I always intended to treat my trip to Montreal as a proper vacation and not really write much about the game. Wasn't expecting to leave it this long, but Toronto FC's loss, and particularly the performance they put in really killed off any desire to get right back into writing about anything. But, I suppose I should get back into the swing of things at some point, so here's my very very late impressions of the Montreal game, along with some hope (but also trepidation) from talk of Torsten Frings and Adrian Cann being back against Chivas USA on Saturday.
Aron Winter mentioned that Frings is just days away from returning and might be back in action against Chivas, and Adrian Cann's injury status is now listed as 'probable' for that game, and my initial reaction is a simple 'thank the footie gods for that' as when both of them are fully fit and available, they're desperately needed. The important part of that sentence is of course 'fully fit'. If the 0-4 start caused a panic and Frings is rushed back too early, only to re-aggravate the injury or even just have it become a chronic problem that stops him from getting back to 100% for a long time, that would be a much worse result than having 0-4 become 0-5.
With that disclaimer in place though, let's hope Frings as well as Cann can return soon as once again, all the problems their absences have caused very much showed up again against Montreal. Where to start?
Well the first thing that both of them would help out with is the mental errors that continue to plague TFC. Once again, the defence as a whole played alright, and though Montreal had the better of the play, there weren't a lot of chances created through the normal run of play, at least until Logan Emory got sent off. Instead it was a mistake by Terry Dunfield that led to a quick counter attack goal. Later in the game it was Ty Harden's decision to make a tackle that merely knocked the ball right into the middle of the box, despite knowing his fellow Centre Back who might normally have been there to clean up had been sent off, that led to the second goal.
It's the sort of thing we've been seeing way too much of so far this year, and for me it comes down to players being asked to do too much, and the pressure eventually telling. Ty Harden is a decent MLS level defender, but he should never be the number one Centre Back, and though I think he's played well in general, it's becoming common for at least one big mistake a game to come from him. Dunfield as well isn't ideally suited for the role being asked of him recently and though he's had some good games this season, I don't think of patient possession football as his style and that showed in his intercepted pass that led to the first goal. Richard Eckersley mentioned in his post game interview that TFC don't have the personnel right now, and I think he's another who is struggling. For him it's manifested in his tendency to try too hard that leads to a lot of rash challenges and leaves him looking like a walking yellow card at times.
If Cann can come back and be the main man in defence, organising and taking charge, that will take a lot of the burden off of Harden's shoulders, or even allow him to be moved back to the bench. If Cann can eventually secure things at the back enough to allow Torsten Frings to move into the midfield, that would do a lot to fix another issue that showed itself on Saturday, which is that the team really didn't look comfortable playing in the 4-3-3.
Until Logan Emory was sent off, TFC looked tired, stagnant and thoroughly uninspired. Lined up with two defensive midfielders in front of the back 4, plan A resolutely didn't work. They went through the motions and tried the same thing over and over as if they'd had a certain plan drilled into them. It was one they didn't seem sure of, as if everything took just a little extra time to think of, which killed off any chance of doing it quickly enough to work. After the sending off, they had to make changes and adapt, and that's when all of a sudden they looked dangerous, there was more effort, it was all more instinctive, and though Montreal had plenty of chances, TFC looked a lot more lievely going forward, as if liberated from the shackles of the plan that wasn't suited to their strengths.
Having Frings back would be an automatic upgrade on Dunfield, as well as allowing Julian de Guzman more freedom to play his natural game and hopefully produce similar results to the improved play we saw from him towards the end of last season. That should also mean the attacking midfielder is a lot less isolated than was again shown on Saturday, with Montreal having way too much space to play with between de Guzman and Dunfield and Ryan Johnson at the top of the midfield triangle. Those improvements in that 'box' of centre backs and defensive midfielders would create positive ripple effects throughout the team, and make the 4-3-3 look a lot more effective. For starters, it would allow the full backs to get forward more often to support the attack, as well as allowing for a more creative presence at the Attacking Midfield spot, perhaps Luis Silva, who hasn't looked all that good when relied upon to contribute defensively.
The added offence would also be a very good thing as a lack of goals has been just as much TFC's problems as the defensive errors and lapses. A few weeks back, I'd argued for a stronger defensive system to help out the beleaguered back line, and mental errors aside, it's worked out. At the time I argued that the forwards were good enough to make their own chances and goals on their own, but sadly that hasn't really been the case. Solidifying the defence, and thus allowing for a more attack minded formation now seems necessary.
Though Chivas is now seeming like a must win game, the temptation to rush either player back must be avoided, but really that declaration of full fitness and match ready can't come quick enough. Frings returning is guaranteed to have a positive impact in many ways, but his return alone can't be enough to fully right the ship. Adrian Cann, well given the length of time he's been out, that one feels a bit more like wishful thinking, but if he can regain the form he showed in 2010, it will also be a big upgrade. It's a big ask for any player, and maybe Cann will turn out to be just the latest defender asked to do too much in a system that doesn't suit him. For now, hope for a successful return from him is pretty much all TFC fans have.