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    Tweet, tweet, tweet

    By Guest, in Onward Soccer,

    It’s Friday in June, so time again to renew our Archer Award-winning Twitter campaign to pressure MLS commissioner Don Garber for change and accountability in the weak, tedious area of MLS officiating.
    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
    I haven’t been in touch with my “It’s Called Football” colleagues to agree on a wording, and I’ve got to put on my musician hat and get out the door to rock and roll a daycare centre.
    So let’s just go with this:
    @thesoccerdon - MLS fans across the league want you to tell us how you’re going to improve the officiating – now.
    If you happen to be Twittering, and you’re living in fear of the next unfounded offside flag or blown penalty call, please just drop that in the “What are you doing?” window, and send it winging on its way.
    Any strict, law-and-order, old-school stick in the mud can tell you why this can never work. But the more light we can shine on this mess, the less messy it may someday become.
    Onward!

    Guest

    Stop the presses!

    By Guest, in Onward Soccer,

    IF – Toronto FC beats the Montreal Impact by four clear goals at Stade Saputo next Thursday, and …
    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
    IF – Toronto FC then survives a home-and-home qualifying draw against Puerto Rico Islanders of USL-1 …
    THEN – Toronto FC would be drawn in CONCACAF Champions League Group C …
    WITH – The Columbus Crew.
    Details at Soccer by Ives.
    Onward!

    Guest

    Trader Mo, year three

    By Guest, in Onward Soccer,

    Man, it’s hard to get a read on this guy.
    Toronto FC GM Mo Johnston is squarely under the microscope after a sequence of rotten results left his rapidly reversing Reds in their ravenous fans’ doghouses.
    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
    As feared, the back four is gushing goals. Marco Velez should have bought a ticket for both Galaxy goals in the 2-1 loss to Los Angeles. And up front, Pablo Vitti can’t shoot on the net, and Chad Barrett still refuses to hit anything that isn’t wearing an opposing goaltenders’ shirt.
    With the fans howling – and some even walking out – Mo finally made a move. An almost-too-good-to-be-true move.
    A third-round draft pick – which wouldn’t keep you in BMO Field mac-n-cheese fritters till halftime – to San Jose for 10-year MLS veteran defender Nick Garcia and the rights to teamless Canadian striker Ali Gerba.
    Excuse me?
    A solid, proven centre back? Okay, Garcia’s not moving to Europe any time ever – but that’s a really good thing if he can play. He’s also only 30 – which is a really good thing if he can play. So how’d Mo get him so cheap?
    And Gerba! Bit of a reputation for not getting along with his teammates, but the man is solid muscle with a deft, clever first touch and a cannon shot. Knows how to play with Dwayne DeRosario, too.
    This isn’t the first time Mo has struck dramatically, and seemed to get a tremendous bargain.
    Back at the MLS draft, he tried for ages to deal one of his three first-round picks. He was pushing hard to land defender Adrian Serioux from Dallas, but didn’t get a deal he liked. Then he has a miracle draft – Sam Cronin (solid), O’Brien White (still recovering from serious knee injury) and goalie Stefan Frei (the real deal). Then, he deals a 2010 draft pick to Dallas – for Adrian Serioux.
    The question I had then is the same question I have now. Where was this deal all along?
    Did San Jose suddenly, magically conclude Garcia is done, when they didn’t think that before? Highly doubtful. What’s probably really happening is the Earthquakes are clearing a roster spot for a transfer signing, or they’re conceding the season and loading up with draft picks. For their fans’ sake, it better be the first one.
    Once again, Mo has found away to craft a deal with no downside. Garcia’s a near-lock to improve Toronto’s gasping D, and if Gerba can be got under contract – he’s got absolutely nothing to lose with the English off-season going on – Mo could wave a wand at both ends of the pitch simultaneously.
    But does it mean anything? Is this just another Houdini-like escape? (Houdini, you might remember, was ultimately killed doing one of his own stunts.)
    The man is always on a cell phone. On the rare occasions he speaks to the media, late-breaking truths always emerge to challenge – or utterly torpedo – what he says.
    Getting Garcia and Gerba for a low-round pick is the exact equivalent of having a day of huge scores on the garage-sale circuit. If the two players contribute at all (Gerba has yet to sign as I’m writing this), they will certainly improve the team, and Mo will have wiggled out of trouble yet again.
    But it’s probably too late to do anything about Mo’s worst (repeated) failing as a team-builder – bombing out in the Voyageurs Cup.
    It’s still so tantalizing to wonder if TFC can, in fact, drop Montreal by four goals next Thursday, and back-door their way into the CONCACAF Champions League. I can easily imagine a Danny Dichio scramble job, an outside strike from DeRosario and two monster slot bombs from Gerba doing the trick, while Serioux and Garcia mop up at the back.
    If GMs build teams in their images, that might be the ultimate proof. A beaten, cornered TFC go four-up on the road to bail out a GM who goes forever without dealing, then pulls magic rabbit after magic rabbit from his Scottish cloth cap.
    Exactly the kind of thing that drives us all crazy – with hope and terror – all at once.
    Onward!

