Another game, another big loss, a 4th straight league defeat, even laughably implausible mathematical chances of playoffs are racing away into the distance. Our league leading (dominating really) goals against and negative goal difference numbers both nicely boosted to the extent that we're now merely competing with our own history. The 41 goals already let in equals last years total for the full MLS season, and we're only 8 away from our worst ever showing of 49 goals conceded, which was in 2007 when we also got our worst ever goal difference of -24 (-22 and counting so far this year). Also, Kansas City's three goal outburst was the quickest 3 goals in MLS so far this season, and it was mentioned by Luke Wileman during the game that we've now used 33 players so far, tied for 2nd most ever in a season, with 36 being the highest amount (let's see, Dunfield and Griffit will play at some point, we're just a couple of trades or academy callups from breaking that one as well, sweet).
But in reality, results and stats in MLS play stopped mattering quite a few games ago, so just like the last game against Dallas, this was all about integrating the new faces into the team, and having one more practice game before things get real with the crucial CCL qualifier against Real Esteli. How did things look in that regard? If you don't focus on the curious lineup decisions, mental breakdowns and general defensive shitshowiness, not bad, not bad at all. There were definitely positive signs there, with a couple of the new signings, Danny Koevermans and Ryan Johnson stepping up to join Torsten Frings in the 'look like good signings' category.
Koevermans had a very good game, looking dangerous when chances came his way, and already sharper than in his first game. Against Dallas he had a free header that he headed weakly at the goalie, with a similar chance in this game he buried it to bring the score back to 3-1. Earlier he made a great effort to run into the box and connected well on a low cross across the six yard box from Mikael Yourassowsky only to be denied by a great save from Jimmy Nielsen, who just got enough on the ball to knock it down, and then very fortunately saw it bounce over the bar. That would have made it 1-0 Toronto and who knows how the game would have played out from there. He came close again, running on to a beautifully chipped pass over the defence from Frings before firing a low hard shot just wide of the far post. Though I was very sure that Frings would do well, I've had doubts about Koevermans, but this was a really impressive performance, lethal finishing, intelligent runs, effort, linking well with Frings, these are all very good signs that never realy showed up with our last DP striker, and promise good things
Ryan Johnson as well had a good game down the left wing, and similar to Koevermans, he scored and was only denied earlier by a good/lucky point blank save from Jimmy Nielsen. We've had a few false dawns from exciting wingers (Javier Martina, Joao Plata) so far this season, so I won't say he's the definite answer to one of our problems, but if he can keep that sort of play up, and give us the genuine secondary scoring option we've never had this season, that will be a very good thing.
So there we go, positive signs that we will get better when it comes to scoring goals, and given that Koevermans' goal ended a goalless streak of over 350 minutes, that's something that is definitely needed, but what about that defence and those curious lineup decisions I mentioned earlier? Well that's where things got ugly
Richard Eckersley did make his return to the starting line up, but was played at Centre Back, with Eddy Viator staying at Right Back. That really didn't work out, and when combined with another poor performance from Andy Iro, meant plenty of chances for Sporting forwards. The midfield saw Gianluca Zavarise and Maicon Santos accompanying Torsten Frings, and that didn't go well at all, Santos was at fault for all three first half goals and was subbed off before the half for Matt Stinson, which is quite the statement for Aron Winter to make. An unfamiliar defence and a defensively poor midfield led to a lot of breakdowns and almost all the goals could have been defended a lot better.
The first goal saw a weak corner bounce before reaching Santos at the near post. He seemed frozen and completely failed to clear the ball, instead allowing it to bounce off him and sit up nicely for Kie Kamara to spectacularly volley home. The second goal saw Santos easily beaten on Toronto's right side, with Viator nowhere around to help him out, and Kei Kamara scored from an unmarked header, with Iro and Eckersley both in no mans land. The third goal came after Santos tried to dribble around two players and coughed the ball up in midfield, which led to some horrible defending, Eckersley ball watching, while Andy Iro was a few yards behind everyone else and thus they allowed Omar Bravo to easily get away from them and through on Stefan Frei in goal. After a good first quarter of the game, conceding one goal led to a mental breakdown and all of a sudden it's three, and game over. The fourth goal, to make it 4-1 was also way too easy, a simple ball down the right with substitute left Back Ashtone Morgan nowhere near close enough to their winger, a cross and a tap in from Omar Bravo.
The game had something for everyone, for the pessimist who looks for the worst, there was plenty to prove that things aren't really changing or improving for TFC. For the optimist, well there were some good signs, in important areas of the team. Even the most optimistic fan though realises there are still plenty of things that need to improve, and there are changes that can be made to make that happen.
Hopefully Eckersley will be moved back to the Right Back position for the next game, where he is a better than average MLS player. He's not a disaster at Centre Back, but isn't that much better that the alternatives to justify the downgrade at Right Back. The main argument for keeping Eckersley at Centre Back is stability to help the new guys integrate into the squad. I still hold out hope for Andy Iro, but that's two rough games he's had now, hopefully he can get his game going soon, but it seems like he's a bit in over his head right now. It's a lot easier to look good when you're partnering Chad Marshall in a well organised team which is the luxury he had at Columbus, he seems to be struggling when asked to be the main man with an ever changing defence around him. For now I'm not sure what the answer is from within the current squad, but let's hope something clicks soon there.
Up front, things look good now and I'd have no hesitation in going with the same three starters (Soolsma on the Right Wing with Koevermans and Johnson). In midfield Terry Dunfield and Julian de Guzman can't come back soon enough for me. Torsten Frings had another good game, but Zavarise and Santos were no more the answer beside him than Mikael Yourassowsky and nathan Sturgis were the game before. It seems unlikely that they'll go from not even being on the bench to being in the starting lineup against Real Esteli, so we'll have to make do with any two of the aforementioned players. I'd be surprised to see Santos given another start though, probably he'll be replaced by either Nathan Sturgis or Matt Stinson.
The Real Esteli game has come a bit too soon really, with just 2 games not being enough to figure out the answers to how the new guys fit into the team, I genuinely don't know what to expect, and now that it's a game that actually matters, that makes me nervous. Let's hope Real Esteli aren't any good, I think that's our best hope of advancing.