In the best traditions of the entertainment industry, the final performance had a happy ending which sent the loyal fans home for the winter wanting more. But those same fans, I suspect, left the stadium wondering where this display was when the team really needed it.
I forecast more than a month ago Toronto FC would not make the MLS playoffs and it gives me no pleasure to be proved right. The victory over Chicago featured all the positives seen only fleetingly over the course of the campaign. Hunger, speed, incisiveness, grit, determination and creativity were among the parting gifts on offer for the clientele who appreciated the effort and stayed to give the players an ovation to accompany their lap of honour.
Did they earn it? Certainly, based on the display against the Fire; unfortunately, during 2008 there have been too many tough days at the office for the Reds – and they know it.
Let’s not beat about the bush here – it was the first home win in more than four months. Eight league games have come and gone since the team last collected maximum points and any successful team builds its foundations based on winning the majority of its home games.
Curiously, Toronto FC boasts one of the best home defences in the entire league. Only 12 goals have been scored by visiting teams this year and Hunter Freeman boosted that tally when he unwittingly put the ball into his own net against Houston. It is at the other end of the field the truth begins to emerge.
Despite the distinct advantage of playing to noisy, supportive full-houses in Toronto, John Carver’s team apparently suffers from stage fright.
The Reds have scored only 17 goals on home turf – comfortably the worst total in MLS and, worryingly, no better than the expansion year. Critics have been quick to pounce on the poor road form as an explanation for under-achievement – I believe the real culprit may have been right under our noses all along.
All the desire and commitment in the world counts for nought in this game if you can’t finish your chances. Last weekend it all came together, but there have been too many weekends when the end product has simply not been good enough.
The deficiency is brought into sharper focus when you consider only four of those 17 goals have been scored by the men employed to put the ball in the net – the strikers. Jeff Cunningham was shipped off to Dallas with only one goal in front of the home fans, Danny Dichio got a couple before injury took its toll and Chad Barrett has only found the net once at his new home since his move from Chicago.
You could argue it’s irrelevant who scores just as long as someone does, and you’d have a point. On the flipside, I would suggest every team needs a goal-poacher – someone who can turn a half chance into a goal, a regular, selfish, Johnny-on-the-Spot character who possesses that ‘sixth-sense’ to be in the right place at the right time. At this time Toronto does not have such a player on its roster.
With just San Jose to come, TFC management can rightly claim a year-on-year improvement. The team is 10 points better off than 2007 with three more on offer come Saturday. Unbeaten in four games, there is a guarantee that whatever happens against Frank Yallop’s Earthquakes, the Reds will not finish bottom of MLS in 2008.
My doctor will advise me against straining my voice next year. But if I see you outside Gate 4 after the game and I’m a little gravelly, chances are it will have all been worthwhile.
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