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  1. Until next time, have a great soccer! @TwoSolitudesPod @24thminute @KevLaramee http://itunes.apple.com/ca/podcast/two-solitudes-soccer-podcast/id833616975?mt=2 http://www.stitcher.com/podcast/the-two-solitudes-mls-podcast http://feeds.feedburner.com/twosolitudespod Sports Podcasting Network http://itunes.apple.com/ca/podcast/otw-studios/id1018126433 http://feeds.feedburner.com/otwstudios http://canadiansoccernews.com http://kevinlaramee.com Support SPN http://patreon.com/kevinlaramee
  2. Until next time, have a great soccer! @TwoSolitudesPod @24thminute @KevLaramee http://itunes.apple.com/ca/podcast/two-solitudes-soccer-podcast/id833616975?mt=2 http://www.stitcher.com/podcast/the-two-solitudes-mls-podcast http://feeds.feedburner.com/twosolitudespod Sports Podcasting Network http://itunes.apple.com/ca/podcast/otw-studios/id1018126433 http://feeds.feedburner.com/otwstudios http://canadiansoccernews.com http://kevinlaramee.com Support SPN http://patreon.com/kevinlaramee
  3. Until tomorrow night for a post-game show, have a great Soccer! @OfftheWoodworkx @KevLaramee https://itunes.apple.com/ca/podcast/off-woodworkx-soccer-podcast/id644040569?mt=2 http://www.stitcher.com/podcast/off-the-woodworkx http://feeds.feedburner.com/rapidfeeds/iekP http://facebook.com/offthewoodworkx http://canadiansoccernews.com
  4. After all the build-up to Sunday’s home opener versus Houston, including resting players versus Montreal in the cup to keep them fresh, the air was let out of TFC’s balloon during an insipid first 75 minutes last weekend. That seems to have erased memories of the strong finish to TFC’s road trip to start the season. Three wins from seven road matches, even against Eastern weaklings such as Philadelphia, is still a good road record for any MLS team. Arguably, Greg Vanney even seems to have found a tactical set-up that suits the players he has available, at least for road games: protect a wobbly defence deep with two deep lines of four, and let the DP’s create offense on their own in the space opponents leave behind their midfield. In away games, where the opponent is expected to carry the game to TFC, it’s a perfectly acceptable tactic, and bore fruit in Philadelphia and Orlando. The style didn’t work at home to Houston, but home games may require a different answer to a different problem. It shouldn’t be ignored that TFC’s best result of the season, an away win to start the year in Vancouver, came against a team that has gone from strength-to-strength since. The Whitecaps are looking like a solid MLS playoff team, and maybe even a Supporter’s Shield contender. If Toronto were heading to BC Place this weekend, would many fans be expecting a result? Yet TFC already grabbed three points there on the road this year. For their part, New England only managed a draw in their last match in Florida, versus the same Orlando side that TFC beat in the Citrus Bowl two weeks ago. Admittedly, however, the Revs were leading that match 2-0 heading into the final quarter of the game, and a win would have been their fourth on the trot. In the likely absence of 2013 MLS Defender of the Year Jose Goncalves, Jermaine Jones’ conversion to an emergency central defender may continue. That switch has worked out for the Revs, but it does limit the influence the American can have on a game. When the Revs were at their best late last season, on the run that swept them to an MLS Cup Final appearance, Jones was dominating matches in central midfield and allowing freedom for the attackers in New England’s set-up. For TFC, the line-up question is whether Greg Vanney will hand Mark Bloom his first start of the season at right fullback, or persist with Justin Morrow. Bloom has been injured so far this season, often not even travelling with the team, and fans have been calling for his inclusion since Warren Creavalle’s misadventures in the position began the year. Morrow seems to have stabilized things, and switching him to his natural position of left back would bump the re-emergent Ashtone Morgan to the bench. Vanney may prefer to wait to reintegrate Bloom as opportunity or need allow. Fireworks were lit off at the end of Toronto’s match against the Montreal Impact Wednesday night at BMO Field, but it didn’t lift the mood. The Reds had won on the night, but were eliminated from the Canadian Championship due to the away goals tiebreaker. It will be another year without a Voyageur’s Cup, the only real trophy Toronto FC have lifted. That means TFC’s entire season is now about one thing only: finally qualifying for the MLS postseason. With the bottom of the East so awful, a loss in New England wouldn’t seriously damage those chances. Why it should be acceptable is another question.