    Guest

    Archer Award!!!

    By Guest, in Onward Soccer,

    Folks, I am delighted to announce this morning that “It’s Called Football” – the humble weekly internet soccer show I’m proud to be part of – has been given the coveted Archer Award for our Twitter campaign to build pressure for improvements to MLS officiating.
    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]The award mis-recognizes intention, and uses narrow, literal fact to bludgeon everybody back between the lines.
    It is considered, by many, to be the highest honour in North American soccer writing. I’m very humbled to have been so honoured.
    Onward!

    Guest

    Better red than dead

    By Guest, in Onward Soccer,

    Yeah, it was a bad week.
    Toronto FC fans had their expectations roundly and rudely jangled these past few days – from multiple directions.
    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
    Word that Real Madrid will be touching down at BMO Field on August 7 was bucketed in cold water when the August 9 home game against New York was moved to June 13 to make room. This not only scrambled summer weekend plans for 16,000 season ticket holders on cruelly short notice, it also left the club with only one MLS home game in each of July, August and September.
    Then, late Tuesday night, hopes that the home schedule would be bolstered with CONCACAF Champions League matches were kicked rudely to the curb by the Vancouver Whitecaps, who dumped TFC 2-0. Now, the only way the Reds can claim the Voyageurs Cup is by beating Montreal by four goals at Stade Saputo on June 18.
    Oh, and the Madrid game isn’t part of the season ticket package.
    Throw in the chronically dreadful finishing of TFC target men Chad Barrett and Pablo Vitti – hugely influential in the Vancouver loss – and there are a lot of stunned, stung and very unhappy Toronto FC fans out there.
    And we haven’t even talked about BMO Field’s appalling artificial turf, which is making TFC star Dwayne DeRosario unhappier and unhappier with every passing match.
    As the club limps home to play the Beckham-less, Donovan-less L.A. Galaxy today, the fans’ faces are redder than their shirts. They are seeking a way to express their anger.
    Jack DePoe, president of TFC’s largest support group, the Red Patch Boys, is calling for fans to leave their TFC shirts and scarves at home, and cut way back on their spending at the concession stands. There will also be a post-game march to Gate 4, the entranceway to the team’s offices.
    Jack is a man of huge passions, with an enormous heart. He feels things acutely, and is one of the better idea men and organizers I’ve met in recent times. But his call for the un-wearing of the red isn’t being unanimously embraced. Even he himself admits there was significant time pressure as his group struggled to respond to latest developments.
    And, perhaps, that’s the bigger point.
    For all the anger, the emotion the fans are feeling most is grief.
    And don’t tell me that’s over-dramatic; it was just a soccer game; move on. This loud and passionate fan base – with organization and creativity the dwarfs anything this town has ever seen – was deeply wounded a year ago when they watched the Montreal Impact parade the Voyageurs Cup at BMO Field.
    Only a tie was needed in Vancouver to erase that stain. Now, many travelling fans face the unpleasant prospect of a low-percentage journey to Montreal, with two hours of relentless taunting from Impact ultras. Given the shameful performance of Stade Saputo security in the past, quite a few TFC fans who have already booked flights, train tickets and hotels are rethinking whether the abuse is worth the outlay.
    Grief is a singularly personal emotion. Undoubtedly, there will be fans for whom DePoe’s ideas resonate. There will certainly be less red than we’re used to seeing in the south end this afternoon.
    But for others, the need will be exactly the opposite. For them. the pain of Vancouver demands red. Lots of red. More red than usual. I don’t wear team merchandise in the press box, but I do have an extremely red t-shirt which will be joining me on the trip.
    Toronto FC is a team early in its third season. Supporting them has been an impossible dream-come-true for thousands and thousands of fans. So Vancouver was a lousy result. So Real Madrid tickets aren’t part of the deal. How does any of that compare to simply having a team we all love to cheer for in the first place?
    On this day in history, a lot of fans are disgusted. I’ve already banged out disgusted articles about both Vancouver and Madrid. But this is soccer. This is sports.
    You want to know why I could never, ever be a Manchester United fan? It’s too easy. Certainly, it’s a dazzling prospect to give perhaps the greatest manager in history almost unlimited funds and an all-world player-development system. Eleven English titles in seventeen seasons will always remain one of soccer’s greatest success sprees.
    But that ain’t life. All of sport is a metaphor for the ups and downs of existence. We bond emotionally with our teams because their seasons are symbolic of our years. When a team you love does something astonishing, the contact high is out of this world. When they have a week like Toronto FC just did, there’s a crash.
    This endless world-wide horde of Manchester United bandwagon jumpers wouldn’t know a crash if the Titanic went down in their morning corn flakes. All the reward with none of the risk. To me, that is not an authentic emotional journey.
    Most TFC fans have long been fans of bigger, older clubs. They’ve certainly been through some emotional ringers. But the BMO Field experience is so much deeper, brighter and more vivid. Many supporters are feeling soccer pain today at a strange and distorting new level.
    So there’s never going to be agreement about how to express it. Heck, this is still Toronto. There will be a lot of bland apathy in those lakeside bleachers this afternoon, as well.
    What these fans are matchless at is getting their message out. And even if there’s no agreement about how to protest their pain, there can be no doubt the team, the players and ownership at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment know the fans are in pain.
    Apparently, the club is going to announce another international friendly today. It will be a prominent opponent, and season ticket holders will get their seats without paying an extra nickel. That, and the fact that the Reds move into a tie for season in MLS East if they can beat L.A., a team with just one win (and nine ties!) in eleven games.
    These things may mitigate somewhat, but the ugly prospect of that all-but-hopeless trip to Montreal will continue to cast a murky, menacing shadow.
    This, too, is part of being a fan. This, too, is part of loving a team.
    Your team won’t always treat you well – or love you in return. But what’s happening in Toronto is too real to be snuffed out by some dreadful scheduling and yet another blown Voyageurs Cup.
    If you’re hurting, I hear ya! But let’s not pretend this sad and soggy week is ever going to be the end of anything.
    Especially not with the L.A. freakin’ Galaxy in town.
    Onward!

