Tag Archives: Toronto FC

We Need To Talk About Aketxe: Toronto FC falls 3-2 to the New England Revolution

Cris Payne - Toronto FC/mlsfemale
Official Toronto FC Reporter

By Cris Payne // @crissypayne

Saturday, May 12: 3-2 Loss

Toronto FC twitter is in a state of panic. Fans fear they’ve stumbled into a time warp. Cold sweats and flashbacks of inadequacy ensue as the collective fanbase tries to claw its way back to 2018 from the pre-Bezbatchenko days of old.

Off the back of a frustrating loss at home to Seattle, a lacklustre Toronto FC team was, for the 6th time this season, not good enough. The concoction of troubles does pose a not insignificant challenge. However, not good enough is not good enough and the expectation is that the best team in MLS can continue to contend with the best regardless of circumstance.

Still, you can’t knock coach Greg Vanney for trying to find a lineup that works within his means, though many do anyway. A serious deficit in defenders saw Michael Bradley start in the centre of the backline once again and Gregory Van Der Wiel joins our crowded roster of injured defenders this week with a minor Achilles issue.

With Van Der Wiel, Drew Moor, Chris Mavinga, Justin Morrow, Eriq Zavaleta, Nick Hagglund and even former defender turned full-time midfielder Nicolas Hasler all sidelined we have two full strings of defensive lines missing. And that’s just the defensive woes.

Joining Bradley in this makeshift backline then are out of form 34-year-old MLS veteran Jay Hernandez along with Toronto native and recent MLS debutant Ryan Telfer. Telfer came in for an injury prone but healthy Ashtone Morgan who is safely squared away on the bench, protected from Gillette Stadium‘s synthetic turf. Brazilian wonderkid Auro Jr., the only first choice defender of the lot, completed a 4 man backline.

Defensive fortitude was, therefore, less a promise going into this game than it was a chasm built into our team. It’s just a pity that it wasn’t the pockmarked defense but the midfield that was directly responsible for 2 of the 3 goals. The defensive excuse ends up holding little water. Unsurprising considering the defense was a sieve but I digress.

Having historically lost a few big players at important times to the New England Revolution‘s poor turf conditions, it was no surprise that players like Victor Vazquez and Sebastian Giovinco joined Morgan on the bench. Therefore a somewhat patched together 4-4-2 squad entered the fray and quickly lost control of the game.

The troubles started in the 4th minute with an undercooked pass from Bradley to Ager Aketxe which was intercepted and neatly nestled in the back of the net by the Revolution’s Chris Penilla. Far from being Bradley’s fault, Aketxe has been caught out time and again waiting for the ball to come to him. Our number one goalkeeper for a third season running, Alex Bono, also looked like he could have done more.

It hastily got worse for the travelling side. Just a few minutes later in the 8th minute, Aketxe, after conceding the pass to him on the first goal, appears to believe Penilla plays for the Reds and passes the ball directly to him under little pressure. Perhaps to avoid further confusion for him I’ll stop referring to Toronto as the Reds as it’s dangerously similar to the Revs. Bono, who is completely off his line after fancying a dribble out of his box which started the manic panic, is unable to get back quickly enough to stop Penilla’s leisurely lofted ball sailing into the back of the net.

At this point, it was looking dire for the defending champions. Nonetheless, they spent the rest of the first half with the lion’s share of the possession, troubled only once more by a bundled attempt from Diego Fagundez after our defense was once more cut like cheesecloth. Unfortunately, possession without goals is all but useless and Revolution goalkeeper Matt Turner denied a few good chances from Toronto, including a good shot from distance by an atoning Aketxe.

The second half arrives, time for Toronto FC to keep their heads down and get back into the game, right? Wrong. Inside of 60 seconds the Reds concede a third before most of the fans could crawl back to their television sets after 15 minutes of raw panic. 3-0 at the 46th minute; the Reds are sinking again.

One small positive to this goal is at least we can hope a first choice defensive line might stop that one. But wait; I spy Aketxe, tumbling backwards, apparently helpless to stop Teal Bunbury. At least he tried this time?

Nonetheless, it’s not over ’til it’s over. At 54’ fan favourite (this fan in particular) Jay Chapman sent a well-timed cross towards goal and Jordan Hamilton helped the Revs score an own goal. Shortly after Vanney sent in reinforcements by way of a newly recovered Chris Mavinga to tighten up defense and Sebastian Giovinco the super sub to save the game (little did we know).

Aketxe ends his day of disaster by making way for Mavinga which allowed Michael Bradley to slide back into his holding midfield role. Toronto FC restores much of its defensive harmony with those 2 simple shifts. It was no coincidence that the goals for the Revolution stop there.

Try as they might Toronto struggled to get back into this game. It wasn’t until the 87th minute that after a bizarre coming together in the Revolution box, Auro earned a penalty in the eyes of referee Mark Geiger. Sebastian Giovinco coolly slots it home but then loses all of his chill. He sticks his hand at the throat of a Revs player who tried to knock the ball out of his hand as he galloped back to the centre line.

The red mist clears and Giovinco pulls his hand back before applying any pressure to the gesture but the damage was already done. Giovinco is shown a straight red card after a quick video review but he is less quick to leave the technical area as he argues with anyone and everyone within three feet of him. He finally leaves and the remaining 3 minutes are played out without incident. It’s really over this time; Toronto FC is thwarted yet again. Giovinco has since been fined for his failure to promptly leave the game. (source)

In spite of all the reasons the side had to fail, it appears Toronto FC impaled themselves upon their own sword. The midfield made tough work for a weak defense and the attack didn’t attack enough. That is until they attacked too much and were asked to leave the game.

