1. I’m coming to Saturday’s game late having had a personal commitment on the night, but my in-depth analysis is this: they were fine.
D.C. United are struggling, but that has much more to do with the fact that they can’t score than them being a fundamentally bad team. There’s no starting-calibre No. 9 at Ben Olsen’s disposal with Patrick Mullins out, though he hasn’t scored yet this season himself after a hot finish to the 2016 campaign.
Things played out pretty much as you might expect, really; TFC had to work hard to break down a side that is far from a disaster at the back, but one goal always looked like being enough.
If I was to offer one observation, it’s that sometimes - usually when their ball movement is at its sharpest, ironically - Toronto start to play too quickly when more patience, and the building of sustained periods of pressure, might help them in combination with the one-and-done quick breaks. “We got a little impatient as the [first] half wore on and were trying to force some things here or there,” Greg Vanney admitted.
Toronto tend to be able to get Victor Vazquez and Justin Morrow involved in between and behind the lines when they shift the game side-to-side instead of going straight to goal, as they did in this move:
The first goal, of course, came from a quick counter upfield and I’m certainly not suggesting TFC should not be looking for those opportunities. In games such as this one, though, here may be a slightly better balance to strike between those fast breaks and the kind of prodding and probing that can open up high-quality chances.
2. Toronto are hardly one of MLS’ worst offenders when it comes to yellow cards, but their star players could do with taking a little more care. The Reds’ rap sheet at the end of this match really should have been near spotless, but instead their four* most important individuals found themselves in the book.
*Michael Bradley’s yellow card has been the subject of some debate as it has not shown up in the official records, but as he was clearly given one we can only assume that is an error.
To recap, Vazquez was sort of unlucky; a D.C. player deliberately blocked his quick free-kick from about a yard away, which should have resulted in it being retaken. Instead, the ball went the other way and Vazquez fouled to halt a counter-attack.
Sebastian Giovinco’s was also in the aftermath of a questionable decision; he hurled the ball into the turf after being penalized for knocking a defender over on the break when contact was minimal. Jozy Altidore was booked for retaliating to an innocuous challenge by going after Steve Birnbaum not once but twice, and Bradley ruled himself out of the New England Revolution rematch by hauling back Patrick Nyarko.
Altidore’s was the most idiotic, but Giovinco’s can’t really be excused by shrugging it off as his passion for the game. He can yell (though not in the direction of the referee) and push over as many stanchions as he likes, but he’s got to know better than to throw the ball away; it’s a guaranteed booking every time and so easy not to do.
Offences of the type Bradley and Vazquez committed will happen, but would I question the trade-off of a Bradley yellow card versus the risk of Nyarko carrying the ball in his own half.
The issue, anyway, is that suspensions can start to follow one after the other quite quickly once you’ve taken the first one-game ban for five cautions. You get another after hitting eight, 11 and 13 yellow cards and one for every two thereafter, and with Altidore and Bradley now on six and five respectively they need to be careful.
3. Speaking of Bradley, it was nice to hear him talk in such glowing terms about Jordan Hamilton after the 21-year-old’s latest goal:
“Jordan has big talent. He’s a young player, but he’s a player who, little by little, is getting big experience under his belt. When you look back in the last few years at his goals-per-minute ratio, I don’t know it exactly but my guess is it’s pretty impressive.
“His knack, in terms of getting on the end of plays and scoring goals, is really good, and we continue to challenge him every day to improve his total package so that he’s a more complete forward, he’s a guy who the team can count on in the toughest of moments.
“He’s an unbelievable kid; he has personality, he’s funny, he has a huge heart and every guy on the inside of this locker room cares for him in a big way. We all see the talent that he has. Now it’s up to him, but it’s also up to us to continue to push it along in the right ways. But he’s a guy who is continuing to improve and improve.
Bradley takes media duties every game and, as captain, has eulogized plenty of teammates after good performances this season, but you get an impression of genuine warmth for Hamilton the person as well as the player.
That minutes-per-goal rate, by the way, is at 32 for the current season - second among all 172 players that have scored in MLS so far in 2017.