    Guest

    Tweeting the whistle-blowers

    By Guest, in Onward Soccer,

    Last week, just for curiosity and yoks, I started up a little Twitter campaign. I asked fans to contact Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber, through his Twitter account, asking for a direct answer on the woeful state of MLS officiating.
    Today – along with my “It’s Called Football” colleagues Ben Rycroft and Duane Rollins, and any other sympathetic bloggers who share our frustration and concern – we’re stepping this up considerably.
    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
    If you don’t know, Twitter is an internet direct messaging system which offers public access to a large number of well-known popular figures. Garber’s account is @thesoccerdon.
    Here’s today’s message:
    @thesoccerdon We want better refereeing in MLS now - hold our refs publicly accountable for the calls they make #mls #refs
    (That number-sign stuff at the end makes your post visible to anyone in the Twitterverse searching those topics.)
    We’re going to do this every Friday in June. We want to apply some gentle, but conspicuous, pressure – from as many fans and directions as possible.
    We know there’s no overnight solution in a league where the rulebook gets routinely thrown out at awkward, awful moments of almost every game. Players and coaches get fined when they complain – possibly even fired in the case of former Toronto FC coach John Carver.
    But there’s no way to fine the fans, who are pretty much the ultimate source of income in a gate-driven league such as MLS.
    So let’s see how far we can take this.
    It takes about five seconds – and who knows what officiating atrocity it might help spare your favourite club down the road?

    Onward!