  5. Three games is the most that Toronto FC has ever won consecutively in MLS action. It first happened back in the spring of 2008 under John Carver, and then again in the early weeks of short Paul Mariner’s tenure in 2012. No other TFC coaches have managed the feat, and the team has never won four league games in a row. Suffice to say, winning has been too rare in Toronto. Even this streak will come with an asterisk if the Reds were to manage to get to four straight victories, as the midweek loss to the Montreal Impact in the Canadian Championship has already interrupted the sequence of wins in all competitions. The bottom half of the Eastern Conference is proving to be as weak as pundits expected in pre-season. In addition to equaling the winning streak record, points in the home opener would also keep TFC pushing away from the struggling sides lurking below them and onto the heels of the respectable portion of the East’s standings. The difference might be marginal, but if the Reds can stay in the mix with the upper-half a playoff position will take care of itself. Until Toronto finally succeeds in crossing that threshold, the doubts created by years of failure create extra pressure the club would do well to avoid. With 17 home games amongst their remaining 27 league matches, Toronto FC has a chance to be a feel good story through the summer if they can simply avoid the sort of extended summer slide that derailed seasons in the team’s early years. Standing in the way of the TFC Sunday is the Houston Dynamo. Newly re-installed in the Western Conference, after four years in the East, the even bigger change is the appointment of a new head coach. Former Burnley, Bolton Wanderers, and Wigan Athletic manager Owen Coyle has replaced the only coach the Dynamo ever had, Dominic Kinnear, for the 2015 season. At one point Coyle was known for producing entertaining sides on limited budgets but his record in the past few years has been, at best, unspectacular. The Dynamo’s selection raised eyebrows around the league as it bucks the trend of prioritizing MLS knowledge when hiring new coaches. The list of failed foreign managers in MLS is long, but probably overstated due to the spectacular flameouts of coaches like Ruud Gullit, Aron Winter, Carlos de los Cobos, and John Carver. The truth is that there have been many mediocre North American coaches in the league’s history, and foreigners like Hans Backe, Gary Smith and even arguably Marco Schallibaum all achieved different degrees of success in difficult environments. Houston will be hoping that Coyle is more like the latter than the former. So far, however, results have been mixed, and trending towards disappointing. The Dynamo have one more point than TFC, but sit one place off bottom in the Western Conference. With a win, the Reds would move ahead of Houston in the combined Supporter’s Shield standings and knock the Dynamo’s points-per-game ratio below one. A PPG that poor would keep a side well out of the playoff race historically. Even with more spots open as a consequence of expanding the playoffs to 12 teams, the Dynamo will not be relevant under Coyle unless that number improves substantially. Winless in their last four, the Dynamo will hope that TFC’s long road trip to start the season has left the Reds vulnerable. For Toronto, opening the rebuilt BMO Field with a win, however, would be an important step to convincing justifiably sceptical fans that the club has finally assembled a team that can compete over the course of an entire season. Three game winning streaks shouldn’t be very special. For Toronto FC, each step towards a playoff spot would be.
