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Monday, November 10, 2014

THE STARTING 11: Signs that this TFC season wasn't as bad as everyone thinks


Get used to it you cesspool reading vocal minority. You negative Nellys (see what we did there?) need to look on the bright side of life with TFC. Like... it hasn't been 10 years without playoffs... yet. And stuff like that! Yes 2014 may have dropped out of the unzipped Vanney Pack and hit the soon-to-be-Argos turf with a thud, but this season had some tremendous positives as well. Like so...

11. Michael Bradley's optometrist has finally gotten over his fear of staring at another human in the eyes

10. "Yo mama" jokes found new life late in the season

9. Tim Leiweke stopped showing up to fan events in a size "Medium" TFC track suit jacket

8. Projected intra-squad headbutting incidents fell well short of pre-season fears

7. MLSE saved a bunch of money on their car insurance

6. British Airways frequent flier miles are through the roof!

5. Chris Konopka didn't once climb the CN Tower in order to swat at bi-planes

4. We can go to sleep at night with the image of Julio Cesar weeping gently in a tiny towel burned into our minds

3. Zero invisible cheques signed

2. The Reds finally reached their goal of becoming a feeder club to one of Cyprus' top ten clubs

1. Managers were capped at two

Monday, November 3, 2014

THE STARTING 11: Obvious Questions Omitted From The End-of-season Presser


Though everyone's favourite TFC fake news outlet was totally invited and even had our press passes FedEx'd over, we couldn't possibly make it due to our prior engagements and all of those other end of season press conferences we had to cover, the outro interviews came and passed with slightly more than a whimper, but a plethora of typical soundbytes. In the spirit of hard hitting journalism (from the back of the room, possibly while donning ski-masks), we give you the questions that we're too difficult to answer... or ask.

11. "Mr. DeRosario, are you SURE this is where and how you want to go out?"

10. "Mr. Bloom, can you say whether Michael Bradley has made an offer for your personal butler/valet services on the condition of Defoe's departure?"

9. "Joe Bendik, any truth to the rumour that you'll be on the undercard for the WWE Royal Rumble in January when you face off against Felipe?"

8. "T-Bez, as a believer in analytics of complex statistics, remind us again how the coaching replacement was the right move?  It seems the stats of winning, points and goals for all decreased dramatically right around the start of September."

7. "Doneil, it isn't that fucking APOEL you're going to, is it?"*

6. "Someone mentioned that Luke Moore has been on the panel for the last hour and answered one question out of nowhere.  Can anyone confirm this?"

5. "Nick Hagglund, on this line-up sheet, the word defender is crossed out and center forward is written above it. Are you sure you want this?"

4. "Hey Gilberto, with all of the other DPs skipping out for surgeries in their home countries, what secret surgery are you planning to get done back in Brazil?"

3. "Mrs. Defoe, since you can get your son out of here, is there anything you can do for Jackson?"

2. "Hi Greg, would you agree, philosophically speaking, that you can move forward and downward at the same time, yes?"

1. "To the Tims, have you been adding to the Big Book of Toronto FC Excuses and are you planning on selling copies of it to other expansions teams, or are you expecting them to dwarf this clubs accomplishments by their first five seasons?"

* = not a held view, generally indifferent to the Cypriot league

Monday, October 27, 2014

THE STARTING 11: Things that TFC supporters are most looking forward to


The final match of a losing season is often used by football clubs as a chance to try a few different things and give a few youngsters a run-out as a prelude to brighter days. Supporters can often find crumbs of solace in these displays to warm them through the off-season. TFC finished their losing season (8 in a Series of 30) with another thrilling night of VanneyBall (TM) and left the supporters with these great morsels of optimism as we head towards 2015...

11.

10.

9.

8.

7.  They probably can't jack up our seat prices.

6.

5.

4.

3.

2.

1.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

THE SOUTH COUCH REPORT - New England v Toronto... or just 90 more minutes until I can forget this mess...


Look at that. Seattle just won the supporters shield. Hard to believe that they've only been in the league for 14 years.  It would be embarassing if they had only been around for, say, 6 seasons. 

