Four Waking the Red contributors — Charlie O’Connor-Clarke, Jeffrey P. Nesker, Tej Sahota, and Benjamin Fenech — got together in cyberspace to discuss Toronto FC’s league form, Ager Aketxe, and whether all will be forgiven with a win in the CONCACAF Champions League on Wednesday.
Charlie O’Connor-Clarke: Let’s start with a straightforward question: Toronto FC II got stomped yesterday by Houston. Are you guys worried about all this?
Tej Sahota: I mean a little. There’s still 27 games to go, and plenty of time to get into this season, but having tasted the allure of the Supporters Shield once, it would have been nice to see it a second season in a row, and now that’s going to be very difficult. But it also means that the rest of the TFC MLS season got very, very interesting, as every game will matter
Jeffrey P. Nesker: I trust the Front Office but all these moves and loans and whatnot have my head spinning. I’m worried about Wednesday.
Supporters can reuse that “started from the bottom” Tifo, at least.
Charlie: I’ve seen some people saying that TFC may have to work too hard to catch up over the summer, which may leave them a little out of gas come the fall. Is there anything to that?
Jeffrey: I think it comes down to Wednesday. It will colour MLS as either another notch or a consolation prize. I’m simplifying of course.
Ben: I think that without careful rotation there is a real risk of running out of gas. Little to no offseason and 8 more games will take a physical toll. But, I don’t think it’ll take more effort to win games this season than last
Charlie: Personally, I think there could be something to it. They’ll probably end up playing more games than any other team, and they could well be pretty fatigued when October and November roll around.
Ben: Agreed, but I think it’s because of the added CCL games. Not due to them having to work harder to catch up in MLS.
Charlie: If they do end up struggling in the league late in the year, though, are you guys okay with that? If they pull it out on Wednesday, will you be upset if they don’t win any MLS trophies this year?
Jeffrey: I’m not sure I’m ready to say the emotional toll will be more challenging this year than last, but it will certainly be a different kind of ride.
If they pull it out on Wednesday, I think it changes the entire dynamic. Opposing teams would certainly be more intimidated, and our boys would certainly be playing with the wind at their backs.
Ben: I’d say Yes. I’ll be upset if they don’t win either the Shield or the Cup. This team is too good and this is our win now time so anything less is not really good enough.
Benjamin Fenech: Overall, I’m not worried about being behind in the league, but poor play by Nicolas Hasler and Aketxe is more concerning. Really expected Aketxe to hit the ground running at TFC and instead he has struggled. Houston is also a much better team than their record coming into the game indicated.
Charlie: I do think Aketxe’s had some good moments, and I thought he was TFC’s best player against Colorado, but we’re definitely waiting on him to properly break out. I want to see a bit more from him in a full game, with first-choice forwards like Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore to pass to
Jeffrey: I’ve seen a ton of hand waving re: Aketxe that is starting to border on the ridiculous.
People are explaining away an obvious attitude problem on his expectations of playing with the first team. He didn’t sign to play on the first team. He signed to play.
Charlie: You’re saying there is an attitude issue there?
Jeffrey: I dunno. I’ve read it, for what it’s worth. To my eye test he seems to be playing entitled. But what do I know? In macro — I guess people are tripping over themselves trying to find answers to this issue. Myself included.
Ben: Hmm. Interesting that you see that in his play. To me, I see a lack of confidence and his head dropping occasionally because of that
Charlie: He’s definitely confident enough to shoot from 20 yards out, but that’s just such a huge part of his game he can’t not be. Remember, it did take Victor Vazquez quite a long time to truly show up for TFC last year.
Tej: He’s behind Michael Bradley, Jonathan Osorio, Marky Delgado and Vazquez on my depth chart.
Charlie: Yup. I actually think he has the talent to be ahead of Oso and Delgado, but considering the magnitude of games the first team has been playing, chemistry has kind of outweighed raw talent recently
Jeffrey: Consider Auro though. He’s made himself kinda undroppable.
Tej: Auro was the beneficiary of an injury though. Morrow going down opened up a door that as of yet isn’t available to Ager
Ben: I don’t think Aketxe can replace Delgado effectively in our lineup. Doesn’t have the same two-way ability as far as I’ve seen. So that means waiting till Oso cools off. I’m fine with it taking a bit for Aketxe to get in the lineup so long as Oso plays as he has
As for Auro, he has done well but might be a bit overhyped. Very much at fault for the first goal against on Tuesday and didn’t play well overall.
Jeffrey: Perhaps Aketxe’s value thus far has been lighting a fire under the other players to up their games.
Charlie: Do you guys think the Supporters’ Shield is out the window?
Remember they got like seven points from their first six last year, and won the league by a mile. Three points in five is significantly more dire, of course, but still.
Jeffrey: I think the shield will be very difficult. But not at all impossible.
Tej: i think they’ll burn themselves out now chasing the Shield, and they can’t really rotate in the Canadian Championship... so yeah, it’s one trophy that’s gotten out of reach rather early.
Jeffrey: Atlanta and NYCFC are not built well enough to continue at this clip, but Shield chase has to be on the back burner. Get into form and see where we land.
Ben: Shield is very much still in play I think. Have 2 games in hand, and there are still about 30 games left so very doable. Both NYCFC and Atlanta will have injuries and streaks of bad form too
Charlie: Also worth mentioning that if TFC were to win both games in hand they’d be tied for sixth in the East right now.
Is next weekend’s game against Chicago must-win?
Tej: As much as a game in MLS in april can be, it’s a must-win. Just to get momentum righted in MLS, and to not fall further into a hole that will take too much energy in the fall to try and climb out of.
Ben: Yes. Chicago has not started well and it’s a home game. In MLS, that’s a must win.
Jeffrey: Yes. It’s a must win regardless of Wednesday’s result. Time to right the ship.
Tej: I think there’s going to be a lot of armchair quarterbacking on Thursday if the CCL isn’t won, but honestly, they didn’t have a choice. The MLS season was going to be an afterthought so long as the CCL goal was still there, so I’m not upset at the level of squad rotation they’ve gone through. If they do manage a win on Wednesday, these first five games will be seen as an extended preseason of sorts, and everything gets a rosier outlook to it. I would say let it play out, and avoid the inevitable hindsight analysis of whether it was the right decision to rest so many players in MLS competitions
Ben: Can’t wait for Wednesday. Whether TFC win or not, it’ll be an exciting game with them needing to score. Let’s hope they can get that first victory in Mexico
Tej: In other words fellow TFC fans, I urge you: don’t look back in anger...
Charlie: Oh boy
Tej: At least not today.