  6. Fortunately, the offensive talents of Sebastian Giovinco and the team’s commitment to sending players forward means that they’ve been able to score in all but one game. Until they stop digging a hole for themselves, however, the exasperation around the team’s performances is not going to relent. Exciting losses still net zero points in the standings. Sunday evening the Reds face one of MLS’s two new expansion sides down in Orlando. The Lions sit a few spots above the Reds having collected eight points from their first seven matches in northern North America’s top flight. Coming off of a 3-0 loss in Columbus, the first time they truly looked outclassed so far this season, and still without a home win, expect a fired-up OCSC to try to pour the pressure on early and take advantage of TFC’s penchant for early concessions. When they’ve clicked, the Lions have looked like a team more than capable of hanging around in the fight for the Eastern Conference’s playoff spots. Arguably they’ve lost games they shouldn’t have to both Supporter’s Shield leading Vancouver and co-Eastern table-toppers DC United. Only two weeks ago Orlando waltzed into Portland, didn’t look the least bit phased, and took full points off the Timbers. Obviously the focus is on former Ballon D’Or and FIFA World Player of the Year winner Kaka and the Brazilian has often looked the part so far this season. Three goals and one assist don’t reflect the level of influence he’s been having and if Orlando finds someone to finish the chances he’s generating they’ll almost certainly not keep dropping points when their performances merit more. A player Canadian fans will want to keep an eye out for in that regard is Cyle Larin. The young Canadian international, first overall pick in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft, was used sparingly to begin the season but picked up his first pro goal in Portland with a cheeky chest home of a whipped in cross and seems to be transitioning into a regular starter. If Toronto persists with the tactic of throwing their fullbacks forward the gaps along their right flank, a persistent source of problems, will providing tantalizing space for both Kaka and Brek Shea to operate. Shea’s return to MLS has seen him converted to a left back and it’s likely that Orlando head coach Adrian Heath will have American international ready to turn attack into defence at pace if TFC are caught up the field. For Toronto then, the question is at it has been since almost the beginning of the season: how does Greg Vanney organized his defence. Warren Creavalle is back from suspension and with Mark Bloom still unavailable due to injury and the Nick Hagglund right back experiment seemingly over, it’s possible Creavalle will be given a chance to redeem himself from his horrow-show in Chicago. Alternatively, Vanney may elect to go with what seemed to work in the second half in Dallas and start Justin Morrow on the right. Morrow playing on his wrong foot would seem to signal a more conservative approach to the position, which is exactly what many commentators have been calling for. Orlando City hasn’t always found it easy to convert good soccer into goals. Whether Toronto is the team that helps them solve that problem will go a long way to deciding the outcome of this match. The Reds have the tools to score. If they stop conceding early and often, there’s still every chance that they could end this road trip with a respectable collection of points.
  7. Have a listen! You can listen to this, and all previous, episodes of the podcast on iTunes HERE. Or download it for your later listening delight HERE. We also have an iPhone app, so you can now add our podcast to your phone as an app. Visit the podcast's mobile site HERE and then at the bottom of the screen just click the "Quick Launch" icon and the podcast will be added to your home screen and appear as an app. And if that's not enough, we're on Stitcher Radio Network. Download the app and listen to the AFTN podcast on your device, along with over 20,000 other shows HERE. Or after all that, you could just listen on the player below!
  8. You can listen to this, and all previous, episodes of the podcast on iTunes HERE. Or download it for your later listening delight HERE. We also have an iPhone app, so you can now add our podcast to your phone as an app. Visit the podcast's mobile site HERE and then at the bottom of the screen just click the "Quick Launch" icon and the podcast will be added to your home screen and appear as an app. And if that's not enough, we're on Stitcher Radio Network. Download the app and listen to the AFTN podcast on your device, along with over 20,000 other shows HERE. Or after all that, you could just listen on the player below!
  9. Today, Kevin reviewed the first leg of the Scotiabank's Concacaf Champions League semi final between the Montreal Impact and Liga Deportiva Alajuelense. Plus a preview of the upcoming NE-IMFC game March 21st at 3pm! Until next time, have a great soccer! @OfftheWoodworkx @KevLaramee https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC6bNyHzmwJBjFCanw4n-0Tw https://www.patreon.com/twosolitudes5rings?rf=361554&ty=2 https://itunes.apple.com/ca/podcast/off-woodworkx-soccer-podcast/id644040569?mt=2 https://www.stitcher.com/s?fid=37443&refid=stpr http://feeds.feedburner.com/rapidfeeds/iekP https://facebook.com/OfftheWoodworkx offthewoodworkx@hotmail.com
