As this is a monthly review I can blissfully ignore that game that ushered in the month of May oh so ingloriously. OK, I won't ignore it (much) but I wish that I could - don't you? We've endured the cold and the rain and oh have we endured the play of TFC. It's been a rough month for our Reds as injuries killed what little depth they had, and collapsed deals, mental lapses and their own lack of quality caught up with them.
Toronto went 0-1-3 in league play, with their solitary win coming in their first leg of the Voyageurs Cup. Doesn't sound too terrible right? Still running at close to a point a game clip; still leap years ahead of last year right? - on paper at least. However, if you look at those games you'll see a fragile team (both mentally and physically) that, with the exception of the come from behind tie against Dallas (remember the good times?), are still incapable of putting in a complete game or holding onto a lead.
What's the cause of all this you ask? Well the simple answer of course is that TFC just aren't that good. The team has been punching above its weight for the past two months but as April progressed and injuries mounted it has become clear that the depth chart is a shallow one and that many of the new acquisitions are not ready for prime time.
Forwards: So goes Robert Earnshaw, so goes the team. That's the plain truth right there - and of late it's not been a pretty one. Earnshaw continues to show a great instinct for goal and is often the hardest working man on the pitch, but the service he gets into and near the box has been terrible. As he's not a tall man he works best when the ball ends up at his feet - but more often than not crosses being sent in are ending up over or at his head and he's being easily outmaneuvered by opposing defenders who swarm him whenever a ball comes close. You can see his frustration growing with each game both with his current dry spell (for Earnshaw two games is a dry spell) and with his teammates.
Pairing him with (now injured) Justin Braun has had limited success but has highlighted what having a big target man to play off of could look like - when is Danny Koevermans back again? Seriously, when - we're dying to see what the two of them could look like up top. Until then don't expect a lot of goals from this team - Andrew Wiedeman is not a starter and while hard working when on the pitch, generally looks out of his depth; which was underscored by his being subbed on AND off in the game against the Red Bulls last Saturday. And with Emery Welshman, Ashton Bennett and Taylor Morgan still getting little to no playing time - whether deserved or not - Toronto has exactly zero secondary options up top on a weekly basis.
It's not as though Ryan Nelsen and Kevin Payne haven't been trying to add some firepower - but with the long awaited signing of Argentinian Maximilliano Urruti quashed at the very last moment and the same with back up plan Kevin Davies; Reds fans can't be blamed for wondering what plan C might be? Both Nelsen and Payne have recently mentioned that another signing is imminent (yes, another one) that will change the team.
Midfield: All of the talk of service can only mean we get to discuss the nightmare that is the TFC midfield. As previously mentioned in the March review and in countless other pieces we (and others) have written, Toronto's midfield is still very much MIA. Really two things have continued stand out for Toronto's midfield: 1. They have no one that can play wide with any sort of reliability and 2. the lack of creativity and attack through the middle continues to be shocking...I'm getting deja vu as I write this - pretty sure I said almost the exact same thing at the end of last month...sigh.
This is a team that is dying for someone, anyone that can play out wide - every game the team gets more and more compressed and it seems that not one player is able to consistently send in a decent cross. Instead we get Hogan Ephraim who has been mostly invisible; Reggie Lambe who seems to be living up to his 1 in 6 tag and John Bostock who never met a stop and start move that he didn't like. With Ephraim and Lambe it often looks like a combination of a lack of confidence and a general lack of awareness of those around them. There is talent there but not enough to be starting every week.
As for Bostock - clearly talented and yes, he's likely playing out of position, but maddeningly inconsistent. There is no middle to his game - whether a change of scenery (and recent forays on the left have met with mild improvement) can be enough remains to be seen. Both Ephraim and Bostock are on short term loan deals - don't expect them both here by mid-summer.
And what of Kyle Bekker? Lauded draft signing, Canadian, tons of upside - yet none of that has translated on the pitch (well, the 'Canadian' has obviously, but still). There is talent there, but he's clearly in need of a great deal more seasoning before becoming a regular contributor to the team. When on the field he generally looks to be a step slow and often unsure. And as an attacking midfielder his service on free kicks has been poor and unreliable. Not exactly what fans were hoping for from TFC's top pick in the draft - although to be fair, an awful lot of pressure has been heaped on his young shoulders - he shouldn't be expected to be a starter yet, and well it's clear that he isn't.
Really the only bright spots in the midfield have been Jonathan Osorio, Luis Silva and yes Jeremy Hall. Out of the three Hall has been the real revelation - oft maligned (and rightly so) last season as a member of the defense, his switch to the midfield has given TFC a solid defensive midfielder. His play has actually improved to the point where I'm looking forward to seeing him play with TFC's latest acquisition Matias Laba.