    Guest
    There have been two times, in the short, colourful history of Toronto FC, where the blueprint utterly failed.
    I’m not talking about missing the playoffs twice in their first two seasons. I’m not even talking about two different MLS records for longest goalless droughts (overall, and off the start of a season).
    I’m talking clear, specific jobs that needed to be done – HAD to be done – where creeping inability strangled what should have been joy and history on the field: where celebration parties rang long and loud throughout some other city’s night.
    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
    The first came last July 22nd, in the dying moments of the Voyageurs Cup finals against the Montreal Impact at BMO Field. Toronto GM Mo Johnston utterly failed to have a striker other than Jeff Cunningham in the Montreal penalty area when the ball sprang loose not even five yards in front of a gaping, empty net – which was also the portal to that mystic, unexplored realm, the CONCACAF Champions League.
    Cunningham whiffed. It wasn’t even close. Iron curtains crashed down. Montreal went on to a great cup run. Toronto was forced to rebuild – and pretty much the first move was gassing Jeff Cunningham.
    The second catastrophic, systemic Toronto FC failure came last night, at Swangard Stadium in Burnaby, B.C. Toronto FC, needing only a draw to clinch the Voyageurs Cup, squandered chances, blew build-ups, lost the plot, lost the plan, misplacing any way to get home from here.
    They also lost the game, 2-0.
    Sure, they can still win the Voyageurs Cup – but they have to go to Montreal on June 18 and beat the Impact by four clear goals. I think humanity has a better chance of finding life on the moons of Jupiter by then. (It’s probably there – Europa, most likely – but no one’s out looking for it this month.)
    There’s a reason the V-Cup ends up highlighting just how badly built Toronto FC really is. This is a significant trophy in this part of the world, there are only two other teams to beat, and they both play in a lower league. Winner gets a mug, a huge regional tournament, and an outside chance to play the European or South American club champions down the road.
    Sure, the MLS playoffs are the real goal. But that’s a seven-month grind. This is just a few little games. Sure, they dropped it last year. But this year …
    Whoops. Thud. Sigh.
    Dwayne DeRosario. Adrian Serioux. Incoming Canadian lads who want to win this mug. Jim Brennan. Greg Sutton. Kevin Harmse (bless him). So what went wrong? How did bauble night in Burnaby turn into Botch Job II – The Wreckoning!?
    Let us first agree that we’re talking about far deeper problems than one soggy night on a lovely piece of west-coast soccer turf.
    History has shown that the Titanic was sunk by greed, arrogance, pride and impatience long before it got to second base with that iceberg. Similarly, the wreck of TFC ’09 was actually sown in the opening two games of the tournament – both of which Toronto won.
    Both Vancouver and Montreal got similar treatment at BMO Field as the cup chase began. Toronto played the ball on the carpet, dominated possession, moved effectively from defence to midfield to attack, and took all six available points without conceding a single goal against.
    But for all their domination and chances, each game was won only by the scantest of 1-0 margins. I told anyone who got near me after the Montreal game that Toronto was going to pay for not scoring more goals.
    Some credit to Johnston: after he fed Cunningham to the kangaroos, the TFC GM went out and signed himself some soccer players. This roster has depth and options its predecessors could only dream of.
    But how does it all mesh on the field? My colleague Duane Rollins writes extensively about how MLS teams are much more talented than their USL-1 cousins. But soccer is a low-scoring upset game. The issue last night wasn’t talent. It was applied talent.
    One can argue the Torontos created at least a half dozen fine chances last night. But the chronic finishing woes continue. Chad Barrett whoomped yet another gold-encrusted scoring chance straight into yet another grateful goaltender. Pablo Vitti did his dances, made his moves, got good marks from the “So You Think You Can Dance” judging panel, and continued his perfect record of never, ever, ever scoring a goal for Toronto FC.
    DeRosario looked occasionally like one might want to be cautious around him, but nothing he created was ever going into the Vancouver net.
    Is it the coach? I’ve still got time for interim bench boss Chris Cummins. I like the way he thinks, and adjusts. But last night was the exam. In the second half, when it was still only 1-0, TFC needed just one goal to their hands on the cup. Cummins’ tactics and strategies failed.
    Forget the chances they created. How about all the balls passed directly to white-shirted Whitecaps? How about two cheeky back-heels (one from Barrett, one from Vitti) that ended up dierectly on Vancouver boots? And – achingly – how about all the times they came up to the centre stripe, looked downfield … and just plain ran out of ideas?
    TFC was hugely guilty of hubris. “We’ve got the talent,” their body language seemed to simper. “We don’t need to sweat the details on every trip down the field.” The more I saw, the more I knew Vancouver’s second goal was coming.
    And now, because they couldn’t find more goals last month back at BMO, Sgt. Cummins’ Lonely Shots Club Band now face an all-but-impossible task when they stumble off the Green Line Metro into Joey’s House of Cheese.
    Sure, Mo, there’s no Jeff Cunningham to kick around anymore. But how long can we all tolerate Chad Barrett converting seven percent of his chances? How long to we have to watch Pablo Vitti never score?
    Just how freaking much, exactly, is Danny Dichio supposed to do on his lonesome?
    This team has talent. This team cannot score.
    A coach? A striker? Take your pick. A new man in the GM’s office?
    That was a bad failure last night. Not to take anything away from an undermanned Whitecaps side that did the work and buried the chances they created. They’ve been planning all along to win the Voyageurs Cup and take on the continent. Good luck to them, should Toronto almost inevitably falter in Montreal.
    This is the second time Toronto has let the Canadian men’s pro soccer championship slip through careless, poorly prepared fingers. These weren’t losses – they were deeply rooted organizational failures.
    It’s time to get out the brooms – and the pink slips. A stern and thorough house-cleaning is in order.
    Onward!

