Chivas USA will play Toronto FC for the only time in 2014 on Sunday, at BMO Field, a game that will still feature a talent imbalance against the Goats, but should provide some hope, given these teams' history and TFC's form at the moment (Chivas' form is worse, but shhhhhhhh). In order to see what life is like in the province of Ontario, we welcome back Duncan Fletcher of SB Nation TFC blog Waking the Red. Many thanks to Duncan for taking the time to answer my questions!
The Goat Parade asks Waking the Red:
1. Toronto FC looked like a totally new team for much of the season, but they haven't won in over a month now. What accounts for the dip in form, and in your heart of hearts, do you think TFC will make the playoffs this year?
There's a few reasons why it's gone wrong, but really even when the results were there, Toronto really weren't that impressive of a team, they had two good runs of form, getting 9 points out of the first 4 games, then, after a 3 game losing streak, got 10 points from 4 games, then have struggled for consistency ever since, with just 14 points from the remaining 19 games. In a way it's easier to ask what account for those bubbles. The first one was, as you might expect, about Michael Bradley and Jermain Defoe. The first few games of the season Bradley was immense, tackling and intercepting and launching counter attacks, he looked ridiculously good. Defoe got into goalscoring form right away and it looked like the offseason moves were going to pay off handsomely.
The second bump was a bunch of things that helped them get results without really playing well. Opposition injuries, or opponents missing their World Cup players more than TFC missed Bradley, or a rejected Defoe with a point to prove, and a couple of late result-changing goals meant TFC went into the world cup break with 19 points from 11 games, despite playing a very simple conservative defensive style that was in no way convincing and left many people wondering is that all there is, is Ryan Nelsen a one trick pony?
After the World Cup Break, it looked like TFC were trying to play a more advanced and intelligent game, keeping possession and playing a style that looked like it would lead to better things. The initial growing pains mean the previously generally solid defence looked shaky and so results didn't come right away, often defensive errors and giveaways leading to goals against. I still think that would have eventually sorted itself out and TFC would have come out stronger, but then injuries hit the defence hard. Steven Caldwell's organising presence has been very obviously missed, and at various times both full backs Mark Bloom and Justin Morrow have missed time. The replacements weren't good enough as despite improving the overall squad depth, it's still not good enough. Many different defensive combinations were tried and none of them really worked, and generally it got chaotic, with individual mistakes again being very costly. In the middle, Bradley's best role still hasn't been figured out and that's been a problem as understandably enough a lot of the play goes through him, he has a tendency to do too much, and though he's clearly a good player, Nelsen never really figured out how to get the best of him and the team. Up front Defoe has had injury issues and looked more and more frustrated and mopey when he has played. Add all that up, and despite TFC generally looking better than before the break, the results didn't come and eventually Nelsen and his staff got let go.
Will things be better under Greg Vanney? They certainly don't look like it yet, as the 3 games under him have been 3 of the least convincing games we've seen all season, though again, injuries (Defoe and Caldwell being the obvious ones) haven't helped with that. In the mean time, the usual TFC dysfunction has made an impressive comeback, more or less coinciding with Tim Leiweke announcing his pending quitting. Theer's been the firing of Nelsen, Defoe's almost sale (I'd be very surprised if we see him in action for TFC again) and a big upswing in "he said she said" stuff that has always made the Red such an interesting shitshow to follow.
Will they make the playoffs? The head says no, there hasn't been any evidence that TFC is on the verge of a good run of results that would be needed. What does the heart of hearts say? I was cynical to start with and after 7 years of this nonsense, my heart laughs at the mere suggestion that this tailspin can be turned around.
2. I think it's safe to say Luke Moore didn't pick up a ton of fans in his short time with Chivas USA, but how has he done since coming to Toronto? Perhaps as importantly, do you think he'll stick around next year?
Luke Moore's been alright, not amazing by any means but he's lived up to TFC fans' mediocre expectations. He's got a few goals, though they haven't been pretty, tap-ins or rebounds, or taking advantage of the goalie and defender running into each other and both completely missing the ball which was how he scored against New York. He's worked well as a support striker to both Defoe and Gilberto at times, working particularly well with the Brazilian when Defoe was out with an injury, then being preferred over the Brazilian when Defoe came back. All in all, the sort of player that every team needs to back up the superstars and do the dirty work without ever being good enough to get the headlines.
Will he be here next year? I'd guess at no. He'll be exposed to the expansion draft for sure, and could well get picked up, if not I doubt TFC would fight too hard to keep him around. Whether he goes elsewhere in MLS or back to England, who knows really, but I'll end this with the following, somewhat surprising line, lifted from this article: "Luke Moore, an Englishman who Nelsen acquired from Colorado earlier this year, may also look to return home, with the striker more than a little miffed that TFC turned down an offer from Premier League club Burnley last month."
3. Who's been the unsung hero (term used very loosely, of course) of TFC's season to date, and why?
There's been a few people at different times. Joe Bendik has had a few games where he's saved us points, though every team should be able to say that about their goalie, and he's also had plenty of average games. You could make a case for either full back. Morrow arrive in the off season and had been a very consistent presence at left back until missing a few games with injury recently. Right back Bloom may have an even better case, generally very solid while also providing a good threat overlapping down the wing and getting good crosses in, though that was a much bigger part of the game when Alvaro Rey was the winger ahead of him as opposed to Dominic Oduro. He was injured for a while and hasn't quite looked the same since coming back, though TFC's defence has been a very chaotic place this last month or so, so it's difficult to judge him harshly on that.
It may well be Steven Caldwell. While he was playing, the team was generally doing well, and it became hard to look past his tendency when blocking shots to have his arms way out from his body, practically inviting contact and a penalty. Since he went out, you can really see what he brings to the team as the defence has been an unorganised mess without him. I'll happily say that if he'd been healthy all season, TFC would still be in a comfortable playoff place and Nelsen would still have a job. But you asked for unsung and I'm not sure a well paid captain can qualify for that, so I'll go with Morrow.
4. (Bonus) Prediction for this match?
TFC will struggle a bit here, they'll maybe get some chances that they'll frustratingly miss, but as the game goes on Chivas will gain in confidence and TFC won't be able to break them down. It'll end 0-0 with a lot of booing. Or Chivas will score on the one chance they get, probably Eric Avila.
Fun fact, this game will be 'Canadian Armed Forces Appreciation Day' (yes, on world peace day!) Nothing says appreciation like letting them watch TFC vs Chivas!
You can find my answers to Duncan's questions here.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!