Osorio and Silva are still hit and miss but both have had some decent performances of late. Silva is still very inconsistent and seems tentative on the ball - while there's undeniably talent there he seems unsure as to how to but his skills to use and create for his new teammates. Hometown boy Osorio has looked like everything that Bekker hasn't - decisive on the ball, attacking through the middle (hey, can he play the wing?) and not afraid to go for goal when the opportunity presents itself.
Defense: What was supposed to be the foundation for this team has been a more than a little shaky this past month. Part of that of course is the rash of injuries that has befallen the backline: Richard Eckersley, Darel Russell and Logan Emory have all gone down with knocks and veteran CB Danny Califf was also sidelined - first with the flu and then by the solid play of Gale Agbossoumonde.
While captain Darren O'Dea and Boss have for the most part been a fine tandem in the centre; the fullbacks? Umm, not so much. Ryan Richter has had several shaky performances on the right - the first couple of games his poor passing and seeming inability to get forward were highlighted and in recent games his defensive positioning (or lack thereof) has also stood out. His frustrating play on the wing is somewhat of a surprise given that he's more accustomed to playing as a wide midfielder and was a large part of the Charleston Battery's championship winning season - we've seen little of that here as his overlapping with the wingers has been less than effective.
And then there's the curious case of Ashtone Morgan - what on earth has happened to him? Morgan has never been super solid defensively but was at least adequate and more than made up for those deficiencies on the offensive side of things. But this year? Poor outing after poor outing - the defensive liabilities have led to several goals and the offense? Well, we've yet to see much of those crosses that he used to whip in from the left with ease. Is it a confidence issue or has his development really taken such a giant step back? What is plain is that both he and Richter need to removed from the starting lineup as soon as there are healthy replacements available to Nelsen.
As for the middle - O'Dea and Califf were intended to be the starting CBs for this team - a veteran pairing designed to hold the defense accountable and solidify what has been a porous backline. When Califf missed a game due to illness Boss ably stepped in and filled his shoes - or so it seemed. You cannot overlook - especially as it seems to happen every single game - the late goal conceding that is fast becoming a very sad punchline. Again and again the tying or go ahead goal comes in the last few moments of the game. It's gone beyond frustrating to farcical. And you have to ask; maybe Califf should be out there lending a veteran presence in those crucial minutes? He and O'Dea have tons of experience, shouldn't it be utilized?
Keeper: There's really not much to say here other than Joe Bendik has done nothing to lose his starting place and Stefan Frei has done nothing to take it from him. Bendik has continued to be a bright spot for the first team - narrowly (and quite frankly unjustly) missing out on Save of the Week honours after his standout performance against Philadelphia and putting in very capable performances each game. Unluckily for Frei he's yet to do anything to cause Nelsen to swap the two and Frei's performance in the Voyageurs Cup wasn't reason enough to really make Nelsen think twice about that decision. This is the only position in which there aren't issues - the score at the end of each game notwithstanding of course.
Toronto is just not good enough at the moment; and they likely won't be for some time. Which is fine as long as the team is moving in the right direction and, as oft stated by Nelsen, is hard to play against and shows character and commitment in every game. And they had been - even if that complete 90 effort is still eluding them - until recently. The game against New York was ugly - their worst performance of the season - no heart, no communication and very little character to be seen.
And then there was the Voyageurs Cup...SIGH. After a solid performance by the B squad last week resulted in the team's first win at BMO and some positives to write home about came that nightmare in Montreal - we really didn't dream that, did we? I'm not going to rehash it - you can read Duncan's excellent write-up - but they took there performance against New York and sunk even deeper into the 'poor effort, poor game' vortex. What we will all be watching for this Saturday against Colorado is if they bounce back - it doesn't have to be a win but they damned well better play their hearts out - show us character and effort and we'll forgive some of their multitude of sins. Put in a repeat of their last two games? You think BMO's been empty so far this season; get ready for supporters dressed up as seats.
The reality is that TFC needs more quality - players like Hogan Ephraim, Ryan Richter, Kyle Bekker, Reggie Lambe, John Bostock and Ashtone Morgan all need some serious bench time - or a return to whence they came. Both Nelsen and Payne have been clear that if a player isn't working out they aren't going to stay with the team. Well, at the very least half of that list would open up some spots both in the lineup and on the international slot list.
May brings us the debut of Matias Laba - our first young DP and from all accounts massively talented and exactly what Toronto needs in front of the defense. It is important to note that Laba is not a goal scorer - he will not solve TFC's woes in that department. But he can break up opposition attacks and start the play from the back - think Torsten Frings only you know, younger and Argentinian.
But that is not enough and we can only hope that Nelsen and Payne are using every contact they have to find the team another option up top and someone to play out wide. Until these needs are addressed and with quality players, TFC are not moving up the standings or progressing into a better team anytime soon. But hey, see you on the 18th?