August 24, 2009
TFC different team on road
By GARETH WHEELER, SUN MEDIA
Toronto FC on the road is neither fun nor fierce.
It is lost.
TFC's 2-0 loss at Chivas USA on Saturday night goes down with the Houston and Real Salt Lake debacles of TFC being completely outplayed, outworked and outcoached.
With a week off after their best team performance in recent memory, TFC coming out so flat in a crucial game is as puzzling as frustrating.
It's fair to suggest that TFC simply lost to a better team. The West is stacked and it is looking more likely that six playoffs teams will come out of that division. Still, the demoralizing manner in which TFC struggled gives little hope for a better result Saturday in Seattle. The Sounders' form has dipped in recent weeks, prompting veteran goalkeeper Kasey Keller to question the on-field maturity of his teammates. Still, Seattle has 22 points at home and a plus-10 goal differential.
And it will be that much more difficult for TFC with Adrian Serioux and Carl Robinson out with yellow card accumulations. Serioux, particularly, will be missed. He is the anchor in an otherwise shaky back line and is TFC's only physical presence. Emmanuel Gomez, 18, has done well, but matching up against the highly talented Fredy Montero and the sizeable target of Nate Jaqua will make for a long day.
Also, Amado Guevara isn't healthy enough to play at full capacity. Guevara has been struggling through injury and needs rest.
Of even more concern is that, with five road games remaining, points are a must if a Major League Soccer playoff berth is to be gained. Even its final-day visit against the woeful New York Red Bulls does not seem like sure points. Winning on the road in soccer is a challenge, especially in MLS with its cross-continent travel.
When players struggle, good teams rely on their system. TFC's late-game meltdowns -- and/or not showing up at all -- suggest tactics are to blame. There is no balance on the field. Players float around too freely, sacrificing positional alignment. Marking suffers in the process.
An effective road system is supposed to be based on solid defence and counter-attack. TFC cannot play that way.
At home, it dictates the pace of a game. Its less-disciplined defensive approach -- attack and break down teams that play deep -- suits its personnel and hybrid formation.
Manager Chris Cummins has to find a better game scheme to foster consistency in his team's play, both home and away. Cummins is good at working with young players, but has not shown the tactical prowess and in-game management the team needs to improve.
Opportunity for MLS
The news that the United Soccer Leagues is up for sale screams opportunity for MLS, which would be short-sighted not to do whatever it takes to gain control of North America's other professional soccer league as a clear-cut path towards a two-division promotion-relegation setup, much like the rest of the soccer world.
But first, MLS would have to ditch its strict salary-cap system that holds teams hostage in development. Individual clubs would be free to decide their own ambition.
The thought of New York or Los Angeles playing in a lower division would make league executives cringe. Revenues clearly would suffer. But if the big clubs could spend to stay up, this would not be an issue.
How refreshing would it be to get rid of meaningless games or playing out the string? The strongest would survive -- the way sport is supposed to be.
Most importantly, a promotion-relegation system would go a long way to further developing soccer culture this side of the Atlantic.
MLS' commitment toward this end should be questioned. This season's abolition of reserve teams and shrinking rosters does not suggest MLS is in a position to effectively manage a promotion-relegation system or speak to having long-term vision.