in. He must be missing the field – and the occasional bit of heavy contact.

    Great stuff; he’s been a nice addition to the broadcast fold.

Eckersley Takes a Licking, but Keeps on Ticking

    A boot to the beak from Higuain, a few elbows to the head from Gaven, this man will play through anything, boots or no boots.

    His untiring work is one of the few bright spots in what has been a deplorable campaign.

    The Columbus penalty-shout when Eckersley muscles Arrieta off the ball was pathetic. Ecks clearly came in clean, got in front of Arrieta, blocked him off and took the ball away – never in a month of Sundays is that a penalty.

European Frustrations

    Frings is starting to lose patience with the often two-bit refereeing – that was a textbook tackle on Higuain in transition, all ball, catches him a bit on the follow through, but that is as much Higuain arriving late to the ball as Frings going through.

    If the ref wants to call a foul, sure, take the old-fashioned, good strong tackle out of the game, but no need for the talking to, or potentially a card, for one like that.

    Hassli too is getting fed up with the seemingly small-minded officiating. Every move he makes is being whistled down. This is nothing new; he earned a reputation over his spell in MLS and the referees here love a simple call.

    The frustrating thing is that he is being man-handled by the opposition’s centre-backs – Aurelien Collin last match and Marshall this – but the foul is always called on Hassli.

The Tackle & an Old Fashioned Kick Up the Backside

    O’Dea’s big, well-timed, destructive, all-ball tackle on Arrieta in the box was most likely the best tackle ever by a TFC defender. Who does not love a bit of perfectly applied physicality in a defender.

    Ryan Johnson’s big spinning elbow crunch on Renteria was tasty as well - payback.

    O’Dea’s kick up the back-side of Renteria was good; he got an awful lot of the ball, but must watch himself with those ones. That is a tackle that MLS officials will rightly frown upon.

    Every season referees are sent a series of directives alerting them to plays for which the league wants them to be particularly vigilant. Fouls – or tackles - coming from behind or the side - given the injuries to Javier Morales and David Ferreira - were on that list and have been called regularly.

A Scramble Not Dealt With

    The second Columbus goal began with a turnover in the Crew end.

    Dunfield was slow to get back again, walking back up the middle of the park. Higuain slips Renteria down the attacking right, his first attempted cross is cut out by Morgan, second makes it to Gaven at the back-post. His header back into the middle is collected by Higuain sends it over to Arrieta, turns and gives back to Higuain, for a right-footed smash into the net.

    When Terry did arrive on the scene he shaped to block a cutback before committing to a last ditch tackle attempt in vain, perhaps if he had collapsed on Arrieta, preventing him from turning back towards Higuain and forced him to go further to the attacking right, and thus cut out origin of the pass, or gotten in front of Higuain to prevent its reception, then nothing happens; same thing could be said for Eckersley though.

    Hall in goal was pretty helpless with so much of the net open from such close range. He went down to cover his bottom left corner a little prematurely, but truly, a keeper is just guessing in circumstances such as those and Higuain may have given him the eyes.

Greatest Substitution Ever

    The match turned when Quincy Amarikwa came on for Frings after seventy minutes. It was a wise decision from Mariner to give Torsten a little breather in this tough stretch, while providing a little more thrust to the attack.

    The substitution paid immediate dividends with Silva capping off some tidy, quick ball movement - Johnson flicking on a goal-kick on the left – how important good service from the keeper can be, Amarikwa touching to Hassli who alertly played in Silva straight down the middle – the space Marshall’s shadowing created - for a cool right-footed finish over the on-rushing Andy Grunenbaum towards the far-side.

    Some further tidy work by Amarikwa on the right end-line and a neat pull back to Dunfield at the top of the box, could have tied the match, had it not been laced over the bar.

    Amarikwa then got on the end of a left-sided cross Johnson for a header at the back-post, an easy enough save by GBaum, but nice play to produce the ball and have someone get on the end of it.

    Silva looked more switched on in the attacking mid after dropping there once Amarikwa joined the fray. Surprised he didn’t start there.

    He can always surge into the attack in support of Hassli from that position and take some of the responsibility for midfield work and thrust from Dunfield’s shoulders. Especially when Johnson on the right is playing almost like a wide support forward, giving the team-shape almost a lop-sided feel.

Signs of Encouragement

    Yes, it was another dreary result, but some small positives to take into Houston and the rest of the season.

    TFC did a good job of limiting free kick opportunities, so there’s that. A small victory, but given the poor job of defending them – and the Dynamo to follow - it’s a start.

    Columbus was forced into making a pair of defensive subs in the final quarter of an hour. The momentum shifted with the Amarikwa substitution and Warzycha recognized it and was compelled to pack the defense in. And, Toronto did not concede on the counter having pushed numbers forward.

    The Silva-O’Dea chance at the death - yes, it was wrong choice to nod that ball forward to the offside O’Dea, especially given the space that was open to his right, but at least they were both in those positions. Also it was good to see O’Dea getting up there and put one hell of an effort - from a defender – towards the goal, keeping his header at least near the target from a bouncing ball.

Man of the Match

    It has to be Richard Eckersley.

    He earned it with a fine defensive performance, getting forward, and taking his licks.

    Honourable mentions to O’Dea – sturdy, Williams – a strong return, and Johnson – the man does put in a shift, wherever he plays.

Goat of the Game

    Hate to do it, but must go to Terry Dunfield.

    His slow reaction to danger in the defensive third led to both Columbus goals.

    He was clearly instructed to push up in support of the attack, so his defensive capabilities will automatically suffer.

    All Toronto folk are big fans of the effort Dunfield contributes every time he takes the pitch and any criticisms, though somewhat harsh, are made with respect to his game; perhaps that level of expectation is reflected in the disappointment.

Give the Kid a Break

    Wiedeman put in good a shift and it’s too easy to pick on him for another underwhelming Toronto match. He did good work in the corner to send a cross in, won a free kick on the edge of the box.
    Was it pretty? No. He is still young and has found minutes the last few seasons so hard to come by.

    At times he is going to look bad out there, especially given the flaws in the rest of the Toronto side. But it was his two-way play on the right, that allowed the left-side of the TFC attack to push forward more.

    He was much better in Columbus than he was against KC, and that must be seen as a measure of progress. Plus he loves the city, went so far as to say it has to be one of the best in the league.

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