Post-game there’s the question of Aketxe that has remained unanswered. When Toronto FC signed him from Athletic Bilbao during the winter window it seemed an exciting benefit to winning the cup. A La Liga player from a renowned academy chose to play here.

Alas, the days of average to high-quality players coming from European leagues, even the top ones, and immediately making first team appears to be coming to an end. At least, that has been the case for Aketxe. After a slow start to the season for him he has struggled to make an impact despite plenty of minutes to do so.

His biggest impact has come against the Revs having been left red faced after all 3 goals. A bad start to the season for TFC all around and a period of adjustment makes judging the individual tough, but I for one have lost all hope of making a Toronto FC player out of Ager. My only hope for him at this point is that he proves me wrong. Fellow Toronto fans, let me know your verdict on Aketxe or lack thereof.

Toronto FC faithfuls must wait another week for a glimpse of the team they have come to know and love over the past 2 and a half years or so. Now Giovinco is suspended for a minimum of 1 game, Jozy Altidore is still recovering from surgery and the defensive absences are far from over. Patience will be key for Toronto fans looking for their Reds to be back at their best. Toronto faces Orlando City SC at BMO Field this Friday.

Featured image: mlssoccer.com

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The two-game head start

Cris Payne - Toronto FC/mlsfemale
Official Toronto FC Reporter

By Cris Payne // @crissypayne

Friday, March 30: 3-1 Win

“We kind of looked at it as giving the rest of the league a two-game head start.” Jonathan Osorio jokes to Sportsnet after Friday’s game, tongue firmly in cheek (source). With the first points of the season not coming until the third week, it is inadvertently true. For “the deepest [team] in MLS history” (source), the struggle to juggle CONCACAF Champions League and MLS may seem unexpected. Nonetheless, it’s the hand we’ve now dealt ourselves, and despite being a famously deep team which has only gotten deeper, it is not as unexpected as it may appear.

The new season for Toronto FC saw the reigning champions lose a few players (#FreeRaheem [source]) but mainly bolster their squad with some huge international talent including 2010 World Cup finalist Gregory Van Der Wiel as well as young prospects Auro Jr. of Brazil and Euskotar Ager Aketxe. Unlike last year when a largely unchanged side seamlessly absorbed Victor Vazquez into their ranks, these guys need a bit of fine-tuning.

Part of that fine-tuning is finding their place in the squad. Against Real Salt Lake on March 30th, Van Der Wiel featured as a centre back as opposed to his more regular right back position. While he has been a solid addition from his first game, it was in a 3 man backline that he was really made to shine.

Aketxe, meanwhile, has struggled to adjust to the physicality of this league after coming here from La Liga, but with the help of his teammates, he seems to be falling into place. He has hit the post twice already in MLS including the most recent game.

From the south end of the field, the supporters had a good view of Tosaint Ricketts’ hitting home Aketxe’s attempt off the post and a moment not caught on camera. As Ricketts ran to celebrate Aketxe walked slowly, visibly dejected after missing another chance. Osorio and Sebastian Giovinco approached Aketxe to congratulate him on the assist and together they walked to celebrate with the rest. It’s that sort of team display that lends itself to the assertion that the new players will be just fine.

Auro, on the other hand, is a beast of a player and we have quickly learned that you can put him pretty much anywhere on the field and he will thrive…except perhaps in goal; but I won’t completely rule out the 5’6″ roadrunner having the catlike agility to succeed between the sticks. It’s now a matter of finding the position he suits us best in. After you have adjusted for a period of change, Toronto FC has another MLS Cup contending squad. It just wasn’t until Real Salt Lake that we finally started to look like one.

Of course, it’s not only down to the new players that Toronto FC had opened the season with 2 losses. With the Champions League seeming like our focus the league has fallen by the wayside in a fashion we, as fans, hoped it wouldn’t. Our squad depth should be helping us to be successful in simultaneous competitions and coach Greg Vanney has talked about the challenge but also the confidence in finding that balance.

As Vanney pointed out last week after practice: “That’s why I say the performances are as important as anything right now, because you build off performances, you also build off of results, which I think we’ve had good results, but they haven’t necessarily been in the league.” (source)

With the Champions League format being elimination and therefore the more results-based competition, the league has been sacrificed somewhat in that search to find the balance. As the old adage says, slow and steady wins the race, which really only refers to a marathon. In the sprint that is the Champions League, Toronto FC can’t afford to field a team that isn’t ready to give 100%, at least!

In a way, then, Toronto FC has given the rest of the league a 2 game head start; but in most ways, they haven’t. By using the opening games to find where new players fit and how the team will adapt to a new season, they are building on the previous season. The focus on improving performance will eventually start to beget results as it did on Friday.

Despite being slow off the mark, I would advise Toronto FC fans to keep calm and trust in “The Gregfather”. We are well on the path back to winning ways, if you can really even say we left them.

As for the shots heard round the world by way of Zlatan Ibrahimovic taking the league by storm, I think the echo was heard less loudly in Toronto. An apprehensive tension has settled over the city as the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Toronto Raptors both prepare to enter their respective playoffs and Toronto FC continues its campaign for the Champions League title on Tuesday. Buckle up Toronto, we’re in for a bumpy ride.

Featured image courtesy: David Chant

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MLS Cup – Toronto FC vs Seattle Sounders

Jennifer Denton - Seattle Sounders/mlsfemale
Official Sounders Reporter

By Jennifer Denton // @darkwynds

Here we are, the eve of the MLS Cup for 2017.  This year has been full of ups and downs.  Through it all, the Seattle Sounders have become stronger than they were last year.  It hasn’t been without injury and issues, but the team has risen above and made it to the promised land.

