As if enough things hadn’t taken place over the course of the last 72 hours, the cherry on top is that TFC has a game tonight!
What a week it’s been. It’s tough to put into words just how much things have changed since the preview of Saturdays match against New England, but before I get into tonight’s match preview between the Philadelphia Union and Toronto FC, let’s recap what’s transpired.
To kick things off, on home field, with playoff aspirations beginning to fade after only picking up full points in 3 of their last 13 matches, TFC lays an egg against a team that has now jumped them in the table.
A 3-0 embarrassment at the hands of the Revs on Saturday night spelled the end of Ryan Nelsen’s tenure as head coach of Toronto FC. General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko finally pulled the plug on the entire coaching staff, barring assistant coach Jason Bent, after sputtering along through over a third of the season.
To take over for outgoing coach Nelsen, Tim Bez appointed assistant GM and director of the academy Greg Vanney…no interim title attached I might add. Vanney, having not much more experience in a head coaching position than Nelsen did, is apparently in the long term plans of management. Is this another case of “on the job training”?
While I don’t disagree necessarily with the dismissal of Ryan Nelsen and his staff, I do feel that the timing is the big question mark on all this. Approaching the final stretch of the season with a make shift coaching staff and another inexperience coach at the helm is a destabilizing factor that could be this teams downfall. However, Ryan Nelsen’s lack of tactics and inability to manage a game properly are aspects of his reign that most definitely needed to be addressed.
The real fall out seemed to happen almost immediately after Ryan Nelsen’s firing. Rumours have began to swirl about just how happy and settled marquee striker and designated player Jermain Defoe really is in MLS and in Toronto.
As the sun rose on transfer deadline day, it seemed almost as if every team from the EPL was lining up an offer for our highest paid player. Arsenal, Newcastle, Leicester City, Hull, and QPR, all were rumoured to have submitted an offer. As the deadline passed, Tim Bez stated that TFC had received a “franchise record transfer offer” for Defoe and that it had been declined.
What is truly mind boggling is that, why would EPL teams, who all seem to be teams struggling to fill in their strikers role, be lining up to place an offer on a chronically injured player who claimed he was ready for a new challenge in MLS? And why would Toronto be shopping their leading scorer, highest paid player, and someone who hasn’t even completed a full year of his 4 year contract?
The only explanation that I can see is that Defoe himself has requested it. Reading through several articles on the subject, they all seem to be pointing to the same conclusion. He’s in over his head. He never has truly settled in the city and more importantly, the league itself. This spells humiliation for a league who thought they had landed a much sought after marquee player, and for a team that has been trying to rehab their image after a former player once referred to it as “the worst team in the world”.
What management did in declining the offer is save face to a fan base that has been promised playoffs and goals and an entertaining brand of soccer that we can all be proud of. The amount of marketing that hinged on Jermain Defoe coming to Toronto during the off-season was remarkable. To sell a player who was responsible for selling so many season tickets and countless jerseys and other merchandise, would be a slap in the face to all those who were woo’ed into continuing to support a team who has been a perennial basement dweller in a league they claim to have revolutionized.
All that being said, what was once termed as a “Bloody Big Deal” has quickly devolved into a “Bloody Big Mess”. And this Bloody Big Mess is a Bloody Big Train Wreck that has travelled to Philadelphia to take on the Union in a home and home set that could save or seriously threaten the hopes of a playoff berth for TFC.
As the table sits right now, TFC is sitting in a three way tie for 3rd place in the Eastern Conference. The Union sit 3 points back in 7th place and must be absolutely salivating at the prospect of playing a lame duck Toronto squad in back to back games.
Coming off a big 4-2 victory over San Jose, the Union have been a fairly decent team thus far. While not really being considered as dominant a team as some might’ve hoped, Philly is still very much in the playoff picture.
Thinking back to how this home and home would’ve been perceived just a few weeks ago, Toronto would be considered the uncontested favourites to roll through and pick up all 6 possible points. But with recent events in mind, one might not bet on it being so easy.
This, being the first meeting this season between these two eastern conference rivals, the Union come into this match as a historical favourite. Having played each other 10 times previously, Philly has won 4 matches while TFC has taken just 2 matches. The last meeting was a 1-0 victory for the Union at PPL Park on a last gasp strike by Kleberson in the 95th minute.
What’s most concerning about this match is that, in the last 4 matches played between these two teams, Philadelphia has managed to score a goal in the 85th minute or later in all of them. For a historically poor team in defending like Toronto is, and when considering the mental stability of a group of players who now have no leadership, I don’t think it would take much for history to repeat itself.
With team leading scorer Jermain Defoe out until probably late September at the earliest, TFC will have to find alternate means of goal scoring. Gilberto, who was held off the score sheet for the first time in several matches Saturday night, will have to find his scoring touch again and be the DP that TFC was hoping Defoe would be.
Michael Bradley, who no doubt played his worst game as a Red in Saturday’s game, will have to really step up tonight. He will be wearing the captains armband and will need to show what he’s capable leading this team. If coach Vanney is looking to “unleash” his players and see them play to their potential, Bradley should be first on that list.
Having been called back from Canadian National Team training camp, Doneil Henry and Ashtone Morgan might feature in tonight’s match. Morgan, a natural left back, has very sparsely seen playing time since the arrival of Justin Morrow. With Morrow out injured, now will be Morgan’s opportunity to prove his worth.
TFC’s make shift backline will have to contain the likes of Conor Casey and Sebastien Le Toux, who leads the Union with 11 goals this season. Tonight will also mark the first time Union midfielder and former TFC first ever draft pick Maurice Edu will play against his former team since being transferred to Rangers of the SPL.
With all the drama and storylines in tonight’s match, it’s sure to be must see TV. This is the meaningful soccer that TFC fans have been waiting for after what feels like an eternity of wallowing at the bottom of the table. Now is the time to support our players regardless of how you perceive management’s actions. I truly believe that the remaining matches should be treated as must wins. Tonight will be a tell-tale sign of how the players will respond to real pressure and if new head coach Greg Vanney has the ability to show composure and motivate his troops on to victory.
Come on you Reds!
(image courtesy of Toronto FC)