  10. The Crew enter off of an opening day loss in Houston. The 1-0 score line was a harsh reflection on Columbus, however, as they outshot the Dynamo 18 to 8 and only a strong performance by Tyler Deric in Houston’s goal kept the Crew off the board. The Crew looked far from a spent force and with star Argentine Federico Higuain back in the fold for another season it’s hard to see them as anything but likely contenders for a playoff spot in an expansion weakened Eastern Conference. The Crew’s big addition since their last meeting with Toronto is returning MLS regular Kei Kamara. The former Sporting Kansas City player had tried his luck in England for a season-and-a-half but left Middlesbrough last summer. Though signed before the end of the 2014 season Kamara had to wait until 2015 to actually be eligible to play. With Sporting, Kamara was part of a powerful and athletic forward line that constantly pressed opposing defenders when out of possession. Crew head coach Gregg Berhalter likely intends to use those attributes to create pockets of space for Higuain to operate in throughout the season. Versus the Whitecaps last weekend, Toronto initially had trouble dealing with long balls played into space, particularly behind the advancing Warren Creavalle on the right. Against the Crew, the need to keep compacting the gap between defence and midfield to deny Higuain his preferred zones of operation might lead to a similar high line. Whether Kamara can force the Toronto centrebacks to drop deeper, opening space for Higuain behind him, should be a key tactical battle in the match. For TFC, the question is whether the opening 30 minutes in Vancouver were the out of character stretch, or were representative of problems finding a balance that integrates their new attackers into the side. Greg Vanney earned a lot of credit for the way the Reds changed their shape in the second half and ultimately the direction the game seemed to be heading. That erased memories of just how disorganized TFC looked during that opening period. Against better finishing than Vancouver’s Toronto could have been three goals down in that period. Regardless of shape and tactics, however, one thing TFC does have in spades this season is talent. The pass from Sebastian Giovinco to Jozy Altidore and the American’s calm finish, that levelled the score before halftime, showed that sometimes simply putting a whole bunch of good players on the field together is all it takes. That’s not something the Reds will want to rely on – over the course of a season organization counts for a lot in a league with MLS’s parity of talent – but it provides a way to get results even when things aren’t going perfectly. As the saying goes, goals win games, and if Altidore and Giovinco are scoring, Toronto doesn’t have to be perfect to win.
  11. Now, in discussions of Toronto FC, the concept of continuity is a relative measure. With Greg Vanney TFC has the same head coach starting the season who ended the previous, but that head coach has still only been in charge for ten meager games. And, right down the spine of the team, Toronto fans will get their first real chance to see a host of new faces in action. Up-front, if pre-season is any guide, fans should expect an entirely new group of forwards to start at BC Place tomorrow. Sebastian Giovinco was among the signature signings of the off-season across the league. With the further addition of American internationals Jozy Altidore and Robbie Findley the Reds have added a degree of MLS experience that was notably absent from 2014’s “Bloody Big Deal”. Neither Altidore nor Findley should be expected to offer the pure goal scoring prowess Toronto had on paper last year, but neither should they expect to deal with problems adapting or a lack of season-long commitment. In Toronto’s final preseason game, against an under-23 team admittedly, the arrangement of all three as attackers, rather than a front two, started to see the generation of opportunities, and a couple nice goals, that the money invested there should warrant. Whether to keep Giovinco as the centre forward in that alignment, move him to the wing, or recess him as a second striker, is probably Greg Vanney’s biggest decision. It will be interesting to watch, as the season progresses, whether that becomes a game-to-game evaluation to adapt to different opponents, or if the team settles into a regular formation instead. For all the turnover up top, however, there is a reasonable argument that TFC’s biggest signings may turn out to be Benoit Cheyrou in midfield and Damien Perquis in defence. It is likely not coincidental that most of Toronto’s problems in 2014 accelerated during then captain Steven Caldwell’s absence from the centre of defence for a long stretch of the summer. Forced to rely on younger players, the Reds leaked too many goals, fell into turmoil as their seemingly safe playoff position evaporated, and ended up in the typical-TFC-chaos of seasons past by September. With the addition of Perquis, TFC will be able to play two experienced centrebacks and have cover in case either one of them is absent. While Nick Hagglund will be relied on, there’s much less of a chance that he’ll be starting beside another player even younger than him. In midfield meanwhile, it’s all about finding the balance that will allow Michael Bradley the chance to exert the influence he showed himself capable of towards the start of 2014. To that end, the preseason contributions of Cheyrou, a regular for Marseille in the French Ligue 1, has caught the attention of close observers. From what he has shown so far Cheyrou has a level of technical quality, consistency, and tactical awareness not regularly seen in Toronto’s midfield. Cheyrou’s introduction has the effect of pushing a 2014 regular, Collen Warner, to the bench. Like Hagglund, rather than the wholesale chop-and-change that has characterized TFC so often, it is this sort of evolution that will hopefully provide a stable base for Toronto in the coming season. So, while as many as five or six of the team’s 11 regular starters may differ from those that finished the year last October, the supporting cast at least know each other’s names. Whether it's players like Mark Bloom, Daniel Lovitz, or Jackson, that supporting cast may not be decisive on Saturday, but over the course of an MLS season their role has proven to be essential.
