Wheeler: Five thoughts on the TFC win over the Whitecaps

Gareth Wheeler
5/7/2014 11:16:01 PM
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It is only in Cup competition you can really call a win a disappointment.  On a night heavily skewing in Toronto FC's favour, a 2-1 victory over a virtual Vancouver Whitecaps reserve team hardly flatters.  The first leg of the Amway Canadian Championship was an opportunity for Toronto to take control of the tie.  Mission failed. 
Vancouver Whitecaps manager Carl Robinson elected to rest his regulars looking ahead to Saturday's game against the Columbus Crew.  Even with 29-year-old Nigel Reo-Coker in the lineup, the average age of the Whitecaps starting XI was 21.6, including 17-year-old Canadian goalkeeper Marco Carducci.  It was a glimpse of the future for Vancouver.  The kids were alright.  Toronto FC was less convincing.
Toronto, with the week off until the return leg next Wednesday in Vancouver, had the luxury to play a regular starting XI.  With only two changes from last weekend's loss to New England, Toronto FC began the night heavy favourites.  Instead, heavy legs, heavy touches, and heavy lifting were needed to see the game out.  The Whitecaps grew in confidence and the manager played his cards right.  Robinson, seeing weakness in TFC and his team grow into the match brought on attacking players Kekuta Manneh and Sebastian Fernandez late, pushing for an away goal.  Although Vancouver conceded in the 89th minute en route, they found the precious goal in time added on and head home next week as favourite to advance. 
Manneh scored the goal. Not the prettiest, but a timely and much needed strike in aggregate competition.  Toronto FC substitute Dwayne De Rosario was lucky to stay on the field after landing a forearm to the face of the goal scorer amongst a pile of flailing arms as Vancouver tried to get the ball back to midfield as soon as possible.  Manneh and De Rosario saw yellow before the game died out and the final whistle blew. 
The script never seems to be straightforward for Toronto FC.  They have seldom been the dominant side in any match thus far this season.  Team commitment, work rate and shape remain solid, but interplay, build up, and execution in the final third continue to be issues.  It takes time for a team of new faces to come together.  With the World Cup break rapidly approaching, time is ticking for the team to click. 
Here are my five thoughts from Toronto FC's 2-1 victory:
1) Two is not enough - Toronto FC dictated proceedings all night long, rendering Vancouver reliant on the counter-attack.  The build-up remained consistent and decent until reaching the final third.  In and around the opposing 18-yard box, the team remains a mess, with the exception of Jermain Defoe and Michael Bradley.  Good thing the big money players are coming through because the rest of the team needs to be much better in dangerous areas.  The final ball is often erratic.  And when the ball is on a platter, the finishing goes awry.  There isn't just one culprit.  They are too easily letting defenders off the hook.  It's all sloppy, too direct and too easy to mark.  Part of the issue is the team playing too narrow.  Justin Morrow and Mark Bloom rarely get involved in the attack to overlap in to dangerous areas.  The bulk of the attacking play comes down the middle, with even the outside midfielders coming far too inside.  More than two goals should have been had against a team of inexperienced kids.  Now Toronto has to go out west and get a result.  The pressure will be on the Whitecaps to get a goal, which may put Toronto back in their comfort zone playing on the counter.
2) Oh, Gilberto - More of the good and bad on display by Gilberto.  He's not doing himself or the club any favours dispelling the notion he wasn't worth the club giving up Matias Laba.  The ups and downs in his game are so pronounced he may as well be called Two-Face.  For a player who predicted a 25-goal season, the polish in front of goal is simply not there.  Some nice interplay between Defoe and Issey Nakajima-Farran in the 21st minute broke Toronto FC free down the left flank.  The Canadian International's cross was on point, finding Gilberto wide open on the far post at the six-yard box.  The Brazilian headed wide; a brutal miss by any standard.  It's now been seven games without a goal for the striker.  The good: the work rate remains a plus and glimpses of his ability surface from time to time.  Gilberto dropped deep into space to gain possession and played a crafty ball behind the back line, springing Defoe on his goal.  More of this kind of positive play will ease the critics.  They will ultimately not be silenced until he starts scoring goals.  Designated Players must be impactful.  Thus far, the returns are subpar.  With an injured Bright Dike and De Rosario struggling to find form, a productive Gilberto is essential for sustained team success.
3) Defoe does it again - Defoe looked much sharper in his second game back returning from a nagging hamstring injury.  His quickness and superior movement was on full display in the win.  Defoe was cool in front of goal, composed as ever beating Carducci for his 28th minute opener, his fourth wearing red.  Defoe played provider on Bradley's 89th minute winner, drawing two defenders to him before playing a diagonal ball finding Bradley in space.  Whenever he gets the ball in and around the box, he is a threat and has the ability to create on his own.  That's why it's so important for the Englishman to be more involved.  There were stretches in the game where he faded out of the match when Toronto FC was too sloppy in possession.  He needs the ball played to his feet and his teammates to do better moving off the ball, finding space.  Defoe's touch is sublime and distribution is spot on.  As long as Defoe stays fit, Toronto FC will remain a threat in every match they play.  He's far too dangerous.
4) Hail Cesar - Toronto FC goalkeeper Julio Cesar was named to the Brazilian squad for this summer's World Cup in his home country.  Cesar's inclusion doesn't surprise with a resume second to none and showing good form since his arrival in Toronto.  He has fit in with the team exceptionally well, on and off the field.  Last year's starting goalkeeper, Joe Bendik, will be called upon as stand-in upon Cesar's World Cup absence.  Bendik got his first start Wednesday and picked up where he left off last season with strong play.  Bendik came to the rescue in the 44th minute, making a big save on Russell Teibert who found space inside the Toronto FC 18-yard box.  It was instinctive stuff, with Bendik reading the play, coming off his line and staying big.  Doneil Henry helped out Bendik seconds later, clearing Nicolas Mezquida's effort off the goalline.  Bendik came up big again in the 75th minute with a pair of timely saves on Omar Saldado.  The goal conceded was a mess with the defending all over the place.  The blame hardly falls on the goalkeeper.  There was enough on display Wednesday to alleviate any worry about a significant dip in goalkeeping when Cesar is gone.  But there's no question who remains the number one. 
5) Not your average Joe - Linesman Joe Fletcher manned the west-side touchline for the match.  Much bigger games lay ahead for the Niagara Falls native in the not-so distant future.  The 37-year old will be running the touchline at this summer's World Cup, just over a month away.  The assistant referee will link up with an American duo to form one of the 25 officiating crews in Brazil.  The last Canadian official to participate at a World Cup was Hector Vergara who was part of the 2002, 2006, and 2010 competitions.  Wishing Joe the best of luck and safe travels this summer.
Next up for Toronto FC is the second leg of the Amway Canadian Championship semifinal tie in Vancouver against the Whitecaps, Wednesday May 14 at BC Place.
Jermain Defoe (Photo: The Canadian Press)


(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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