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Wednesday 1 August 2012

Upon Further Review – Toronto FC v Houston Dynamo

    Rewatching the match was a desperate undertaking.

    The positives - Thomas Rongen on the broadcasts is brilliant; dig the bow tie.

    The rest was not great.

    The Paul Mariner era has in many ways been defined by boundless energy and that never say die spirit – embodied by Terry Dunfield.

    Too many players had off-days, combined with Houston’s strong form of late; it was a bad afternoon to take off. It was a loss of three points, the playoffs are quite a ways off, but points at home have to be accounted for, these were thrown away.

   In the loss there may lie a lesson, more accurately, a reminder, that if the team takes the foot off the gas they will be made to pay. The three-match winning streak and distraction of Liverpool may have diverted the focus, or perhaps this team functions better on limited rest.

    From the start Toronto was far too lax in pressuring the ball carrier, something warned about in the preview, pretty much conceding the halfway line and daring Houston to pick them apart with passes.

    Macoumba Kandji’s early run down the left, into the space vacated by Doniel Henry pressing Brad Davis in the centre circle, an example of that lack of pressure opening gaps at the back and Houston’s ability to punish with speed. Fortunately, Richard Eckersley was on hand with a brilliant effort to snuff out the danger.

    Generally speaking there was far too much walking about and fake pressuring - not getting into position to be a defensive factor by doubling up and assisting teammates – just sort of hovering near where they should have been instead of getting involved. In many ways, too much individual play out there.

    That attitude carried over in the attack as well. Toronto was very slow on restarts and far too ponderous on the ball; a little more urgency would have gone some distance. Granting Houston the time to reorganize and recover position, was never going to work.

    When Quincy Amerikwa did break in transition, he had absolutely no support, forcing him to hold up and wait, by the time reinforcements arrive, the chance was gone.

    Toronto has been at their most dangerous with an injection of pace into their attack, not actual physical speed, but with the quickness of thought, something that was completely absent from this performance.

    Ashtone Morgan, a key source of service and width was pinned back by Calen Carr, Oscar Boniek Garcia & Warren Creavalle for most of the match. Once, Ryan Johnson was isolated on the left facing triple coverage but his teammates sauntered about, giving him no option and possession was lost. They have to get in there to provide support, another shortcoming on this afternoon.

    Amerikwa’s attempt at the most audacious of introductions to the home crowd with a bicycle was alright – have to love the confidence - but the ball may have been better for Luis Silva standing behind him, who was put off by the flying boot.

    Initially the hopeless flinging over crosses into the box felt desperate, upon rewatching there were less than initially thought, but still, after it became clear that Houston was going to dominate in the air there needed to be a Plan B.

    That’s where increasing the pace and trying to catch Houston unprepared would have come in handy.

    The First Davis free kick from the right of centre was met by Bobby Boswell, who had gotten away from Logan Emory and snuck in behind Torsten Frings, for a free header high at the near-post; it goes over the bar, but was an ominous sign.

    There were far too many cheap fouls given away – the ref played his role, but Toronto was very ill-disciplined at limiting those chances, perhaps the most basic game plan against Houston. Far too many fouls committed in dangerous areas.

    The first Houston goal came from a left-sided, out-swinging Davis corner kick. Boswell gets away from a flat-footed Emory at the top of the box, in trying to catch up Emory takes a flailing arm to the head and goes down.

    Boswell meets the service at the near to flick it on towards the back-post. Carr slips away from Terry Dunfield very easily, who reacts to the first header, drifting towards the action – basically, ball-watching – leaving Carr to attack the back-post unfettered. His header down eludes the attempted save from Milos Kocic as Dunfield doubles-over at the realization it was his man that scored.

    The second Houston goal began with a poor Aaron Maund clearing header that falls to Davis. Dunfield and Frings lay off watching the action as Davis dishes to Garcia on the left. Hall tries to step to him, but the Honduran beats him to the ball, loops it over him, and lays a well-weighted ball to the left, where Davis is making a run to the outside.

    Maund is caught in two minds, does he pressure Garcia or track Davis? He accomplishes neither. Eckersley and Maund collapse on Davis, but in a play reminiscent of a goal conceded in Seattle, they forget to stop the pass poked to Brian Ching in the middle. Morgan was slow to come across and get in front of the lethal striker, allowing a free shot from twelve yards past a helpless Kocic. 

    Amerikwa’s penalty shout was correctly waived away, though they have been given, especially in MLS. Creavalle got body position and possession away from Quincy before he went over the defender’s leg.

    Now, had he pushed wide to round Creavalle rather than headed towards goal, there would have been a better shout, with the ball out of the reach of the recovering leg.

    The Corey Ashe potential handball on Frings free kick was debateable; there was a slight chicken wing there to make himself bigger, but that’s a tough call to make.

    The offside called when Ryan Johnson ran onto a loose Houston back-pass was, as Rongen put it, amateur. Bad on the ref and his crew, but that comes with the nerves of trying too hard to be on top of everything. Mariner was rightfully furious.

   All in, it was a tough night for Toronto. But the past is the past.

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