I love the notion of sitting at home and jealously pining over the other clubs in the league. I just want to taste success.  Not because being a day-one season ticket holder, but because it's been long enough.  Far too long.

Aside from tearing open a wound that has yet to heal, it was nice to see supporters celebrating something other than beating Columbus or pizza for a row. 

I'm looking to enjoy this match and the best way to ensure that is to see Lee Nguyen smash a brace, Fagundez bag one, and see Sea-Green Bunbury get sent off for something trivial.  And also to see more unnecessary cliches from Vanney.  Wouldn't be a tradition without it.

Onto the "match":

9' - Gilberto nearly bags a classic as Oduro crosses one in from out of bounds (gridlines) and scissors one that richochets off the crossbar.

17' - Lovitz takes a cross, marauds into the box and lets a good shot fly, stopped by the keeper. Adventurous. I like.

36' - GOAL - Nguyen bags one on a clear off-side through ball and now the traditional 'red shirts circling the ref' moment of the game. Nice goal, but it shouldn't happen.
EVOLUTION 1, ROBINS 0

60' - YELLOW - Morrow gets booked for something.  Probably fair and level headed.

61' - Nguyen is subbed off. No more of that bullshit-MVP-magician crap he's been pulling for the last few months.  Surprised the league lets him gets away with it. 

62' - SUB - Speaking of magician-crap, lesser wizard Luke Moore comes on for Lovitz.

69' - This near penalty is brought to you by The Caldwell Arms Bar & Grill. This week's special - wings.

71' - SUB - Warner comes on for Creavalle.  Good thing you're going for the win and have the goal scorer from last week... you know what? Who cares... #concede

74' - Moore with a nice header, forcing Shuttleworth to push it over his own crossbar

90' - SUB - Oduro comes off for Weideman

2 minutes of extra time and then this shit is over

FULL TIME : NEW ENGLAND 1, TORONTO 0

Player Ratings : Bendik D/C, Bloom D/C, Caldwell D/C, Henry D/C, Morrow D/C, Bekker D/C, Bradley D/C, Warner D/C [Creavalle  D/C], Orduro D/C [Weideman 8], Gilberto D/C,, Lovitz D/C [Moore D/C]

* D/C : Don't Care

@ignirtoq is relieved that this season can now have its plug pulled, and can be rid of himself of this team for a season.  If time heals all wounds, and talking opens them, it's only a matter of time before someone from TFC says something to remind him how much bullshit he's taken all season

Monday, October 20, 2014

Hard Core No-go? Is TFC's "solid core group" as promising as we are being sold?


Disclaimer: This article is written on the likely naive assumption that Toronto FC will not completely dissolve the current squad and start all over again. Again.

There really wasn't a reason for us to add to the plethora of TFC vs. Montreal post-mortems that are already out there. It is what it is and that is bad. We fully expected The Reds to torture us further by extending their pathetic "mathematically still in it" pandering a week longer but at least we were spared that. It was obvious a month ago this team was not going to the post-season; so we move on. Again.

Looking to next year is an annual tradition with Toronto FC - we have now heard eight versions of how next year will be different. The lather, rinse, repeat phrase going into Season Nine from our venerable TFC "leadership" seems to be "we have a good solid core group" going forward. Great! That sounds solid and stuff... right?

TFC supporters have been sold many bold promises in the past but is this one any different? Has some kind of long-term foundation actually been set? Judgments like these are of course quite subjective so we can only offer what we feel and with that, we venture to look forward to the near future. Is TFC's "core group" a hard chewy centre or more of a gooey middle? Splitting the team into broad sections, we pop 2015 into our mouth and consider the likely candidates that The Vanney Pack would consider hard-"core".

GOALKEEPERS
Little trouble here as Joe Bendik is a solid, if not spectacular, minder. A good shot-stopper on par with most of his peers in MLS. His distribution is still sub-standard at times and his penchant for booting the ball as hard and far as possible needs improvement but in the grand scheme of TFC ills this isn't critical. He won't win you too many matches alone but nor will he lose too many. It is fair to consider Super Pickle Joe as a solid piece... even if he does make nearly the same amount of money now as Stefan Frei.

