Yesterday was of course the only home game for TFC during this year's CNE, and, as pointed out by Squizz over at CSN, there's plenty of easy analogies and practically mandatory observations to be made, it's a lazy blogger's dream so I won't be bucking that trend here.
They're a perfect match really, the Ex and TFC. The EX of course is all about sizzle over steak, style over substance, hype and salesmanship that promise good, or maybe not good but at least memorable, times, but instead leave you flat or sick and wondering why you keep doing this to yourself: TFC? Well, I don't even need to write that sentence do I?
It's been the one thing that has been constant over the years, all the promos and the marketing surrounding the games, but thankfully, it's rarely infringed upon the game itself. There's no goal music (though there are annoyingly fireworks), no 'this goal brought to you by...', no 'yellowtail yellow cards', player or coach interviews are generally confined to half time or full time, the important stuff, the bits that actually matter, the game itself is more or less left alone.
Part of that would be the players getting ready for the game. Sportsmen are creatures of habit, dressing rooms full of superstitions, at the very least familiar routines that enable the players to focus, get in the right frame of mind and do what they need to do to be ready to go when the whistle blows.
So what happened yesterday? Well that routine got interfered with, for a marketing gimmick. A competition that had been advertised over the last few weeks, to be a part of TFC's team photo. Here's the photo, apparently the Star thought that was THE image to go with their report of the game, apparently that's the action that really mattered, well done official newspaper of TFC, way to be a team player. Perhaps just a minor interruption in the player's routines, but a very good illustration of the club's priorities, sizzle, hype, salesmanship all more important than the core product. 'I know you guys have something important to do and have been working towards this all week, but can you just stop and take a photo with these guys first? Thanks, now off you go'.
Maybe I'm making too much of it, just a harmless little extra something, but could you blame the players if they weren't quite right, not quite ready to go, their focus interrupted?
And what happened after the photo, the day's money shot, was taken? Well, less than 2 minutes in and TFC let a goal in, a really sloppy one full of mental errors.
Kelyn Rowe got the ball about 40 yards out, completely unmarked behind TFC's 2 defensive midfielders and ran right at the defence. Doneil Henry had to step up to take him on, Steven Caldwell was pulled out to the left of the box by Juan Agudelo's run while Eckersley drifted further and further into the middle to cover the space left by Henry and Caldwell, leaving Diego Fagundez alone on the left side of the box. Rowe ran past Henry and into the box where there were 4 players around him, but no-one really challenging.
He got a shot off, blocked by Eckersley doing the panicky chaotic 'last ditch hero' thing we saw all too often last season, but the rebound fell right to Rowe. TFC players were generally stood still or very slow to react, and Rowe had plenty of time to knock the ball across goal to a totally unmarked (by Eckersley or anyone else) Diego Fagundez to tap it in.
After 5 minutes, Fagundez had another good chance as the Revs worked it smartly down their left, a delicious backheel from Rowe setting up Fagundez on the corner of the box. That backheel took Eckersley and Henry out of the play, but that's ok, it was good positional defending undone by a sublime bit of skill, that happens. Sadly, Jeremy Hall put in a lazy effort tracking back, as did Reggie Lambe and so Fagundez was wide open. Joe Bendik managed to save his curling effort, but again, it was sloppy, slow and reactionary defending, looking nowhere near as sharp as the attacking Revs players, as if their head wasn't in the game.
To be fair to TFC, after that shock to the system, they generally played quite well, and took it to New England. Territorially, the first half was played more towards the South end goal TFC were attacking, plenty of pressure applied and corners won. As always, the end product was lacking, that last pass not just right or the final shot not good enough, Robert Earnshaw got a couple of chances, the first after some great play by Reggie Lambe, the second from an Ashtone Morgan cross, but he put both chances harmlessly wide.
Eventually TFC got their equaliser, with the luck that their effort had earned. A free kick in injury time wasn't cleared and pinballed around the box, including off Steven Caldwell's arm, though a handball call there would have been harsh. Eventually Doneil Henry got the ball to Andrew Wiedeman and he showed his finishing skills, knocking it past a wrongfooted Matt Reis.
The second half was pretty similar, with TFC not having the quality up front to finish off chances or even really create them, even after the introduction of Max Urruti and Alvaro Rey. Again it was late in the half that a long free kick was swung into the box, Steven Caldwell got involved and the ball ended up in the back of the net. This time the controversy didn't help TFC, as Caldwell headed the ball in, only for the ref to give a foul for the sort of minimal contact that happens every time two players jump up for the same ball, a horrendous decision.
That call of course became the focus of the post game talk, Ryan Nelsen saying that the ref told Caldwell at the time that he'd got it wrong, though Caldwell then said that the ref gave him no explanation. Either way, it left a bad taste (insert cronut burger joke here.)
Really, the goal should have counted, and TFC would have deserved that 3 points. As Ryan Nelsen said in his post game press conference, "...for eighty minutes of the game I thought the passing was fantastic, one-two touch, the guys up front were smart. We just needed a little bit to run away with the game." He's exaggerating a bit as he always does, but he's not entirely wrong. What else did he say? Here's a couple of cherry picked quotes.
"We were slow out of the blocks weren't we?"
"All eleven players were asleep and not organized. Very good warm up and yet in the five minutes where they fell asleep, in professional football it hurts you."
Merely a coincidence that that slow, sleepy 5 minutes came after that photo gimmick? Perhaps, but for a team as poor as TFC, that needs as much help as it can get, the club should be doing everything possible, no matter how insignificant it might seem to help them play their best, to remove anything that might be seen as an obstacle. Instead they put another small distraction in their way, for the sake of a promo.
But hey, at least the marketing guys got a great photo out of it all. Priorities.