    Guest

    Dear Don:

    By Guest, in Onward Soccer,

    Sometimes, I need a little reassurance.
    Occasionally, something happens that shakes my basic faith, and it’s important to check in with the powers that be.
    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
    It’s not that I’m completely sold on Twitter as a form of communication. It lets you send short, pithy messages to the world – including public appeals to well-known people.
    So – here goes.
    This “tweet” just went out to Don Garber, commissioner of Major League Soccer. It has to do with a disallowed goal right at the end of the opening half of Toronto FC's 0-3 loss in Houston last night.
    The final score was already on the board when a very high ball looped into the Houston goal area. TFC defender Adrian Serioux, playing up, leapt to head it past Dynamo goalie Pat Onstad, who was unable to get his hands on the ball.
    If there were any contact at all, it was minimal. Referee Yader Reyes waived it off.
    I’m not claiming that TFC were ever going to win this game, but 3-1 and 3-0 are very different propositions when there’s still an entire half of soccer left to play. I’m more concerned that, if that’s the actual MLS standard for goalie interference, it’s going to be very hard to ever score goals in this league.
    Here’s the tweet:
    @thesoccerdon Please tell us it's legal for a player to beat a goalie to a 50-50 ball, and head it into the net for a goal.
    If you happen to be on Twitter, and you share my frustration and concern, please feel free to load that into your message window, and send it on.
    A public statement from the commissioner would be greatly appreciated.
    Onward!

    Guest

    Montreal, Oregon?

    By Guest, in Onward Soccer,

    It had to happen. Sooner or later, the well-intentioned civic government of the Rose City of Portland, Oregon, was going to drop a curious dime to MLS commissioner Don Garber.
    “Please, sir, given the economy and such, is it possible we could simply renovate our existing stadium, without that pesky having-to-build-a-new-one-for-our-baseball-team part?”
    A well-meaning question. Garber’s response was straight out of Grimm’s Fairy Tales.
    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]“Without the fulfillment of this plan,” the big, bad Garber growled, “MLS cannot expand to Portland.”
    His reasons – scheduling, not wanting to play soccer on baseball dirt, actually having seats on both sidelines – are sound. But America’s Boss of Soccer would not so easily be able to exert such pressure, were it not for …
    Montreal.
    Montreal, Oregon?
    Nope. Quebec. Canada. Cheese country. Poutine. Rubber-tired subway trains. Smoked meat sandwiches to die for – or from.
    See, we all knew, all along, why Montreal Impact owner Joey “Riverboat Slim” Saputo wanted to play another hand of cards at Don Garber’s poker table. A year ago, he didn’t have enough cash – and was starting a blinder of a run in the Voyageurs Cup/CONCACAF Champions League. “Who needs MLS?” the Lower Canada fermented curd man concluded.
    Well, the continental dream is ashes now – not once, but twice. But that’s okay because here comes the Quebec government wanting to invest in construction in the East Island of Montreal – to wit, the expansion to MLS standards of Joey’s cute little soccer playground, Stade Saputo.
    So Joey puts on his best Paul-Newman-in-The-Sting poker suit, and boldly asks Don Garber to shuffle up and deal.
    Garber, seeing soft and pesky bureaucratic caution breaking out in Timber country, is only too happy to serve the Cheese Man another hand of cards.
    Both gamblers, at last, have arrived at a no-lose situation. Garber knows he can yoink the Portland franchise anytime he likes, because Montreal is perfectly placed to move in. Saputo either gets his team in 2011, or almost immediately after as future considerations for giving Garber the leverage to muscle Portland into line.
    A bit rough on the Timbers, perhaps, but they had to know the job was dangerous when they took it.
    Odd how a business letter to a civic official in Oregon can be grounds for soccer celebration in the largest city in French Canada, but such is the game all concerned are playing.
    It’s all up to Portland now.
    Onward!

    Guest

    Real Madrid = real mad!

    By Guest, in Onward Soccer,

    Here’s the deal, Toronto FC fans.
    You get:
    - Real Madrid, at BMO Field, on grass, the evening of Friday, August 7.
    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
    - To pay for it, because it won’t be part of your season ticket package.
    - A second friendly (why, oh why, do we need a second friendly?) which will be part of your season ticket package.
    You give up:
    - The scheduled August 9 TFC home game against New York Energy Drink, which will now be played on June 13.
    - Whatever plans you might have made for June 13, which is just two warm, summery weeks away.
    - Of course, you have the option of not coming on June 13, but that will be a wrench because the Reds now have only one MLS home game scheduled for EACH of July, August and September!
    Mitigating factor:
    - If you’re one of those fans who doesn’t want TFC sharing BMO Field with the Toronto Nationals field lacrosse team, June 13 was one of only six days all summer they were scheduled to play there.
    I understand that business is business, and deals have to get done. I am prepared to believe, at face value, TFC claims that there was no other time TFC and NYED could get together for a match. I also have no doubt the club sincerely regrets any inconvenience this sudden move is causing.
    But I’d be a lot more understanding if the club would drop the proposed second friendly, and give the Galacticos game to the subscribers. Perhaps – probably – the economics are prohibitive.
    (I’d do my part to help, but I made it clear when I offered Barcelona $11 to play at BMO that the deal was not available to Real Madrid.)
    And the tempting possible mitigating factor that the temporary grass surface might stick around for the rest of the season?
    - BMO Field is block-booked for amateur games.
    - Temporary grass pitches are … exactly that.
    So, it’s a huge announcement – but there’s going to be a lot of heart-felt grumbling among the faithful, who don’t want a second friendly, were counting on having June 13 off, and likely don’t feel like paying blood and bone marrow to watch an off-season, out-of-form Real Madrid, grass or no grass.
    Enough out of me. How are you feeling, Toronto fans?
    Onward!