DEFENDERS
While this was touted as an area of vast improvement this season, it was also an area that had the most glaring holes when absences exposed its lack of depth. The utterly reliable Justin Morrow (who is this site's club MVP for 2014) is about as close to a "solid MLS" defender as we've seen in Toronto. At 27-years-old, we should hope to see TFC retain Morrow for a few seasons.

In the middle is where things seem far more fragile. You simply cannot underestimate club Captain Steven Caldwell's veteran influence over the young charges around him. His lengthy spell on the injured-list ushered in a period of defensive miscues that helped the club usher Ryan Nelsen out the door. That being said, Caldwell himself had a few nightmare moments this season and his aging body battered by his robust style will probably only be effective for one more season.

Nick Hagglund and Doneil Henry are good, young, raw pieces whose trajectories went on a roller-coaster ride this season. Hagglund seems to have the basic tools and physicality to become a solid MLS defender but needs the mental and tactical seasoning that only experience delivers. Using his amount of minutes played as an indication of readiness is likely a fallacy as it was injuries and shallow depth that forced his usage. A future core member perhaps, however he would not yet be considered as such on most other MLS clubs.

As for Doneil Henry, the big Brampton-native continues his enigmatic path to somewhere. The season started with him looking like the permanent apprentice to Caldwell yet he kept finding ways to stumble in the eyes of his managers. While we are all aware of the knack Henry has for making the wrong decision at the exact moment the spotlight shines on him, the amount of vitriol aimed at him has been misplaced. There remains the prospect of a solid defender there. However, if whispers are to be believed, his future may not be in Toronto FC red whether you believe him to be a piece of the core or not.

The supporting cast of defenders such as Warren Creavalle, Mark Bloom and Ashtone Morgan range anywhere between useful depth and expansion draft fodder. Some great pieces to hang onto for the bench but by no means should they be mistaken for integral members of a club's foundation. This part of the pitch will need considerable reinforcement.

MIDFIELDERS
We will mention Michael Bradley first as he is obviously the be-all-and-end-all of what Toronto FC is building around. A dominant force when he is at his best, the American international is obviously the lynchpin for the club. While his play has not been up to his standard for stretches this season, it has to be remembered that he went from a half-season with Roma starting in July 2013, relocating his life to Toronto in January and straight into pre-season followed by a full MLS schedule. Oh, and a World Cup thrown in for good measure. Sorry to fans who just signed up but Michael Bradley is not going to be the DP who "scorz goalz" - he has other duties. Now, to just find a manager who knows how to use him properly.

After Bradley is where things get less certain. Are there truly any other rock-solid core-group midfielders ready to line-up with him? We don't mean the interchangeable pieces that come and go - we mean guys you build a future around. The tough answer for us is "no" with one asterisk in Jonathan Osorio. The young Canadian suffered a very inconsistent year and failed to find the magic of his rookie outing in 2013. Sophomore jinx? Adapting to new faces? All possibilities but there is something there in Osorio worth holding on to. Developing him as the foil to Bradley will be important but 2015 will need to be a far more consistent outing for him or patience will run thin.

The rest of the midfield is about as unbalanced as the formations they are often lined up in. Dwayne De Rosario has sadly reached the point where any kind of use will be minimal IF he returns for another swan song. Dominic Oduro, as he has done at all of his past clubs, has reached the point where the initial excitement has worn off leaving only a track sprinter with funny hair and a concrete boot finish. Collen Warner and Jackson are short-term depth pieces with little in long-term future development outside of blunt force. The remaining options are either very young Academy products or have joined the "TFC Disappeared". Also, Kyle Bekker.

The unbalanced, unfocused and tactically mystifying midfield may be one of the areas on the club where there is the least amount of foundation upon which to build. While there are individual pieces that some MLS clubs would find useful, there are few that any other club would point to as any type of building-block. The service they provided to the next section of players is a testament to that.