  12. Probability. That’s what it’s really about though. And the truth is that it’s damn hard to estimate. Much, much harder than you’d think. Even smart people, who are supposed to have expertise in a subject, get it shockingly wrong depending on how you ask them. The human brain just has too many biases – mental shortcuts it likes to take – to make accurate perception of unlikely events something that anyone is innately good at. Read Daniel Kahneman’s seminal book Thinking, Fast and Slow if you’re interested or don’t believe me. But one thing humans are blessed with is the faculty of reason. It’s harder, it generally takes longer, and it’s rarely fun, but it is something we can get better at. When we need to, we can slow down and actually reason out an answer. This is particularly effective if you’ve learned tools that you can apply your reason to. So, is that statement I started with actually reasonable? Just how much of a miracle will it be if Toronto FC, a team that makes losing special, actually pulls off a great escape from further infamy? Well, the first thing to remember is that a (non-knockout) soccer game has three, rather than two, potential outcomes: win, loss, or draw. It seems obvious, but people often forget that last one when they start an ad hoc mental estimate. Draws are important because, unlike most other major team sports, they’re really common in modern, low-scoring soccer. Keep in mind, TFC will be eliminated with the loss or draw of either of their next two games, or if Columbus win or draw either of theirs. So, right from the beginning, we can do a very basic calculation. How many permutations of results involving Toronto FC and the Columbus Crew exist with two rounds left in the season? That’s two games for Toronto, and two games for the Crew. Each one has three possible outcomes. TFC needs the exact correct outcome in every single one, or they’ll miss the playoffs for the eighth consecutive year. (1/3)*(1/3)*(1/3)*(1/3) = 1 / (3^4) = 1/81 There are 81 possible results. TFC makes the playoffs in one of them. 1:81 . That’s it. That “we win two, they lose two” scenario your brain has such an easy time conjuring? There are 80 other possible outcomes you haven’t taken the time to consider. Converted into a percentage it’s about 1.23%. Assume an equal chance of a win, loss, or draw in each match, and TFC has a 1.23% chance of making the playoffs. “But Mike, there isn’t an equal chance of a win, a draw, or a loss in each game! Teams don’t draw one-third of the time!” I hear you, I hear you! And you’re absolutely right. So let’s refine our analysis a little, no? I’ve taken the time to pull some data from MLS’s official site. To date, in 2014, at the time of writing before Portland and RSL kickoff, there have been 84 draws in 305 MLS games this season. That’s about 27.5%. So less than one-third, but actually not all that far off. How does that number change our analysis? Well the formula is ((1-0.275)*5)^4 . In words: (The chance of there not being a draw times the chance the team TFC needs to win does) repeated four times. Remember, any draw, in any of the four relevant matches, eliminates TFC. AND Toronto needs the right team to win in each match. It’s not encouraging, but it’s better than before, and works out to a 1.7% chance of making the playoffs. Hey, that’s almost 1 in 50! Roll on, TFC! Now, the chance of drawing the above is premised on is for the entire league. Maybe we should just look at TFC and Columbus? It turns out that the chance of a draw in one of their games this season is 26.6%. So really, not all that different than the league stat. For all of Chicago’s attempts to redefine what we think possible in terms of drawing, it really hasn’t shifted the overall likelihood very much. That points to a stability in all these numbers that we should store in the back of our head. And it does put TFC’s chances of making the playoffs all the way up to 1.8% using our last formula! Baby steps. “But Mike, there’s not a 50/50 chance that either team will win, even in a non-draw… Surely TFC has a better than 50% of beating the Impact! And home teams always win more than away teams.” Okay, you got me again. I’m going to have to go a step further. Fortunately, the fine folks at ESPNFC.com, when they’re not not correcting silly Jermain Defoe