Last year was so special because it was our first.  I think this year can be even more special because we have the chance to repeat as the MLS champions.  Through the playoffs, the Sounders have defeated both the Vancouver Whitecaps and the Houston Dynamo, both in convincing fashion.

Again, the Sounders find themselves facing Toronto FC at BMO Field on what proves to be a very cold day.  Hundreds of supporters are making their way to Toronto.  There is a banner going that has the names of people who could not make this trip.  We are a family.  We will be in the stadium, in pubs, in bars, and in our homes, all over the world cheering our boys to victory.  This is our cup, and we will defend it.

This game will not be like last year.  Both teams have improved.  Both are stronger, faster but just as hungry as they were last year.  TFC still has the bitter taste of last year’s loss, during penalty kicks, in their mouths.  Seattle wants to cement our dynasty.  Seattle has added a number of players who have made a huge difference in the team’s play.

Both teams have injuries issues, with the Sounders being slightly worse.  At this time, Jozy Altidore is questionable with an ankle injury suffered late in the second leg of the Columbus Crew game.  Seattle will be missing Brad Evans and Ozzie Alonso.

Ozzie being out of the game hurts.  He is our captain and the heart.  Seattle will have Roman Torres back from suspension.  Jordan Morris is also at 100% and should feature.  No one is suspended for this game, and no one is on international duty.

Projected Lineups from mlssoccer.com

Seattle Sounders

(4-2-3-1, left to right)
GK: Stefan Frei – Nouhou, Chad Marshall, Roman Torres, Kelvin Leerdam – Gustav Svensson, Cristian Roldan – Joevin Jones, Clint Dempsey, Nicolas Lodeiro – Will Bruin

Toronto FC

(3-5-2, left to right)
GK: Alex Bono – Chris Mavinga, Drew Moor, Eriq Zavaleta – Justin Morrow, Marky Delgado, Michael Bradley, Victor Vazquez, Steven Beitashour – Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore

Referees

Referee: Allen Chapman
Assistant Referees: Adam Wienckowski, Jeremy Hanson

4th Official: Kevin Stott

5th Official: Jason White

Video Assistant Referee (VAR): Dave Gantar

Game is December 9th at 1pm PT / 4pm ET on ESPN

#DEFENDOURCUP

Featured image courtesy: @SoundersFC

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Bear Witness: Toronto FC Starts It’s Playoff Bid with a 2-1 Away to NYRB

Cris Payne - Toronto FC/mlsfemale
Official Toronto FC Reporter

By Cris Payne // @crissypayne

Song: On Top of the World by Imagine Dragons

So we won the Supporter’s Shield, now what? The logical progression, as the best team in the regular season, would be the MLS Cup. However, recent history has proved this a challenge with only 2 teams winning the MLS double in its modern form (since 2003 when the format was changed Source). In this Toronto FC season, records have fallen and new depths have been explored and Toronto FC have shown on Monday night that they aim to win.

Of a wide spectrum of emotions familiar to football fans across the globe, this game had them all. Through the highs and the lows our viewing party buzzed with passion for our team. Despite some long periods of time spent in eerie silence punctuated by fist banging fits of anger, many of us insisted at the end that we were confident in our team all along.

I approached the game with a certain apprehension, knowing that the New York Red Bulls at the Red Bull Arena might just be our toughest game of the playoffs.

A dodgy penalty, a standard Sebastian Giovinco free kick, a kick in the pubis, some dodgy Red Bulls fans whom Greg Vanney eloquently put in their place (what a dad) and 90+ 5 high altitude minutes later we emerged victorious and on top of the world, a feeling we have grown accustomed to. What looked the start of a rocky second half seemed to stabilize after some minor adjustments and Toronto FC kept calm and won the game.

2-1 is a pretty good scoreline to come home to. 2 away goals and the win, NYRB have to score more goals at BMO Field than the home team; a rare feat for wary travelers this year. And the city is ready for them. We have not appreciated the treatment of our players in the States these past few weeks and we are ready to bring the 12th man to the game on Sunday.

If I had to call to mind one image that summed up the match besides the obvious big moments, it would be something like this: Nick Hagglund (possibly in a cape), leaping 10 feet into the air in some sort of karate kick of a clearance. Insert a written sound effect of your choice to indicate great physical prowess and that about sums up our Super Nicky. That’s not to say that Drew Moor doesn’t get the job done, but there was something incredible about watching Nicky come off the bench to accomplish feats of heroism to save us from uncertain death.

It is that type of depth that will take Toronto FC far in this playoff campaign. Hagglund, who has featured in just 3 games for TFC since mid-May after being sidelined twice by injury, was exactly what TFC needed to see the game off. With vigor and the pluck that makes him well loved by Toronto and by former Toronto FC captain and current TSN commentator Steve Caldwell, he put in a performance when we needed him to keep us ahead in New Jersey.

We will likely require another player to step up on Sunday with the possibility of Victor Vazquez missing out (though not if he has anything to do with it) and the team with the greatest depth in the history of the MLS will be tested once again. Who will be our next hero? A stadium will wait with baited breath for all to be revealed.

Featured image courtesy: @torontofc

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New York Red Bulls: Autumn, Harrison Falls

Sylvana Budesheim - NY Red Bulls/mlsfemale
Official Red Bulls Reporter

By Sylvana Budesheim // @WhiteZinWench

Monday, October 30: 1-2 Loss (1-2 agg)

Leg 2: Sunday November 5th, 3pm

“They say that these are not the best of times,
They’re the only times I’ve ever known.”  –Billy Joel, “Summer, Highland Falls”

I dare you to fight me on my musical choices.

