Editorial Note: Welcome Arslan Siddiqui to the Waking the Red team. Arslan is a very knowledgeable soccer writer, which is surprising considering he is a Liverpool supporter. He has been on the Toronto FC beat since last season and will bring expertise and opinion to WTR.
"Why is Seba so isolated up top?"
"Why is Bradley not pushing up?"
"We're not going to score any goals if we keep playing this way."
These are the questions that fans were asking their TVs in frustration during Toronto FC's game against the Red Bulls last Saturday.
The idea of Benoit Cheyrou not being in the starting line-up was simply incomprehensible for fans. The smooth passing, solid distributing, yet static midfielder was a vital part of the starting XI last season. Yet there he sat, hugging the bench for the entire 90 minutes against the Red Bulls.
As the game went on, Toronto offered absolutely nothing in attack. Sebastian Giovinco was a forlorn figure at the top of the park.
Then the Red Bulls were caught on the counter and committed a foul in the box. Penalty. Giovinco goal. After that, the Red Bulls threw the kitchen sink at Toronto and were caught on the counter yet again. Giovinco slides in Marky Delgado for a neat finish and it's game over. The Canadian side just beat the reigning Supporters Shield winners away from home after having next to no possession of the ball.
Then it all made sense. The players, the tempo and the game plan. Jonathan Osorio was selected ahead of Cheyrou due to his defending, mobility to track runs and also transition from defense to attack with ease. Daniel Lovitz was on the field to also provide defensive coverage on the flanks. Endoh was a perfect candidate to play this game due to his offensive skills and his engine that never stops running.
Toronto were playing a top quality opposition and knew they'd have to defend properly in order to have any hope at gaining points from this match-up. As captain Michael Bradley said, last year this team would beat the teams below them and lose to the teams above them in the standings.
You won't defeat a team above you in the standings by trying to beat them at their own game. So head coach Greg Vanney decided to let the attacking Red Bulls keep the ball, while focusing on defending well. He hoped to utilize Giovinco's mercurial talent to catch them on the break. It worked. Toronto FC team with tactics? We're not used to that. No one can even fathom the idea of a Toronto FC team with discipline- we're used to watching two goals against each week while out scoring the other team.
Last year's Toronto FC would trade blows with the opposition until one knocked out. Almost every game was a shootout. The Reds only had one style of play, and that was to give the designated players the ball and hope they score as many goals as possible; whilst praying that the sieve-like defense would be able to let in one less goal than the opponents. Hence, watching a team with a game-plan to counter the hard pressing New York Red Bulls was shocking.
You see, Toronto FC fans have been conditioned to have meltdowns when the team hasn't scored after 30 minutes because they are expecting a goal against at any moment. We haven't generally 'done' defense in Toronto. So when Toronto twitter was having a meltdown over the lack of offensive chances for the Reds, it made sense.
On Saturday, Toronto FC did not bother trading chances with a high quality opposition like the Red Bulls. They were strong at intercepting passes, winning tackles, and not surrendering many goal scoring opportunities. Toronto only surrendered one shot on goal, even though the Red Bulls had almost 60% of possession.
Thus far, it seems that this year's Toronto FC team has the ability to win through different styles of play and doesn't simply rest it's laurels on out scoring other teams in shootouts. Good teams win gritty and are flexible at changing styles of play when required to defeat different oppositions.
A good sports team in Toronto? Just maybe.