Toronto FC 2 Portland Timbers 0: Chilly Home Opener Sees Win For WinterBy: Sairax | March 27th, 2011
First of all, my deepest apologies for the headline. I don’t usually do the pun thing, and now you see why.
TFC had its first home game of the season hosting Portland Timbers, the second expansion team of MLS in 2011. Toronto had a dire performance against Vancouver the week before. Things were not looking optimistic and we have never had a good record facing expansion teams at home. In fact, we had never won a game against an expansion team at BMO. The fans were hoping for anything good to come from the game, especially since it wasn’t going to come from the weather.
Toronto FC: Starters: Stefan Frei, Dan Gargan, Adrian Cann, Ty Harden, Mikael Yourassowsky, Maicon Santos (69′), Nathan Sturgis (46′), Jacob Peterson, Dwayne De Rosario, Alan Gordon, Javier Martina (87′)
Bench: Alen Stevanovic* (46′), Oscar Cordon, Gianluca Zavarise (69′), Doneil Henry, Keith Makubuya, Ashtone Morgan (87′), Milos Kocic
Portland Timbers: Starters: Adin Brown (46′), Steve Purdy, Eric Brunner, Kevin Goldthwaite, Rodney Wallace, Ryan Pore (66′), Peter Lowry, Jack Jewsbury, Jeremy Hall, Jorge Perlaza (73′), Kenny Cooper
Bench: Kalif Alhassan, Jake Gleeson (46′), Freddie Braun, David Horst, Sal Zizzo (66′), Brian Umony (73′), James Marcelin
The boys gathered together in their familiar team huddle on the pitch and then the whistle blew for Toronto’s first, very cold, home game of the season. The game started off similarly to the week before. We kept possession and were trying to attack straight from kickoff. Maicon even got a shot off in the first minute, albeit off-target. Martina provided width and pace out wide on the right while DeRo took up the left flank. Our backline looked more assured with Harden and Cann holding it down in the centre and Yourassowsky in at leftback. Thank god for that because Cann just looked terrible against the Whitecaps and look much more assured today in his usual role. Nana was not in the match squad due to injury.
Our attacking intent paid off when Martina scored in the 14th minute for his first ever TFC goal and first ever in Major League Soccer. It was a great team effort with Peterson finding Maicon in the middle of the pitch who played it forward to DeRo making the run up the middle. The defender was right on his tail, but DeRo did really well to hold him off and keep the ball and then lay it off to an onrushing Martina who slotted past the Timbers’ keeper. It was great to see such a quick and fluid play from the team. The goal gave us the perfect start to calm the nerves.
The opening 20 minutes of the match showed the kind of football that Winter is trying to get the team to play. The back four held a high line and caught Cooper offside a few times. DeRo looked dangerous every time he got on the ball and Yourassowsky was doing great with his overlapping runs allowing DeRo to cut in to maintain a threat. Unfortunately, we couldn’t keep up that positive play and the Timbers started to find their way back into the game. They began increasing the pressure and pressing higher up the pitch. We started to see a few stray passes, particularly in the middle where I though Sturgis and Peterson could have done much better in keeping possession. Then we began giving away corners and careless fouls. Gargan in particular was not having a great game. He gives away possession and too many errant passes at times. We all love him for his hard work and enthusiasm, but really he should be a backup to a better rightback for us.
Luckily our defense was able to hold on until halftime. Not much was coming from Portland’s corners and we were much more direct and no-nonsense with our clearances. Sometimes this needs to be done, particularly in set piece situations, so I would much rather the players take the safer option of booting the ball away then dallying about on the ball near our penalty area and then give it away to the other team to get a shot off. Frei had been solid throughout the game, but the only time I saw him have some trouble was during the 20 minute spell before halftime when he flapped once or twice at a ball coming into the area. Otherwise, it was safe hands as always. Some of our defending was last-ditch, but Harden and Cann were pretty good at getting their big frames in the way to get blocks in as well. There are always going to be periods when the opposition puts us under pressure like that. The important thing is that we are able to withstand that pressure and counter when we get the chance. One good thing I noticed was that the closer we got to halftime, the more the Timbers got impatient and just started trying shots from far outside the box. Frankly, they could do that all day long and I wouldn’t mind. Frei is pretty good at catching long range shots and besides, most of those 35 yarders tend to go high and wide. As for us, our forward movement waned, but we managed to make it to halftime without conceding.
Before the whistle, Winter subbed in new guy Stevanovic, who had just flown in on Friday, for Sturgis who again had a bit of an anonymous game. The second half continued much in the same manner the first half ended. The Timbers were getting the better of possession and we tried our luck on the break. The Timbers, much like us in our previous game, weren’t able to get any good chances despite their possession. Their best chance at a goal would likely come through a corner or freekick. Kenny Cooper is bloody huge and a huge nuisance to our backline, so I was always nervous with him close to our goal.