Originally, I was tasked with writing a “Know Your Enemy” style of article before the first leg. But I couldn’t do it. Because there’s not much I have to say: Toronto FC are the beasts of the East. Supporter Shield winners with a record number of points in League history. They have Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, and Sebastian Giovinco. TFC is top seed, coming into the playoffs well rested and ready to go.

But the New York Red Bulls have Luis Robles, Danny Royer, and Bradley Wright-Phillips. And they have the momentum of defeating the Chicago Fire in the knockout round. Head coach Jesse Marsch has said RBNY is “going on a run”. The first leg was the true test of that statement.

I’m not gonna lie: I was nervous for the team. The second I got into my car to make the drive to Red Bull Arena, I was hit with a wave of nausea, and I’m not talking about the fumes on the Turnpike. RBNY were able to prove that they can avoid the mental errors and the devastating injuries that plagued them during the regular season. They really looked like a team that is just having fun together and not wearing themselves out mentally. They’re really in the driver’s seat, especially at home in the the first leg.

And when I think about it that way, holding TFC to two goals is pretty impressive.

And also really freaking horrible.

Let me tell you a little something about myself: I tell people that I’m not the least bit competitive. It’s a bold face lie. I’m actually super competitive. I don’t even like admitting it about myself. So losing hurts, and I’m not even the one out there letting myself get pinged in the face with a ball or stomped with some $300 cleats.

You can see the rundown of the game anywhere. You can watch Victor Vazquez nail the rebound after Luis Robles punched away the initial shot from Jozy Altidore:

You can find Danny Royer’s Panenka, which leveled the game right at halftime:

And everyone can show you Sebastian Giovinco doing Sebastian Giovinco things:

But let me tell you how it felt.

It felt like I was watching a different team than I had seen in the past month or so. One that didn’t know how to face down a terrible opponent. A team that didn’t want the responsibility of dominating possession and demanding rewards for it. Players who panicked in the face of danger. Men who were ripped apart and had no one to blame but themselves (or each other). A subdued locker room like I had never seen before.

And “I can only stand apart and sympathize”. I’ve been to press conferences following losses during the season. This was nothing like those times. “We didn’t look like ourselves,” head coach Jesse Marsch said following the game. This was echoed by Captain Sacha Kljestan: “I don’t think we played like us.”

Can RBNY right the ship? They have to remind themselves of who they are, more than any fan or writer could ever do. They have to play like they have nothing to lose. They have to give themselves and each other the tools and the guidance to face TFC head on. They need to be a team. And I hope one of them sees this and embraces it. Because I have no problem being a PollyAnna about RBNY: that’s why I’m here. Maybe they need to take that kind of unbridled positivity to heart. Because the whole point of the playoffs is for an underdog to look at an opponent with a winning record and laugh it away in a brief series… just ask the Houston Astros.

“For we are always what our situations hand us… It’s either sadness or euphoria.”

PS: Let me take a minute to comment on the vitriol directed towards TFC players Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore. Both are referred to as “Metro Products”, having been part of the MetroStars when they and MLS were younger. They were booed Every. Time. They. Touched. The. Ball. They were treated similarly in Atlanta on Decision Day. They will likely be treated that way if they continue in the Playoffs.

They will definitely be treated that way when they return to hostile fields across America next season. They know why it’s happening. They can handle it. And I condone it. I just wonder how long it will last or what, if anything, it will take to quiet it. And I draw the line at cursing… but that’s just my own sensibilities at play.

Featured image courtesy: @NewYorkRedBulls

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2017 MLS Playoff Preview

A collaboration by official reporters of MLSFemale @MLSFemale

With Major League Soccer, there is no greater prize than the MLS Cup. Twelve teams, 6 from each conference, are vying for the chance to lift the ultimate prize of the league’s 22nd season. Here’s a quick rundown from our MLSFemale squad:

EASTERN CONFERENCE:

Cris Payne - Toronto FC/mlsfemale 

By Cris Payne // @crissypayne

Toronto FC: AND NOW YOU’RE GUNNA BELIEVE US, we’ve gone and won the league! Suffice it to say the city of Toronto is over the moon with our accomplishments this season and we are looking forward to what we hope is a great playoff run. Michael Bradley succinctly put our season in summation by saying “…we went after every game from 1 to 34 like it was the only thing that mattered.” (source)

I think they can be proud that they never really wavered on that goal and it paid off. As a member of the Kings in the North, one of the official protectors of the Supporters’ Shield during it’s stay in Toronto, I look forward to spending some time up close and personal with it.

Our playoff future looks bright; one is left hoping that we take that same winning mentality into the playoffs and consider every opponent and every game with care. Finishing off the regular season at Atlanta was also a good test for us to end on. Fresh to the league, they were the one team I felt we hadn’t had a proper chance to sound out back in April. Having seen their house and how they feel about our players (your hate makes them strong, our love makes them unstoppable), I now feel confident that Toronto FC has the arsenal to make a successful playoff run. And as Giovinco has shown, this team is ready for whatever is thrown at them. So bring on our second (okay fine, third) go at it, we’re here to win it all!

*NYCFC: Not gonna lie: this team gets measurably better every year. With head coach Patrick Vieira, the Pigeons have made it to their 1st MLS post season in style, with a bye for the knockout round. Legend David Villa and newcomer Jack Harrison, as well as the rest of the squad, are going to face their first opponents well rested and ready for a run. Just how far can the boys in blue go their first time out?