blog pieces, present MLS’s table split for home-and-away. That makes it possible to calculate both team-specific and overall numbers for the chance of: a home win, a home draw, a home loss, an away win, an away draw, and an away loss. As Ben Knight used to write, “onward!” Overall, in MLS in 2014, the home team wins 48.2% of the time. They lose 24.3 % of the time. As above, games end in draws 27.5% of the time. I’ll let you figure out what that means for away teams… Considering that, in sequence, we need 1 home win (TFCvMTL), 1 home win (NYRvCMB), 1 away win (NERvTFC), and then another 1 away win (CMBvPHI) the math is pretty simple. It’s just 0.482 * 0.482 * 0.243 * 0.243 = 0.014 = 1.4%. Oh. Oh, that’s bad again. Maybe it’ll get better if we figure out the team-specific numbers? Here’s Columbus: home win 50%, home draw 25%, home loss 25%, away win 25%, away draw 37.5%, away loss 37.5%. Toronto FC: home win 43.8%, home draw 12.5%, home loss 43.8%, away win 25%, away draw 31.3%, away loss 43.8%. (TFC’s numbers not totalling to 1 is a rounding error. The formulas use more precise values.) Now, we need a TFC home win, a Crew away loss, a TFC road win, and then a Crew home loss. That’s 0.438 * 0.375 * 0.25 * 0.25 = 0.01 = 1%. That’s really bad! A 1:100 shot. Maybe we should have stopped back at the simple analysis after all! It’s worth noting that this is probably close to how sportsclubstats.com is generating their estimate as well. Okay, okay, okay! I can hear it already! Yes, TFC is playing Montreal. Montreal is terrible and hasn’t won a game on the road all season. Heck, they’ve barely drawn. And Columbus has to go to New York who haven’t lost at home in however many straight home games! That does count for something, but how do we model it? A simple way would be to look at each opponent’s relevant team-specific number and average the two values. For instance, Montreal has lost 12 of 16 away games, or 75%. TFC’s chance of a home win (0.438), times Montreal’s chance of an away loss (0.75), over two, or (0.438+0.75)/2 = 0.594 = 59.4% . Call it 60% for clarity. Maybe TFC has a chance after all? The Red Bulls have won 10 of 16 home games so for their match versus Columbus the calculation is (0.625+0.375)/2 = 0.5 = 50%. New England have lost 25% of their home games, the same percentage of away games that TFC have won, however, so that value doesn’t change at all. It’s the same with Philly’s away wins of 25%. That’s the same as the Crew’s home losses, so there’s no change there either. Plugging in the revised “crappy Montreal” and “good New York” numbers does improve TFC’s chances though. 0.60 * 0.50 * 0.25 * 0.25 = 0.019 = 1.9%!!!! There you go folks, TFC has gotten within touching distance of the 1:50 threshold! Now you could go even further and add a subjective component like motivation, or form, and play around with those base numbers. I’ve done it, and even using the most generous estimates possible you’ve got to really stretch credulity to get Toronto even close to a 5% chance of making the playoffs. And the reality is, that’s probably the wrong way to be estimating because the father you pull away from the underlying base rates of the entire league, the less you’re allowing for regression to the mean. When you get right down to it, TFC probably has somewhere between a 1:50 and a 1:100 chance of making the playoffs. That’s not nothing, but it really shows how much of a miracle it’ll be if it happens. You don’t have to stop cheering, or stop hoping – that is the big virtue of how deceptively simple “we win two, they lose two” is – but just don’t be too surprised if it doesn’t work out. I mean, it is TFC we’re talking about. Oh yeah, and Defoe’s “injured”, Bradley’s suspended, and the rumors are TFC is trying to add a big pile of stupid to their already existing collection. Fun times. Correction (14/10/18, 11:15 a.m. ET): An earlier version of this article incorrectly substituted the chance of a Columbus home win for the correct chance of a Columbus away loss in calculating the team-specific averaged base rate of Columbus not losing in New York. The correct value has now been substituted, the calculation adjusted, and subsequent paragraphs modified. It turns out that TFC has an even worse chance of making the playoffs than the original article estimated. Yippee!