    Guest

    Small, good crowd; big, bad loss

    By Guest, in Onward Soccer,

    There’s something about the way girls and young women watch soccer. There’s an edge – an emotional enthusiasm. Lots of noise, but very different from the gruff, low-pitched singing and swearing that usually ring forth from the BMO Field bleachers during a Toronto FC home game.
    Squeals. Yells. The same chants, way up the scale, with all the emotion and none of the scorn.
    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
    The game? Canada’s rebuilt, refocused women’s national team, making their home debut under new head coach Carolina Morace. Japan was supposed to provide the opposition, but they got flu-fear and backed out.
    That set off a frantic day of on-edge phone work at the CSA’s Mansion on Metcalfe, which amazingly resulted in the top-ranked United States side coming north on hugely short notice to keep the fixture alive.
    It were better as a spectacle than a game. The American Women were ahead on two minutes – a hugely preventable goal from the right diagonal corner of the box. Three well-crafted goals would follow. The
    4-0 final was fair, and honourable. And there were some significant positives for Canada, even though the scoreboard kind of collapsed on them.
    Morace is moving our gals away from former coach Evan Pellerud’s hit-and-hope long-ball game. The new credo is keep it on the carpet, advancing station-to-station. Biggest problem last night? Hugely shaky link-ups between the midfield and a powerful strike force led by 99-international-goal-scorer Christine Sinclair. There was big buzz around the possibility of her 100th goal, but no good opportunity ever game.
    But none of that particularly doused the crowd. It was small – probably in the 7,000 range, though the official number was quite a bit higher – but they never stopped making appreciative noise for every little thing the Canadian women did right.
    Very late, down 3-0, a peppy row of 14-year-olds in the back row of the south grandstand let out a very loud, piercing and credible chant of “This is our house!” Ownership of the house was, in fact, never in doubt. The game, however, was all-American.
    The girls in the stands provided an amusing contrast to the small band of regular Toronto FC supporters, who turned out to add their voices to the tumult. I was far up on the other side when the Americans went ahead. An instant deep-voice chorus of “2-1! We’re going to win 2-1” was easily audible, all over the sunny, wind-swept stadium.
    If there could have been more link-up between the two sets of Canada fans, things could have really taken off. The TFCers chanted “Who are ya?” at every American corner-kick taker, but it didn’t catch on with the girls. The girls countered with a few well-known stadium chestnuts, but the TFCers never really bought in.
    Right at the end, with the final score on the board and the added time burning down, a hardy row of TFC fans tried to sing Bohemian Rhapsody, by Queen, all the way through. The girls never signed up, and the referee’s final whistle cut the song off right around the “Galileo” part.
    Far less fire and attack than I’m used to seeing from the Canadian women’s team, but it’s the first part of a lengthy and ongoing process. Morace wants them to play solid, fundamental football, and they’re already close enough to the top of the world mountain that any rededication to craftsmanship should serve them very well in the years to come.
    … And it’s not like the girls in the stands are ever going to stop cheering.
    Onward!