Nicole - Chicago head

By Nicole Hack // @nikhak

Chicago Fire: Nine months ago Fire fans were excited for the club’s new signings  – with Dax McCarty, Juninho, Niko, and Bastian Schweinsteiger, certainly the Men in Red wouldn’t finish last place again – would they?

By early June, fans knew that not only were the Chicago Fire going to dig themselves out from the bottom of the table, but the likelihood that they would be playoff contenders looked promising.

David Accam, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Juninho, amongst others have been battling injuries, just returned from injury, or will return from injury for the playoffs. Is the squad recovering at the appropriate time? With key players on the bench over the last couple of months, other players gained experience – this will certainly help strengthen roster options when Veljko Paunovic looks to his bench for substitution options.

Who will get the nod for the goalkeeper position? Matt Lampson, who has been with the team since February of 2016 and a total of 34 games played for the Fire? Or will Richard Sanchez start in net after only recently signing with the Fire?

We supporters are excited for the playoffs, for the opportunities that lie ahead, and for a home game, but we’re also realistic, especially after the last two unfortunate seasons.

¡Vamos, Chicago!

Robyn Saghini - Atlanta United FC/mlsfemale

By Robyn Saghini // @robynsaghini

Atlanta United: Well, here we are…The new kids in the league are in the playoffs. A 4th place finish to the regular season is better than where I thought we’d be at the beginning of the season. This gives us home field advantage for Thursday’s knockout round game – and home field advantage in Mercedes-Benz Stadium could be significant. We’ve also won both games against Columbus (#SaveTheCrew!) earlier this season – although we did lose to them in the preseason Carolina Challenge Cup in February.

This team is much stronger now. They’ve now had an entire season to get to know each other. We have a solid starting lineup – even with a few subs because of injuries. And with over 70,000 people expected at the game on Thursday to cheer them on, I think Atlanta United has a really good chance at hoisting that cup in December.

The boys are ready for this. Atlanta is ready for this.

Atlanta wants the Cup.

Hilary - Columbus Crew/mlsfemale

By Hilary // @hils4crew

Columbus Crew:  In the middle of the season, the Crew was struggling and looked unlikely to make the playoffs, but Berhalter seems to have the magic touch with his team at the end of the season.  The tie against NYCFC took the Crew’s unbeaten streak to 10.  It kept the team in the 5th spot while a win could’ve put them in 2nd place. 

The team is dealing with a lot of distractions with a fan base who passionately loves them and is distraught that an owner would take them away.  (#savethecrew)  However, if the team can keep their form and absorb the passion the fans are showing them, they actually have a chance against Atlanta.  Although, it will be a tough away game.  The fans really need them to win, so we have a home playoff game to show how much we love the players. 

Sylvana Budesheim - NY Red Bulls/mlsfemale

By Sylvana Budesheim // @WhiteZinWench

New York Red Bulls: Whew! Just made it in under the wire. But RBNY is in the playoffs for the 8th season in a row. Always the bridesmaid, RBNY is the only MLS 1.0 team (originally the NY/NJ Metrostars) never to lift the MLS Cup. Coach Jesse Marsch has said that the team has been the favorite during the playoffs to no avail and that it’s time to be underdog.

I’m expecting a solid performance from Tyler Adams and the rest of the back line as well as more attacking from Daniel Royer. Defender Aurelien Collin has been working his way back to full health, and Jesse hopes to be able to bring him back into the 18. Dax McCarty and the Chicago Fire are the first obstacle in the knockout round, and another edition of the Hudson River Derby is practically guaranteed after that. It won’t be easy, but nothing worth having ever is. Fight Together.

#knockoutround
Image courtesy: @MLS

WESTERN CONFERENCE:

Sheba Rawson - Portland Timbers/mlsfemale

By Sheba Rawson // @shebainpdx

Portland Timbers: It is not an overstatement to say that for the Timbers this Sunday’s game was the most important game of the year up to this point. The Cascadia Cup was on the line, as was the chance to win the conference and a first round bye.

With a Portland win, they have won the West and a first round bye. They also take back the Cascadia Cup, the coveted supporter-owned trophy awarded to whichever northwest team has the best finish among the three Cascadia-area squads. If Portland had tied or lost, Seattle would have taken the Cup, and Portland would almost certainly have dropped to third or fourth place, hosting a midweek knockout round game.

As I expected, Attinella remained in goal, with Vytas and Powell on the wings, and Mattocks up top as we wait for Fanendo Adi to be match fit. And with PTFC’s Mattocks being a former Whitecaps player there was plenty of opportunity for a knife-twisting match finish as he gave us the go-ahead goal to seal the deal. Now we wait to see who makes it out of the knockout round.

Jennifer Denton - Seattle Sounders/mlsfemale

By Jennifer Denton // @darkwynds

Seattle Sounders: It is finally time to defend our cup.  This year has been such an up and down year.  There are days where we look like the team from last year’s run.  And then there are games where we look like a team that hasn’t even played together before. 

The game against FC Dallas gives me hope that maybe we are turning a corner.  With a win on Sunday gives us a much needed bye.  This will give the team time to heal up.  I can’t wait for this run at the MLS cup.  I really hope the top team in the East loses so we can host the cup this year!!

Christy Casas - Vancouver Whitecaps/mlsfemale

By Christy Casas // @nkstar9

Vancouver Whitecaps: The Whitecaps were able to pull themselves above the red line in a very decisive way, landing themselves in 3rd place in the Western conference after flirting with the top spot for a hot minute. They will meet the San Jose Earthquakes in the knockout round at home in Vancouver. This is a decided advantage for the Whitecaps, as BC Place has been a fortress for the team this season.

