In the game thread intro, I wrote how after both teams took a CCL beating from Mexican teams, it might be like the big fight in Rocky II where it comes down to which punch drunk fighter manages to drag themselves up off the canvas first. That's pretty much how the first half played out, uninspired and unthreatening from both sides, Toronto FC didn't force one save out of Colorado Rapids goalie Matt Pickens, while Milos Kocic had just the one save to make.
It was matched by the lack of passion in the stands, a late arriving crowd is really no surprise any more, but for whatever reason, whether proving some kind of point about their importance, reacting to the poor effort put forth on Wednesday, or just reacting to the poor entertainment in front of them in a game that meant nothing, the Supporter's Groups were very quiet, meaning a very flat atmosphere. It was a bit strange, but it was very successful in proving what organised and involved supporters bring to a game, which I'll get into at the end of this, but first the game.
TFC weren't universally terrible in the first half, the defence, with Torsten Frings once again pulled back to help out, was generally solid, and Danny Koevermans put himself about a bit to create chances for others, but there was a definite lack of pizzazz up front. After a great performance last week, Julian de Guzman was pretty invisible, though Eric Avila at least did look lively, and he was crucial in the early goal that kickstarted a much better second half.
After a bit of a midfield (or middle-field if you're whoever was doing the Bmo Field announcements) scramble De Guzman knocked the ball to Avila out towards the right side, and he brought it inside a bit before knocking a great ball out to Ashtone (or Anton if you're that same announcer) Morgan on the Left wing. He put in a fantastic low cross, behind the defence but far enough away that the goalie couldn't claim it, Ryan Johnson just missed it at the near post but Danny Koevermans had lost his marker to get to the ball instead and he buried the chance. Koevermans is like the anti Chad Barrett, he doesn't really seem like he's involved in games, and looks positively unathletic, yet give him a chance in the box and he's proven lethal so far. He showed that again just a few minutes later, again losing his marker to get a glancing header just inside the far post from a Nick Soolsma cross.
2-0 up and from there TFC just made it home. They let in one goal after a comedic sequence of defending, Torsten Frings making a bad decision to try and tackle Sanna Nyassi, which he failed to do, then after a great block from Morgan, 4 defenders followed the ball, and left Nyassi alone to receive a pass a few yards out of goal, from where he hammered the ball home. Ashtone Morgan made a goaline clearance, as did Richard Eckersley right at the end, as the Rapids kept up their streak of always losing to TFC at BMO.
All in all, a decent performance. After Wednesday's Mexican shitshow, a concerted effort was obviously made to bolster the defence and it worked well, though at the expense of the midfield and attack which was nowhere near as dangerous as the previous week against Columbus. Hopefully the off season will see the arrival of someone who can command the defence, and allow Torsten frings to play in midfield and have his usual positive effect there, but until that happens, it looks like we'll probably have to compromise the rest of the team to ensure a solid defence.
As for the supporters issue, well Ideally they wouldn't really matter, TFC would be up near the top of the table and the game would have had playoff or even Supporter's Shield implications, but obviously that isn't the case. Instead this was just the latest game where the only meaning was trying to find improvements in how the team is playing, and figuring out which players are worth keeping for next year. #preseason2012-tastic. Instead we're left with hoping the crowd can provide the atmosphere, a bit of buzz and a reason to care.
It's what the whole 'support local football' movement is all about really, emotion. It's why I'd much rather watch TFC play or even another MLS game not involving TFC than any EPL or La Liga game, why I care much more about Concacaf's Champions league than Uefa's clearly superior one. Let's face it, without emotion and a reason to care, if you strip football down to it's cold logicalities, it's just 22 men pointlessly running around, and let's face it again, MLS is nowhere near the best football out there, and TFC aren't even anywhere near the best within MLS. With top quality football freely available on tv these days, emotion and some kind of personal connection are really the only reasons people will give TFC a try and keep coming back.
Speaking personally, I don't need high quality football, back in England, I gave up supporting Liverpool (and this was 1980's Liverpool, when they were good) to actually go to games and support my local team Darlington, who were generally woeful, but after going to a few games provided that emotion and personal connection. When I moved to Canada, I lived in Vancouver and went to see a few 86'ers games at Swangaard stadium, the football was nothing special, but it was the lack of atmosphere and passion that stopped me from getting sucked in and becoming a supporter. Because of that experience, I pretty much wrote off North American football, never got into the Lynx, and didn't bother getting season tickets for TFC originally. It was seeing games on TV and thinking 'ooh, that sounds like a proper football game' then going to games and enjoying the atmosphere, back in 2007 and 08 when there was a genuine buzz and anticipation around the games that led me to get season tickets and slowly get more and more sucked in.
I'm way too old to get fully into all the singing and jumping stuff outside of a one off game here and there myself, but simply put, supporters matter, and the first half today showed that. It's a lesson that some front office's in MLS seem to have learnt, but way too many, and I'll include MLSE in this group, seem instead very distrustful of supporters and view them as annoyances that they'd be able to do just fine without. Hopefully that's not the case and they do realise that supporters groups and the atmosphere they bring are an integral and inseperable part of the overall product they're selling. If they don't, well today's first half was a great demonstration of that fact, a Christmas future vision of what we might end up with if supporters groups throughout the league continue to be alienated.
The quality of players and the play on the pitch is definitely improving, but it's nowhere near the point where it can stand on it's own and continually attract people beyond the hardcore given the alternatives that are available these days. Football and it's supporters throughout the world have an awkward and often uncomfortable symbiotic relationship. Supporter's need the team, that's undeniable. Even if they don't like management or ownership, there are very few palatable options available beyond upping sticks and starting their own club, given that changing clubs or just abandoning it all together is not generally a choice. Clubs often don't seem to realise that it is a co dependent relationship and that they also need the fans just as much, or at the very least they feel that supporters are easily replaceable. A subtle reminder every now and then that that's not the case really isn't a bad thing, today was a very effective one.