Maicon had a great start to the second half when he found himself one-on-one with the keeper but did not capitalize on his chance well enough as the Timbers keeper, who came on as a second half sub, saved the shot easily. Maicon really should have done better with that chance and I think I would have broken something had we conceded straight after that chance. I have to say that Alan Gordon did really well for me on Saturday. He got the flick-on for Maicon that led to that chance and he was constantly in defenders faces and providing good support to our other attacking players. I’d like to see more from him in the next game, possibly as our target man because I think he did a lot of the little things well and came off as a good team player.
As I mentioned, we were playing much more on the counter and not playing as much in possession. One thing I noticed was that the ball was not moving particularly well on the pitch. Maybe it was just me, but it seemed like the surface was not slick enough for the sort of passing game that Winter would like the team to play. Perhaps it was this plus our players exercising a bit of practicality that led them to more of a direct and “long ball” style a lot of the time. If Frei didn’t see any good movement in front of him and a lot of Portland players, he would just encourage the team to push up and then send a ball up field for one of our big guys to knock down. Ok, so it wasn’t totaalvoetbal, but that will take time to sustain for 90 minutes. Our approach paid off in the 70th minute when Frei gathered the ball after a Timbers corner and picked out Martina about 60 yards out that Martina took down and smashed into the net with a tremendous piece of skill. One of the goals of the week for sure, and Martina’s second of the night. If he could keep doing that for the rest of the season, that’d be great, thanks!
All seemed to be going so well. There had to be something that went wrong. And you bet Yourassowsky something went wrong! Our hilariously named leftback was on a yellow and was being subbed off in the 84th minute after he had picked up a knock when the referee decided he was taking too long walking off the pitch and issued a second yellow to send him off. What can I say? It was one of the dumbest sendings off this side of Robin van Persie in the Champions League last month. I have to say though, Yourassowsky didn’t do himself any favours. The ref was on him the whole game and Yourassowsky was talking back a bit. My approach to every game is, don’t give the ref a reason to book you. It’s the they’re-all-against-us-so-don’t-get-on-the-ref’s-bad-side approach. I could feel the red card coming, I really could. Maybe it was the numbskull ref, or maybe it was the red card that Yourassowsky picked up in a preseason friendly of all places, but I felt that he was going to get sent off. Really, it was a sending off we could have avoided if our guy had just quickened his pace a tad. So, well done young man, you will now be suspended because you picked up a couple silly bookings. Work on your tackling on your time off so next time you don’t constantly foul to pick up that first booking.
TFC were down to 10 men during the last 10 minutes and my twitter timeline was telling me to expect a goal to be conceded by our crappy defense. Well, we didn’t concede, so take that twitter! It wasn’t a stand out performance, but a decent one where we saw flashes of the Winter philosophy. Portland didn’t test us all that much, but we managed to handle what they did throw at us. A good three points and TFC are 7th in the Eastern Conference, or, if you will, joint-third in the Eastern Conference. Yeah, I like that second one better, I think I’ll go with that.
Full Time Stats (via MLSsoccer.com): Toronto FC v Portland Timbers
On target 5-4
Possession % 45-55
So what, if anything, can we take away from Saturday night’s win? Well, we won. This is after people thought we would be absolutely hopeless and might not even get anything from today’s game on the basis of what they saw against Vancouver. TFC employed a more direct style of play. Whether or not that was intentional, I don’t know, but maybe we needed a bit of that. Our team won’t change overnight, so we can’t try to force things. Saying that, there were some very positive signs in the opening 20 minutes that shows how Winter is beginning to change this team. Our problems lie in our inexperience. The team needs to stick with Winter’s methods in training and constantly try to improve their skill and understanding of the players around them. Often during the match, players seemed to be caught in two minds in whether they should pass the ball or take on a defender or when exactly to release the ball. Again, I think this comes with time and practice and also being surrounded by good players. We’ve brought in Stevanovic, who didn’t look great, but the guy just got here and he certainly seems to have a lot to offer. DeRo is looking as good as he ever did and we still have de Guzman to return to the fold. We’ve gotten through our first tests, but we have only faced expansion teams so far. There are plenty more obstacles awaiting. The kind of little individual mistakes we’ve been making, the sloppy giveaways, and conceding freekicks in dangerous areas are all things that need to be addressed. A good team can really punish us when we leave ourselves exposed and we were lucky to be let off against Portland’s relatively impotent attack. Progression and evolution are slow, but we already see how things are different in little ways, and I also believe that the players are much happier under this management. Now they just need to keep working hard and keep believing.
*Alen Stevanovic along with Joao Plata were officially signed by TFC last week. Stevanovic is co-owned by Internazionale Milan and Torino FC and will spend the season on loan with TFC.
Don’t forget to follow Toronto FC Offside on Twitter for the latest news, links, and updates: www.twitter.com/TFCOffside