*Houston Dynamo: The Dynamo played VERY well at home this year, giving up only one game at home at BBVA during the regular season. And they have to be looking forward to the opportunity to take on Sporting KC again, having just beaten them at home less than two weeks ago and drawing them in Kansas City shortly thereafter. If they manage to pull it off, their next opponent will be one of the top two finishers in the West, Portland or Seattle.

kirsten-sporting-or

By Kirsten Arpin // @Kirsten_Hoogs

Sporting KC: I am not pleased with how this season ended, and I am not pleased that Sporting fell from 1st to 5th in the West over the last third of the season. If we’re going to make it anywhere in the playoffs we have to do one thing…score goals. It seems like that should be pretty easy, but obviously it’s not since SKC scored just 3 goals in their last 5 games.

If the Sporting team from the beginning of the season comes back then we could be in good shape, but the run will be hard since we have no home field advantage. Hopefully, with this being the third game against Houston in a two week span we’ll have them figured out. Sporting, don’t make this city regret all the energy you put into the US Open Cup. We need some of that magic for the playoffs.

*San Jose Earthquakes: The Quakes had a wild finish to the regular season, with the winning goal coming three minutes into stoppage time against expansion side Minnesota United. Now they travel to Canada on only three days rest for a single game elimination round. They may still manage the upset against a Whitecaps squad that is struggling to put games away at precisely the wrong time in the season.

If San Jose can pull it off, they will face Portland in a conference semifinal, a team they’ve beaten at home twice during the regular season.

(Teams marked with a * do not have an official reporter from MLSFemale. If you support any of these teams, find your inner reporter and contact us!)

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Sunshine On BMO: 4-0 Sweeping of NYCFC

Cris Payne - Toronto FC/mlsfemale
Official Toronto FC Reporter

By Cris Payne // @crissypayne

Sunday, July 30: 4-0 Win

Song of the Match: Walking on Sunshine – Katrina & The Waves

July was a month of firsts for Toronto FC. First new contract for a manager, first MLS goal for not one, not two, but three players and all Canadian to boot; and of course first place for a lot of the month. I can only speak for myself but I’m a little sad to see it go, but optimistic to see out the summer.

Congratulations are in order for Raheem Edwards’ first MLS goal. It didn’t dawn on me that it was his first until hours later when I happened upon Jay Chapman’s tweet congratulating him. It seemed absurd that his first goal came in the dying embers of July when all season he’d been making huge contributions to the team, be it just by coming off the bench and injecting the team with some much needed energy, or handing out assists like gifts. He’s become so important to the team’s success I nearly forgot how new he is to the scene, not to mention how young.

It was a beautiful afternoon for a beautiful game in our beautiful stadium. The whole day had a glow about it. It’s safe to say at this point that Toronto FC loves playing NYCFC, and Sebastian Giovinco loves it most. In the past year Toronto FC have managed to absolutely steamroll NYCFC 13-2 across 4 games with Giovinco bagging a hat trick in one and a brace in another.

The highlight of the game for me came from the blessing I have to be a Season Seat Holder in the south end Supporters’ Section of BMO Field. I got to bear witness to a small moment not entirely caught on camera that is one of those moments that reminds me why I love the beautiful game.

It was the 75th minute and Toronto FC were awarded a penalty; Giovinco got to the ball first. He picked it up and held it against his chest. He could probably taste the hat trick only seconds away from his clutch. But then he must have thought of Jozy Altidore, of the players we had just gotten back from International Duty and whom Seba looked absolutely delighted to be reunited with. Especially Jozy (the jumbotron had been playing a slow-motion replay of Seba running into Jozy’s arms on the first goal throughout the game).

He marched up to Jozy and proffered the ball to him but Jozy said no at first. The second time Seba held the ball out to Jozy he took it reluctantly, and a hush seemed to fall over the south end. We had seen Jozy miss penalties before, and he looked none too comfortable as he set the ball down and stood back for the whistle. “Come on, Jozy!” a few of us yelled in support.

If Jozy had turned for one last look at Seba in that moment, I’m sure Seba would have offered a wink and a thumbs up. It was with the confidence of Seba, the rest of the team, and the fans that Jozy stepped forward and keenly shot the penalty kick home, effectively burying NYCFC by making it 3-0 with only 15 minutes remaining. Of course, Raheem would hammer in the nails at the very end with our 4th.

That show of sportsmanship is extra special to me coming from Seba, who was accused of selfishness early this season for an outburst. As a Toronto supporter, nothing makes me happier than seeing players come to our city and learn to love Toronto and the team. Seba showed that on Sunday with his enthusiasm, work ethic, and team effort. There’s no better ways we could have asked for to close out the month than 4 goals and a clean sheet in the Six and in the sun.

My only point of contention? I’m a bit perturbed that Jay Chapman lost a starting spot though it was not unexpected. He will perpetually face the issue many of our Canadians guys face which is to compete in a deep squad, particularly in the midfield, and Jay has it the hardest when guys like Michael Bradley and Victor Vazquez are effectively pushing him out of the team. Still, he came off the bench and got the minutes he deserved so I can’t say I’m too disappointed.

Quick shout out to the David Villa jersey wearing NYCFC fan who travelled from New York to stand in the Supporters’ Section. I’d apologize for the torrent of chanting you endured but it was just way too much fun taunting you for the majority of the second half. Thank you for being a good sport about it and my condolences that you chose to stand amongst the most loyal of Toronto FC fans.

Here’s hoping that August is as fruitful as July! See you all this weekend when TFC travels to D.C. to face D.C. United on their home turf.