FORWARDS
There is no third of the pitch at TFC that enters the off-season under a bigger shroud of uncertainty. Ironically it is the main focus of the attack that is most clear in regards to his future. The bloody big deal himself (we too will be happy to stop using that term) - Jermain Defoe - will certainly be departing the only club anywhere that would have paid him such a wage on a secure, four-year deal. Now we could write a whole piece (and likely will) on the descent into petulance and conveniently "nagging injuries" (somehow to be cured right around January 2015) that have marked Defoe's season, but not now. The point of this piece is the overly-celebrated core group for 2015 and Jermain Defoe will be nothing but a regretted personalized souvenir jersey by next season.

Worse news, to many a supporter, is the sudden doubt as to whether or not the other DP striker - the affable Brazilian Gilberto - will be a part of TFC 2015. While Gil struggled to find his scoring touch early in the season, his work rate and engaging personality endeared him to fans. When he started to score, his star briefly shone brighter than his lady-aficionado strike colleague. Unfortunately, a quiet last third of the season and some vaguely explained absences from the line-up have morphed into whispers of a player who has his heart set on playing elsewhere. While it is heavy on speculation - smoke and fire are often close bedfellows at BMO Field.

Whatever the reason for their possible departures and whatever feeling amongst supporters is left in their wake, there is a much bigger problem for TFC than the bad PR it will create. Defoe and Gilberto account for 18 of TFC's league goals. With the entirely unspectacular Luke Moore third on the goalscorer's list with only 6 goals, it is an area where TFC could suddenly find itself with absolutely no one in the way of any kind of core performer. Replacing a massive percentage of the club's goals would be an emergency priority on critical levels and one this club is not prepared for in regards to depth or development.

So, like the proverbial candy, we have sucked our way down to the middle and are left with a bit of a tasteless lump in our mouth. A core group? Vaguely. There are pieces there that you would certainly retain and move forward with into 2015. We have to ask though - how many pieces would you take beyond that?

We have heard many grand statements as previous seasons wound down towards previously unsatisfying conclusions at BMO Field. The current claim that the core here is some kind of tremendously solid group is admittedly going in one ear and out the other. Despite Greg Vanney’s self-help guru media scrum's best efforts, it is hard to be too optimistic about a "core group" until all of the drama that is set to unfold at TFC comes out in the wash. To declare with utter confidence that the current foundation is strong because of three DP's, some youthful potential and an aging captain is about as fragile a claim as the foundation itself.

THE STARTING 11: Advantages to having so many Montreal Impact fans visit BMO Field


Toronto and Montreal. Rivals in so many things. Language, culture, business, terrible mayors, Prime Minister-themed airports and who Upstate New York wants to take to the prom. No list of inter-city rivalries of course would be complete without sporting interests. Whether it is real football, Canadian American football or ice football, these two great cities love to battle it out. TFC and Montreal Impact have a nice little head-to-tête going on and the clubs' fans are travelling in greater numbers. On Saturday, BMO Field hosted its largest ever group of MLS away supporters and when that many of our swarthy, brooding cousins from Quebec stop by, it has advantages...

11. Stadium's "No Smoking" rules completely out the window for one afternoon

10. Proposed "safe standing" sections accelerated by random seat removal in away section

9. Inevitably poor BMO Field weather helps both sets of supporters ignore flying spit

8. They bring their own cheese!

7. High number of flares helps planes land at Toronto Island Airport

6. The GO Train ends up sounding like a classy, double-decker Orient Express

5. Much higher chance of seeing Mitsou

4. The haunting pre-match song "You'll Never Prov-alone"

3. BMO Field demolition costs plummet with assistance from visiting "volunteers"

2. Quebec/Ontario relations are strengthened as thousands of people join together in their mutual disdain for Vancouver Whitecaps

1. Bitchy Le Hawk

Thursday, October 16, 2014

THE MATCHUP: Où est l'Playoffs?