    Guest

    Unraveling the Revs

    By Guest, in Onward Soccer,

    Aside from giving up the first goal early, everything but everything went Toronto FC’s way on Saturday.
    The Reds finished off their home-stand heavy first few weeks with a 3-1 win over New England. It vaulted them temporarily back into first place in the MLS East, until D.C. United pulled alongside them with a 0-0 draw against Seagull City SC.
    And yes, this was a banged-up, under-manned and exhausted Revolution. But games like that happen all the time in MLS. TFC has certainly lost such matches in the past.
    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
    And no, the Reds weren’t clearly two goals better than the visitors. This was more a case of the stuff Toronto did ended up producing two more net-jobs than the stuff New England did.
    A very important result, on two clear counts:
    - Ever since Chris Cummins took over as TFC coach, the Reds have been creating goal chances by the bushel, but had not scored more than one goal in any home game.
    - With half the home season in the books and five months of football yet to come, it was crucial to cap the homestand with a victory.
    What a match for Danny Dichio! Cummins sent the veteran hold-up man out with a clear brief to be the linkage between attacking midfielders Dwayne DeRosario and Amado Guevara. And with two inch-perfect passes – one short, one long – Dichio laid on goals for each of them.
    It was the third goal, though, that put a perfect bow on the opening third of the Toronto FC campaign. Guevara lollipopped a looping free kick into the New England area – and every player there forgot to touch it. It fell to earth untouched and bounced half-heartedly. Finding no goaltender there to curtail it, the ball settled lazily and happily into the Revs’ net.
    An easy, sassy, somewhat lucky goal. Where have those been all season?
    Most fans I talked to thought Dichio had actually got a head to Guevara’s kick. In fact, in space travel terms, Dichio’s face orbited the ball, but did not actually make a landing.
    Have you noticed, by the way, that the one and only thing Dichio has done – all season – is create good scoring chances? No one on the roster has been as consistently dangerous. The man is having a fabulous campaign.
    Aside from including Dichio, Cummins made one other key strategic change. He shuffled responsibilities up front, relieving the still-struggling Chad Barrett of the responsibility of being the red-shirted guy who needs to do all the running on through balls from the midfield.
    Cummins handed that burden to DeRo, advising Barrett to be the follow-up man – second into the attack zone instead of first. It’s a change that suits them both, I think. DeRosario always seems to find options, and Barrett is freer – and better – on late-arriving clean-up duty.
    Just the simple fact we’re even talking about strategy underscores – again! – how much better deployed Toronto is under Cummins than it ever was under the entertaining yet infuriating John Carver.
    Cummins has made endless adjustments, but you can clearly see what and why just watching the new alignment deploy. Carver, on the other hand, seemed fortunate to find an effective starting eleven. Team-strengthening mid-game adjustments were out of the question.
    TFC find themselves in a breakaway group of four teams at the top of the division. If they can hold that, they’ll be in the playoffs for sure. Another month of this, and Reds fans might even dream of a home playoff match.
    For now, they’ve scored a thumping win against a dangerous team in what was – in truth – a very even match. It’s the kind of result you have to get sometimes, if you’re ever going to compete in a league as artificially equal as MLS.
    Twin goals for June? Hold their position in the table – and finally bring home the Voyageurs Cup. With many, many road games ahead, Toronto FC’s real season starts … now.
    Onward!

    Guest

    Lacrosse at BMO Field

    By Guest, in Onward Soccer,

    For what it’s worth, the bagpipers outnumbered the cheerleaders. Until last night, I’d never before seen cheerleaders shaking their pom-poms to bagpipe music.
    Some colourfully dressed native smoke dancers from down in Six Nations cavorted briefly in the centre circle, and it was time to play something other than soccer at Toronto’s BMO Field.
    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
    Friday night was opening night for the Toronto Nationals of Major Lacrosse League, which is a six-team outdoor field lacrosse loop very few people know anything about.
    The announced crowd of just over 5,000 was confined entirely to the lower level of the west grandstand, and the beer tent area behind the north goal. They were loud, happy, and seemed to have a fine time.
    The game wasn’t bad at all, with Toronto topping the visiting Chicago Machine 15-11. The field game doesn’t have the big hits and concentrated frenzy of the more-Canadian indoor box version, but the speed, passing and in-close stick work sent the patrons home happy.
    As for the vexed issue of non-soccer lines on the sacred-yet-hated BMO Field plastic, they were minimal, yellow, faint, and should be easily washed away before Toronto FC takes the pitch this afternoon against New England.
    As long as we’re here – and since I got my sportswriting start in lacrosse – let me introduce you to a couple of these guys:
    Colin Doyle: Winner of five National Lacrosse League championships with the Toronto Rock, Doyle still has perhaps the fastest and strongest wrists in the game. A fast, elusive and very dangerous scorer.
    Gary Gait: Acclaimed by most as the greatest lacrosse player of all time, he has an identical twin brother – Paul – who was 95-per-cent as good as him. Top that, Wayne Gretzky. Gait is deep into playing out the string now, but still managed to score two goals against Chicago last night.
    Geoff Snider: Young, ferocious, bulldog tough, Snider is ridiculous on faceoffs. He won 19 out of 30 last night – including his first seven in a row. Maybe that doesn’t sound like much, but in a sport with a 60-second shot clock, if you get the ball eleven more times that the other guys, you win. Wrestling fans (the real stuff, not the pro stuff) would really appreciate this guy.
    A decent enough night out. It was good to see new fans discovering BMO Field. As long as they’re not Argo fans, that’s always fine with me.
    Onward!