Featured image courtesy: @torontofc

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The Less than Grand Rapids: Dropping 2 points in the 6

Cris Payne - Toronto FC/mlsfemale
Official Toronto FC Reporter

By Cris Payne // @crissypayne

Saturday, July 22: 1-1 Draw

Song of the Match: Bodies by Drowning Pool

I may not have explicitly stated this, but let’s all accept that I had taken a vow of silence until Jay Chapman got his first MLS goal and move on, shall we? There’s something bittersweet about it when, just 3 days before, I sat at my keyboard to angrily tap out—with stills as evidence—just how he was robbed by a shoddy offside call in the New York City FC game. No matter now, our boy has done it and he did it at home! My exaltation could be felt throughout the south end. He made us all proud.

I will also reiterate a common theme I’ve seen tossed around the Toronto FC circles over the past week, which is if Jay had have been able to finish out the game we would have walked off the pitch with 3 points instead of 1. He was my clear vote for Player of the Match and in his absence the team fell a bit in their graces and we conceded a goal on a bad turnover from Armando Cooper. It wasn’t, however, without a plucky performance from Raheem Edwards who came on as a sub and tried his utmost to save the game. Needless to say the Canadians boys did me proud that day, even if the result didn’t.

Not for the first time, I find I have to prevent myself from writing an entire article about one of our Canadian prides, but I will take a short reprieve to complain a little. I speak from a place of complete bias but the refereeing was, to put it lightly, deplorable. I have never seen a team waste so much time writhing on the ground in apparent pain with the ref doing little to prevent it or to fairly allot stoppage time accordingly, despite the protests of our players.

Colorado Rapid fans I wish to remain on good terms with, please cover your eyes – but to be frank if that were my team I’d be embarrassed by that display of bad sportsmanship. That is not how you beg for a point, not in my house. But apparently in ref Guzman and co.’s books that is how you rustle up a point and it doesn’t even count towards injury time. Maybe because he knew as well as we did the “injuries” were questionable.

Of course the draw is not to be attributed solely to the histrionics of the Colorado players in the final 10 minutes. We were lackluster at times and we could have put the game to bed in the first half with half a dozen clear cut chances we couldn’t capitulate on. Nonetheless, it left a bad taste in my mouth to end the game on such a sour note when we had brought on a Raheem Edwards who was ready to run his way back to a win.

Since early July our squad has been depleted by players away on International duty for the Gold Cup, as well as, injury and during that time we managed to pick up 5 points in 4 games and maintain a 2 point lead at the top of the table, albeit with a game in hand. To be honest, I’m not too sure what to make of that.

TFC fans have been positively spoiled of late, and I’ve come to expect wins nearly all the time. However, we managed to keep our feet beneath us with a squad that didn’t have a lot of experience playing together and some of the greener players were able to show us what they’re made of.

I hope manager Greg Vanney remembers that down the line, after a second season of Jay Chapman showing us just what he can be capable of after a run of games. I remain optimistic and I know a lot of us were worried about dropping points during this stretch. At any rate we survived it, our squad is slowly returning to full strength, and we are prepared to continue fighting for our place at the top.

It’s an exciting season with Toronto FC; we did the unprecedented in offering a coach a contract extension (no seriously, we’ve never done this before. Moving on up! [source]) and we boast what has been called the deepest team in MLS history (thanks, Greg![source]). We recently reached a franchise record of 6 consecutive wins [source], and the Montreal Impact are doing abysmally. For once in our lives, it’s easy being Red. So here’s to the coming weeks, closing out the summer on a high, and enjoying watching some quality football without our jackets on!

P.S. A huge congratulations as well for Ashtone Morgan. As I was on my vow of silence (ahem), I didn’t get to congratulate him before but I am extremely happy for him for the goal and for the blessing of being able to watch Ashtone come back into himself as a player. Another Canadian who has me welling up with pride at the moment!

P.P.S. Welcome back Nick Hagglund. I love you and missed you, Nicky!

Featured image courtesy: @torontofc

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Giovinco’s On Fire vs Chicago Fire at BMO Field

Cris Payne - Toronto FC/mlsfemale
Official Toronto FC Reporter

By Cris Payne @crissypayne

Friday, April 21: 3-1 Win

Song: Two Weeks by Grizzly Bear

The city is in the throes of shaking off one playoff bid (RIP Toronto Maple Leafs (NHL), we came, we fought, we built something great for next year) while simultaneously preparing for round two of another (Let’s go Toronto Raptors! (NBA) and in the midst of the tumult, Toronto FC comfortably plays out a 3-1 win at home to Chicago Fire.

To begin with, I much prefer this dynamic of losing followed by winning to the weird limbo that had been drawing 90% of our games. Now that we lost one it feels a lot more like we are on a trajectory to start winning and keep winning. Sebastian Giovinco was back! The team played well as a unit, and as annoyed as I am to have muddied a clean sheet in the final minutes, the back line is doing very well under the directives of Nick Hagglund. It’s been said he’s doing his best Drew Moor impression. Not sure that Drew agrees and regardless I hope we have Drew back to full health ASAP.

While I have the stage, I would like to clear the air about some behaviour we saw at BMO Field on Friday night and no, it’s not what you’re thinking. In the Toronto FC supporters’ sections we have a song we refer to as “The Bounce” and technically speaking, the Bounce is used only in the case of a win. It’s considered bad luck to Bounce before a game, after a game, basically any time and we should most certainly not Bounce during a game that we haven’t beyond reasonable doubt already won. Well. On Friday we were, to say the least, a little bit excited to be witnessing our first win at home. So much so that we may have, some of us, against the advice of others, started bouncing around the 85th minute…or maybe the 88th

 

What I’m trying to say is, I now feel personally responsible for conceding a goal in the 88th minute, superstitious as I am, and would like to take this opportunity to release a formal apology. We could have had a clean sheet but we were soaring above the clouds and we decided we were safe enough to Bounce. Lesson learned! Probably. So once again, to the team and to the fans who were wise enough to have avoided the Bounce, I am truly sorry.