TORONTO VS. MONTREAL
BMO FIELD - SATURDAY 2PM ET
TV: TSN 4

MANUFACTURED DERBY NAME:
"The 401 Derby"

FACTS* AND STATS**
TORONTO FC
- 2:1: The odds that TFC's post-match will include the words "mathematically", "still", "in" and "it"
- Corners: Where General Managers paint themselves into when refusing to add the word "interim" in front of a late-season coaching hire's title
- Jermain Defoe won't necessarily consider a defeat to Montreal on Saturday as a loss but more gaining a day towards his next emotional reunion. Glass half full.
- In the middle: Where Michael Bradley in most effective and also where he finds himself between Don Garber and Jürgen Klinsmann
- 5-10: Number of players we will probably be seeing in a TFC kit in person for the last time

MONTREAL IMPACT
- "Lots": Just how much Impact would love to end TFC's season
- 30%: Approximate number of seats that will remain intact in the away supporters' section by the final whistle
- Scoffing: The noise that will be heard around the stadium when visiting Montrealers sample BMO Field poutine
- "Still inhumane": Issey Nakajima-Farran's feeling towards TFC
- "Marco Di Vaio": The name that finishes the inevitable TFC supporter sentence "You just knew it would be __________"


*Possibly
**Maybe

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Playoffs: TFC's march to justification


The long-shot prospect of Toronto FC making the 2014 MLS playoffs represents one glorious opportunity for those that control this club from up high. No, it is not to reward the most beaten-down of all MLS supporters - it is justification.

Already, many fans have come to loathe the four-week "must-win" campaign that has devolved into the "we're still mathematically possible" reality we have today but as annoying as the internal club promotion may be - TFC is still in with a tiny chance. The best-case playoff scenario would see The Reds flail backwards into the fifth spot in the East and a shot in the wildcard "play-in" match. The question is: should we want them to?

The refrain that "anything is possible once you're in the playoffs" isn't completely hollow. There have been a few instances in the past where an unlikely club battles their way deep into the semi-finals or even finals but these are mostly the exception to the rule. For the most part, the cream rises to the top and it would be hard to find too many TFC supporters who would put their money on the line to back the locals in a one-match do-or-die, away to either New York or Sporting KC.

"But why would that be bad?" you may ask. "Don't we deserve a crumb of the post-season?" Yes. We all do… but the problem comes afterwards. The problem becomes how ownership may use that potential future and the most likely answer is again: justification.

Tim Leiweke & Co. made bold statements that the playoffs were the goal this year. No asterisks involved. Nothing about how far in the playoffs they would travel - just the playoffs. TFC's eight-year Valhalla realized. It is not difficult to imagine TFC squeaking into that wildcard match and - even if they re-produce an effort not unlike Saturday night's miserable display at Red Bull Arena - being trumpeted as a successful completion of the stated pre-season goal. Your first-ever post-season TFC! "We gave you what we promised! Now we need to talk..."

A mere appearance in the league's post-season will give MLSE the ammunition to go forward in two ways. On a team level, the so-far greatly underwhelming Greg Vanney and his inexperienced staff who lead a squad rife with imbalance and shallow depth may no longer seem to require an urgent fix. “Surely if this young(ish) squad made fifth this season then better can be achieved with the experience and a transfer window that Vanney has gained” will be the likely refrain. The cracks, and there are more than we'd like to believe, will not necessarily receive the care they require this off-season. However, the real justification that MLSE seeks from a post-season appearance may be more personal to you, the supporter.

After rolling back season ticket prices to 2007 levels and having to then freeze those prices, the owners must be bursting at the seams to put things right in their eyes. Giving you the absolute bare minimum on the pitch so they can squeeze the bare maximum out of your wallet is the trophy that they seek most. On a raft of promotions and slow motion videos of The Reds "historic post season march", your 2015 tickets will undoubtedly reflect this grand "achievement". Leiweke has told fans in the past that they would not ask for a raise until they did what they said they'd do. No matter how brief an appearance - this would be trotted out as proof.

Seeing The Reds in the post-season is nearly a decade-long wish for all supporters. The sweet, unknown experience of the playoffs is such a tempting prospect that it is easy to say we will worry about the future when it happens. Unfortunately that will most likely all happen very quickly. This club is not currently built for a run at the Cup. Does the potential of 90 extra minutes resembling this past Saturday suit the expected reward the club will ask of you in return?