  13. Which brings up an interesting question: should Toronto FC fans even want their team to win tonight? Incredibly, even after the seemingly devastating loss to Houston, the Reds still control their own destiny. The chance of actually hosting a first ever playoff game at BMO Field was diminished substantially, but the route to at least getting a foot in the playoffs is still within their absolute control. It’s easy to see what would happen too. A win in New York would have TFC right back on the Red Bulls heels, and maybe even back over the red line depending on Columbus’ result in Philadelphia. The PR machine would go into overdrive again ahead of the final home game of the season versus Montreal. It’d be a truly meaningful final game of the season at BMO Field for only the second time in the club’s history. As I’ve written all summer, it’s what we said we wanted. But is that really a rollercoaster we want to climb back on board? After the long, slow post-World Cup decline, and the newest incidence of self-inflicted management turmoil, how many Reds supporters, among those still paying attention, can state with no equivocation that they believe this team even deserves to be in the playoffs? Consider: this is the same team that started the season by beating the (for now) Supporter’s Shield leading Seattle Sounders, and Eastern Conference leading DC United. It’s worth remembering that the victory over United didn’t even seem impressive at the time. Heading to New York, the obvious allusion is to the most famous disaster in TFC history, the infamous final day 5-0 loss in 2009. If I’m being honest, however, this doesn’t remind me of that time at all. Back then, there was no equivocation about the desire to win, or doubt that the Reds could do it. New York were having a historically awful season, and with the preceding win over Real Salt Lake it seemed like Toronto had all the momentum. Part of why that loss was so devastating was that it destroyed the narrative that TFC was, however slowly, at least going in the right direction. Now, five years later, failure has come to define the TFC experience. So, rather than New York ’09, the feeling I’m reminded of as we head into the last few weeks of the regular season is the depths of the awful in early 2012. By losing their first 9 games of the season Toronto FC did something historic. It’s a record that is likely to stand for years, and may never be eclipsed. And the truth is that, once it got started, it became more interesting to see how bad it could get. When I was in really dark moods I even enjoyed seeing the implicit hubris of Aron Winter’s project punished. Warped as it may have been, there was a morality to watching team after team defeat TFC. Toronto’s other big record is not having made the playoffs for seven straight years. It’s a foundational element of what people understand the club to be. At this point, with the way 2014 has gone, would barely scraping into the playoffs really be more satisfying than adding an eighth consecutive year to that record? Frankly, it just wouldn’t feel very TFC. That’s not how you’re supposed to feel about your team, but it’s honest. Toronto FC aren’t “loveable losers” like the Chicago Cubs, or plucky underdogs toiling against superior opponents. They’re the arrogant rich kid who is the stubborn architect of their own demise. The ancient Greeks would have understood: TFC aren’t a comedy, they’re a tragedy. Of course, having said all that, Toronto FC could win tonight. New York will be missing players, and are hardly invincible. A successful three game run-in to the playoffs would be out of character (and out of nowhere) but it would certainly be exciting. I’m sure I, along with every other TFC supporter, would be swept along with it. It is a chance to redefine the TFC experience. But if, as is more likely, it doesn’t end up happening? I’m not sure it’s fair to call what I’ll feel disappointment.
  14. And there is little suggestion that LA, already qualified for the playoffs, have reason to take their foot of the pedal. Considering TFC’s game-in-hand against all of the sides they’re chasing in the Eastern Conference standings it’s clear that the Reds actually have the larger margin-of-error. For Toronto, points in this match are a bonus, rather than a necessity. In comparison, the Galaxy are tied atop the standings with the Sounders in what has boiled down to a two-horse race for the Supporter’s Shield. The Sounders have already bagged this year’s US Open Cup and, with the chance of a historic domestic treble, it’s unlikely LA will simply cede the second major honour of the season. The right to play for the biggest prize of the season, MLS Cup, won’t be decided until November – and Arena has proven a master of dashing Seattle’s ambitions therein – but the games before then are the latest manifestation of the rivalry between Arena and Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid. The Sounders and Galaxy will meet in decisive back-to-back games to end the season but dropping points at home to Toronto FC before then would be less than advantageous in the build-up to that series. From a Toronto FC perspective, the other interesting subplot to the match is that, unless they somehow meet in the MLS Cup Final, this is the last time Reds supporters will see their team face Landon Donovan. The California native announced that he would be retiring at the end of the season earlier this year bringing a seemingly premature end to what has probably been the most successful MLS career in the league’s emerging history. Even more than David Beckham (who had his fans), Landon Donovan was, amongst TFC fans, probably the most reviled player in MLS when the Reds commenced play back in 2007. Donovan’s intimate association with the American national team and poster-boy of American soccer status practically made him an avatar for most of the things that early Toronto fan culture made a specific point of rejecting. The worst songs and loudest boos were always reserved for Donovan when he visited BMO Field. It may just be my own perception, but the sense I get is that much of that loathing has subsided in the seven years since. The reality is that for all the accusations of entitlement, watching Donovan, and seeing what he has meant to the growth of MLS, has made it much harder to hold a grudge. No fair minded observer can argue that he hasn’t been successful, be it in MLS, with the U.S. national team, or even in his stints in the Premier League. If the last match Donovan plays versus TFC has a final irony it is this: with Donovan’s surprising and controversial omission from the American World Cup squad it is actually the Canadian side that will field an American World Cup star. Toronto FC fans, who once specifically despised Donovan precisely for his American role, can only hope that Michael Bradley can do for their side what Donovan has done for the Galaxy. It’s a strange and unlikely change in perspective, but hopefully says something about the maturation of the Toronto fan base and the club’s too long delayed nestling into the conventions of MLS. Certainly, years of trying to do things their own way never proved successful.