    Guest

    Deep in the shadows

    By Guest, in Onward Soccer,

    Earlier this week, seeking solace from a soccer story that just didn’t want to be written, I took a late evening run down to one of my favourite little secret corners of my home and native town, Toronto.
    Cherry Beach didn’t start life as a beach. When the glaciers cleared out of here, that particular section of east-Toronto lakefront was a soggy, marshy bog. Its oozing mud and mosquitoes probably did as much to repel American forces back in the early days than pretty much anything that happened at Historic Fort York (an early precursor to BMO Field, if you’re not hip to the local history.)
    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
    The entire area was land-filled, hosted heavy industry, and then got handed right back to nature. Now, it’s a sleepy little cove, filled with gulls and cormorants and herons, still placed inconventiently enough that most local shore-strollers end up elsewhere.
    This makes is a wonderful spot for seclusion, peace and quiet. I even had a canoe stashed down here before I had to abandon the old life. Ah, well. Onward!
    I may be landlocked these days, but Cherry Beach is still where I go to figure out what happens next. And that’s what I was fixin’ to do the other night when my curiosity got the better of me, and I decided to go see what those floodlights were all about.
    Of course, I knew they’d build a new soccer facility down there. I just didn’t remember at that exact moment. What was once been one of the most industrially poisoned plots of real estate anywhere in Canada has now been carpeted in artificial turf, bathed in stadium lights, and was hosting two lively youth soccer matches on twin, gleaming green soccer carpets.
    Present tense. It looks wonderful.
    On the near field, two boys teams – late teens – are locked in an intriguingly fast-paced struggle. I’ll let them stay anonymous. It doesn’t actually matter.
    One club is significantly better than the other. A dominant midfield is serving up a tasty array of through balls – well-struck in the air, cunningly calculated on the ground – to a nifty little attacking mid who seems able to lock onto anything with his first touch.
    “Too small,” I catch myself thinking.
    And there’s the separation. At what point does the game become the business? Out of nowhere, I get the unexpected joy of watching a superb young athlete do some really clever work, and the first thing out of my brain is he isn’t big enough to make it in the pros?
    *Slap!*
    The parents are tense, too. Hushed mutterings about the other team grabbing shirts (they aren’t) and what exactly is offside, anyway? The cadence is so familiar. Time was, I went about as deep as one can go into grassroots box lacrosse, and stayed there for years. The whispers are identical. Quick biting judgments, frustration over who’s supposed to mark whom, then loud, edgy outbursts for – and against – their own kids.
    There’s more going on here than the game on the field. But what exactly are the expectations? Youth soccer’s not new here. But this Canadian soccer renaissance is. This is Toronto FC territory now. There’s a pro team. They have a youth academy. There is a way forward now.
    I’m getting ahead of myself. This is time to observe, not conclude.
    Running between the two fields is a brick passageway, housing player benches, lighting towers and a stunning view of downtown Toronto. How did this get here? I’ve lived here half a century, and this wasn’t here before – exactly the same feeling I still get when I gaze at the same skyline from the roof of BMO Field. It’s almost like the skyline is only there to drive home the point that all this gleaming green new modern soccer is really, actually, impossibly happening in Toronto.
    See, this was a soccer town – occasionally – but it was patchy dirt or concrete plastic, in vast cold stadiums that would be laughed out of self-respecting footie towns the world over. Yeah, we got our one pro first-division championship back in ’76, but what have you done for me lately?
    First, what used to be left field in dreadful old Exhibition Stadium blossomed into cozy, edgy, intimate BMO Field. Now, a dark deserted corner of the port lands hears the whispers of tense, stressed soccer moms as a good team whacks a poor one on fake grass under fake light, late on a Lake Ontario evening when the cormorants must be wishing that someone would just turn off those darned arc lamps.
    I edge out into the darkness, and walk a quarter mile down a little-used railroad spur. You can tell rail traffic is light, because the grass is really taking hold between the ties. You can tell it’s not abandoned, because nature still hasn’t completely taken over. It’s all mud, dust and darkness down on Unwin Avenue, just like any other night ever since Toronto got here.
    A cheer from the field. Must have been good.
    I’ve been feeling, early in my third Major League Soccer season, that I’m seeing the game more clearly than ever. Formation, positioning, strategy, tactics – I just feel I’m getting it at a different level now. The less isolated my city has become from the main plotlines of the global game, the deeper the bonds become. Makes perfect sense, but it’s nice to see it in action.
    I hope I’m wrong. I hope that kid’s not too small. He was a blast to watch.
    Heading home across metal-mesh drawbridges, past the back end of a sleeping lake freighter, I understand a day will have to come when I can watch the game un-tactically again. I have no blessed clue when – or how – that will ever be.
    Onward!

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