As for some other behaviours in BMO Field that have taken centre stage in other articles, I think that addressing Giovinco’s outburst (for lack of a better word) and my reaction to it is beyond the scope of this article. Suffice it to say his actions of hitting over a metal barricade pillar (seriously what are these things called, when subbed could easily be used to overshadow our entire performance and that sucks but, as someone with a platform to talk about Toronto FC, I’m not going to do that here. Not in this article, anyway.

What Seba did do that’s worth talking about is score a world class free kick in addition to a fine goal to open up the scoring in this match. It certainly looks like we are back to Seba at his best and if coach Greg Vanney has cleared up any ill feelings after that game then it’s cleared up for me as well (source).

In other news something really adorable also happened at the game! Last week I mentioned that Vanney’s mother had passed away, but I neglected to make the connection that as Greg Vanney’s nephew, this also means that Eriq Zavaleta’s grandmother passed away. I’d like to once again express my condolences to the family. It was very lovely to see Zav score his first goal of the season and run over to Vanney to celebrate in honour of someone who I’m sure meant a lot to them. It shows great strength of character on both their parts that they remained focused and present for the team during such a difficult time. For that, I’ll give Zav my Man of the Match vote! Always solid at the back, nice to see him getting on the end of goals as well. Keep up the good work as always.

Apparently I snap my finger and players get minutes so let me be more specific this time: Can Jay Chapman please get a start for us sometime. I think if he had a chance he’d make the most out of it and I’m ready to watch another Canadian rise (newsflash: I’m always ready). Apart from that, I’m extremely happy with the result. There’s something daunting about a World Cup winner, here, in the MLS, trying to win another World Cup, but we kept our heads (for the most part) and we played at what was very nearly our best. It helps also that we had a Canadian in the starting XI, and Raheem Edwards was as dependable as always. I’d also like to welcome Marky Delgado back into the fold. He’s one of our young players I’m always excited about and it was great to see him back at BMO Field and putting in a shift.

Lastly, I’d like to take a moment to say goodbye to Mo Babouli who TFC put on waivers earlier this week (source). I think my feelings can best be described as “disappointed but not surprised” as it was never going to be easy for him to break into the first team given our depth. I wish him all the best in his future and it was a pleasure to watch him play.

Nevertheless, and for the record, this is just a phrase and does count as a Bounce, the Reds go marching on…

Featured image courtesy: @torontofc

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Too Little Too Early

Cris Payne - Toronto FC/mlsfemale
Official Toronto FC Reporter

By Cris Payne @crissypayne

Saturday, April 15: 2-1 Loss

Song of the Match – Down by Marian Hill

It’s little surprise to anyone that our first loss of the season comes in the absence of Drew Moor. I wish Drew and his family all of the best and I’ve heard that the initially terrifying prospect of him being diagnosed with a heart condition may be something that can be dealt with within a couple of weeks. (source) It sounds like no one, including Drew, expects him to be out for long but I’ll breathe easier once he’s back.

Despite the absence of the Toronto FC rock in the back line, my personal favourite Nick Hagglund did a great job in Drew’s role, and although we were caught sleeping a few times, particularly on the header goal, Nick and Eriq Zavaleta both put shifts in and helped to lead the team from the back. It just, unfortunately, wasn’t enough for us as we fell 2-1 to Columbus Crew. It definitely smarts a bit more than it should served up by the team in yellow we play for the Trillium Cup.

Besides a defense that wasn’t as airtight as usual (again!), we also should have been scoring goals. We looked strong early on and managed to open the scoring but our midfield looked lacklustre especially in the second half; we quite obviously lacked in pace. It seems one of the things we are still tinkering with is the right midfield dynamic.

Having said that, what on earth is it going to take to see Jay Chapman get a minute? Any minute? Several of them preferably? We’ve yet to see our Canadian-born midfielder on the pitch this season and its high time we give him a try. He’s been dependable in the past and I’d love to see him get the chance he deserves. In the coming weeks I hope Greg Vanney explores our options and gives these young guys such as Raheem Edwards and Jay Chapman more opportunities.

It was a big night in Toronto and the Toronto Maple Leafs win helped to ease the pain of the Columbus loss. It made it easier for fans to look forward to change instead of the performances of the past few weeks in which we were barely holding on. Perhaps we should take a leaf out of our hockey team’s book and field more young players. It seems to be working wonders for them.

My Man of the Match talisman will be gratefully handed over to Nicky, as it’s been a pleasure to watch him develop under the direction of Drew Moor. Between Nick and Eriq we have a promising centre back pairing that I think we can eventually feel safe with. Even after conceding two goals I will comfortably say that our 4 or 5 at the back, however you look at it, were our strongest assets on the field. It’s only a matter of time before we start scoring goals again and our defense plays a series of games without a hitch. I believe in them.

Finally, my condolences to Greg Vanney and his family, it seems it’s been something of a difficult week at Toronto FC. It can’t have been easy juggling preparations for the game and even coaching it while dealing with a loss in the family. (source) It really feels like overall our team suffered a number of losses this week, not just on the field, and my only hope is we can move forward from here. To those who are going through some big changes in life at the moment, I will keep you in my thoughts, and to the rest of us: onwards and upwards.

Featured image courtesy: thescore.com

Follow and chat with me on twitter: @crissypayne

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