  15. Chivas truly are as close to a dead-club-walking as you’re likely to find. For the players and club officials, there have been questions of motivation since the beginning of the season, but a brief mid-season up-tick seemed to herald the possibility of respectability if not playoff relevance. Since then regular service has resumed. The Goats have lost five straight matches and haven’t won since July 12th. In total they’ve only taken 1 point from the last 30 available. At this point it’s as pitiable as TFC during their 2012 worst. Former Seattle Sounder captain Mauro Rosales escaped football purgatory in Southern California in a trade that saw Nigel Reo-Coker head down from Vancouver. Reo-Coker once captained West Ham United in the Premier League. Now, after not being able to hold down a spot in the Whitecaps central midfield on DP wages and being reduced to a sometimes right back, he’s playing out the string on a team that won’t even exist next year. Missing Rosales, Chivas will also be absent their one exciting star Erick “Cubo” Torres. The young Mexican forward has regularly been the only thing that made them worth watching and his 14 goals in league play earned him a first cap for the full Mexican national team earlier this month. Even Torres hasn’t scored since July 20th, however, and is suspended for the match against TFC. Reds fans will likely get the chance to see former-favourite-of-some Eric Avila. Memorable for his occasional role in Toronto’s epic run to the Concacaf Champion’s League semi-final, Avila has spent the past two seasons with Chivas USA. Last season seemed to herald the possibility of a breakout at one point when Avila managed three goals and two assists but this season has seen a return to his more traditional level of production with no goals and a mere one assist. Probably the most remarkable thing is that Avila has managed to hang around in MLS for seven seasons, logging over 8000 minutes in that time, without ever living up to the hopes of those willing to give him an opportunity. So everything seems to set-up nicely for a Toronto FC side desperately in need of a win. Winless in six themselves, the Reds are the only team threatening Chivas for futility over the past month. The club has certainly acknowledge the mounting pressure and started a full-on marketing blitz to re-engage with a fan base left reeling after another bout of “only in Toronto” instability since the turn from August to September. The controversial end to Toronto’s match in Chicago changed the discussion from another week of exposition of the team’s faults and, if the official line is to be believed, could serve as a rallying cry. As bad as the last five weeks have been, it’ll only take a couple wins to see TFC right back in the playoff race. Thoughts of third place and avoiding the knockout round are now a pipedream, but for Toronto, simply getting any post-season action would still represent a degree of success. The potential return of captain Steven Caldwell could be vital to those chances. Scotland may have voted to stay part of the United Kingdom, but the truth is that Toronto FC might need their Scottish centre back more than Scots need England. Greg Vanney’s tactics haven’t stopped TFC from conceding goals and have probably been fortunate not to allow more. Caldwell’s organizational abilities seem essential if that trend is going to change. The opportunity to start the salvage of a season is there. They say they’re not giving up. Sunday afternoon those words will be tested. The playoff line moved a little farther away Saturday night and if TFC really want fans to believe that the playoffs are possible, it will take more than words to convince.
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