TFC continues to struggle

GARETH WHEELER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:45 AM ET

It was a sea of red and yellow at BMO Field on Saturday.

The red: As per usual, the masses wearing their red Toronto FC jerseys. The yellow: A noticeable amount of extra security and Metro's finest peppered through the stands after complaints of bad behaviour, during and after Toronto FC's previous home game on Sept. 13.

Let's put an end to this whole "hooliganism" thing; It's not happening here, and any perceived crowd problems have been grossly exaggerated.

It's unbelievable this story has lasted this long. And it's sad that when people who aren't soccer fans talk about TFC, they're discussing the off-the-field issues.

But maybe the team itself can take responsibility for the lack of on-field storylines which would overshadow any extracurricular activities.

TFC's second season was supposed to shed the label of expansion, and thus shed the label of pushover. After a promising start to the season, that script looked to be being written.

Instead, for the second consecutive year, supporters are left without a team competing for a playoff spot, and not even a CONCACAF Champions League competition to get excited about.

It has been the same story since the team's inception: Players scattered through the lineup with varying levels of promise and abilities, but the team unable to come together as a collective to make any noticeable improvement.

The biggest issue for the team isn't all about individual talent; it's their poor positional play.

This is something manager John Carver continues to work hard on with his squad during training, but the results are negligible.

Attacking-wise, the team doesn't consistently use the width of the field properly. The most success the team has from the outside comes when Marvell Wynne goes forward from his right-back position.

Wynne has the wheels to do damage attacking and the ability to get on the score-sheet (as seen Saturday), but it doesn't happen regularly enough to make a difference for the full 90 minutes. The team needs more, and obviously relies on Wynne to stay true to his defensive responsibilities.

And when you're looking for more width, that has to come from the outside midfielders. The players on the right and left side of the midfield aren't doing a good enough job sustaining pressure down the wings. Crosses and service have been a problem, and so has speed and the ability to stretch the field. So instead of creating space, they're taking it up, as they're prone to keep coming inside, making spacing a problem in the middle of the park.

Spacing isn't only a problem through the middle, but a huge issue up and down the field. Whether it's between the defence and midfield, or midfield and strikers, there always is too much room between positions, hurting the team's ability to function as a unit. There very rarely is sufficient support for the strikers when trying to hold up the ball and the offence predictably becomes all-too-sloppy.

But quite frankly, the poor positional play from an attacking perspective pales in comparison to the organizational issues TFC struggles with defensively. On Saturday, TFC was fortunate to avoid damage on numerous occasions when the defence was caught out, or caught flat; something that is a reoccurring issue.

Who should shoulder the responsibility for keeping the back-four organized? Whoever is playing the sweeper position; or when no sweeper, it's the alpha-dog of the centreback.

For TFC, that's Tyrone Marshall, and clearly he's not the man to keep the back four operating as a cohesive unit.

More of a hindrance than Marshall's lack of speed is his lack of vision. As a physical force, Marshall is fine, but putting the responsibility on him of commandeering the defensive unit is misguided.

The TFC coaching staff did one positive thing, relegating Marco Velez to the bench. It has been apparent for quite some time that he and Marshall couldn't play beside one another. But now the problem is TFC hasn't decided who can play beside Marshall.

The one player who seems like a logical fit in a holding centreback role is Carl Robinson.

Praised in some circles, but oft-criticized in others, Robinson seems more comfortable working from a deeper position. The Welshman hasn't been able to influence the game like TFC would have liked going forward. As an organizer and a player who can evaluate the game, TFC has nobody better.

A combination of Robinson, and developmental player Nana Attakora-Gyan could form an intriguing centre-back duo going forward. The partnership of Attakora-Gyan, who has shone when given the chance, and Robinson would have a learning curve in that role, but isn't it worth the risk?

That is what playing out the stretch is all about.


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