Despite "how close" the current manager likes to tell us this club is to succeeding, it is increasingly difficult to see this. TFC, as is, can't compete on a consistent basis with the better clubs in this league. Without an off-season where the club's feet are held to the fire because of their failures this year, this potential playoff blip could simply usher in another long barren spell.

This club is not yet good enough. There are holes now and more to open up over winter with the imminent departures. Having the club emboldened by the absolute minimum modicum of success - and raising prices to watch it in 2015 - could be a far worse long-term hindrance than missing the playoffs again this year.

Yes, anything can happen in the playoffs. The reality points to TFC's possible appearance producing little more of the same on the pitch followed by an off-season of indifference, reinforced by the corporate jewel of being a "playoff team". Any TFC fan can be forgiven for not caring about that right now just to get a taste of what we have deserved for so long. However, is this incarnation of TFC, one which would be justified in its own mind to pursue the status quo albeit at a much higher expense to you, worth 90 more minutes of your time?

Monday, October 13, 2014

THE STARTING 11: Things that Toronto FC are giving thanks for


It's that most wonderful time of the year again when Canadians celebrate getting a draw against Turkey in the Great Pumpkin War. Never forget the nutmeg we lost in Istanbul. On this most solemn of days, it is right to give thanks for the things we often take for granted. This "GivingThanksDay" (what a great name for a holiday - we should TM that) is one not overlooked by the players and staff at TFC who are individually giving thanks for:

11. BRIGHT DIKE: the fact he still exists despite TFC's best efforts to disguise his whereabouts

10. JASON BENT: Immortality

9. MARK BLOOM: Coupons from No Frills

8. DANIEL LOVITZ: Shallow depth charts

7. WARREN CREAVALLE: A barber who remembers what Big Daddy Kane looks like

6. BRADLEY ORR: 360 days without headbutting someone

5. JACKSON: 357 days without headbutting someone

4. MICHAEL BRADLEY: The giant pile of money that makes him temporarily forget he was playing for Roma one year ago

3. GREG VANNEY: Making Tim Bezbatchenko believe using the word "interim" was for wimps

2. JERMAIN DEFOE: The generous volume of daily flights from Toronto to London

1. DWAYNE DE ROSARIO: Having one last chance to remind himself why he left this club in the first place

Thursday, October 9, 2014

THE MATCHUP: 99 Problems and 9 Points are 9


NEW YORK VS. TORONTO
RED BULL ARENA - SATURDAY 7PM ET
TV: TSN 4

MANUFACTURED DERBY NAME:
"The Must-Win Part VII: Cronin's Revenge"

FACTS* AND STATS**
NEW YORK RED BULLS
- This will be the final fixture between New York and Toronto this season (barring playoffs - snort) thus robbing local Toronto fans a reason to wear Thierry Henry kits to TFC matches like that's ok
- Security has been heightened as usual for a night fixture in Harrison, New Jersey as autumn is the natural feeding time for the local C.H.U.D. population
- "Bradley Wright-Phillips is twice as valuable as Jermain Defoe" is a sentence no English columnist ever thought they would have to ponder
- Corporate sponsor Red Bull has made noises about pulling their ownership of the New York club with the names Sexinthe City FC, I'm Walkin' Heerenveen and New York Cosmos Kramer leading in a re-branding competition
- To celebrate Columbus Day weekend, New York Red Bulls plan to "discover" that Toronto FC aren't really very good

TORONTO FC
- To prove that they are a much better club than the one that lost that infamous 5-0 match at Giants Stadium, TFC have vowed not to lose by more than four goals on Saturday
- Next year, Toronto FC will have two separate trips to New York City with the incoming NYCFC added to the schedule. TFC is seriously looking at signing Jesse Barfield to help address the challenges of playing at Yankee Stadium
- The terms "must win" and "momentum" have officially been replaced at TFC by the terms "mathematically possible" and "still in it"
- Despite rumours, Sam Cronin was not offered to TFC on-loan for one match in order to explain the team’s woes post-match
- To celebrate Thanksgiving Day weekend, Toronto FC plan to thank heavens that this season is nearly over

*Maybe
**Possibly