Well I did manage to get to watch the second game of the season and it was a stinker. At least I got to hang out and eat some ribs with my dad. The team had a bad start again; a really bad start. There were several key players who had terrible games and Sporting did not look fit today. Toronto Football Club were the better team today and they deserved all three points. Here's what i thought were some important things to note about the game.
1. These players had awful games: Graham Zusi, Chance Myers, Paulo Nagamura. Graham Zusi looked tired. He wasn't completing many passes and he was completely controlled by the TFC defense at times. He did manage to start to have an effect on the game once SKC started to win free-kicks late in the game, but it didn't produce anything tangible for the squad. Chance Myers was out of position a lot. He was also having a bad day passing the ball. The team defense was not there, but Chance seemed to be having the worst time. Paulo Nagamura had a terrible game. He lost a ton of balls and didn't make up for that in any way. Drawing the penalty was a terrible decision. There were five guys around that play and he should have been less aggressive; It was too easy of a call for the ref to make. With Julio Cesar gone, Nagamura may be the weakest player on this squad.
2. Toronto was ready for this game. I mentioned last week that this game looked like it could be a trap game and it turns out I was right. Toronto had an excellent game plan and Sporting played right into it. I realize Sporting were on the road for the second week in a row and they had to go to Canada, but they are professionals and that can't be an excuse. Toronto played a two man press the entire game which Sporting failed to respect. I would have thought after the first goal that they would stop mucking about with the horizontal passing on the defensive half, but they did not. TFC's forwards poked holes in the defense all game. It allowed them to play 9-10 men behind the ball and to have an extra leg up on counter attacks. The other thing that TFC seemed happy to do was allow SKC to control the middle third of the field while keeping a good defensive shape to win back balls before SKC could create any chances. This was made even more effective by the above mentioned three players just losing balls left and right. Feilhaber didn't look great in possession either. I almost put him on the above list, but I he wasn't nearly as bad as the others.
3. Bieler was worth every penny. I was not happy that the broadcast was playing a replay of Danny Califf running his fat mouth when Bieler marked. It was the kind of shot that no one else on the squad is capable of making. Something I like about Claudio is that he is very aware of the other attacking players and puts team goals ahead of Bieler goals. On pace for 34 goals, folks. Silver linings!
4. Kei Kamara was sorely missed in this game. This is the exact type of game that Kei would have dominated. He would have softened up the back-line and he would have terrorized TFC through the air. Kei is great on offense, but where SKC really missed him was on defense. Kei is great at tracking back and winning back balls that are lost or smothering buildups in the middle third.
5. Sapong should probably have started this game. CJ was all over the place in the second half. Part of it could be fresh legs, but CJ isn't a slouch and could definitely have played 90 quality minutes. I thought it was a good decision to sub out Feilhaber for Saad except Saad wasted a great chance with a wild, low-percentage shot. If you are going to come on late in a tight game, you have to make your touches count. It was apparent that SKC were in trouble early and I would have liked CJ to come on earlier. I understand that it can send a bad message, but there wasn't much to salvage after they gave up what might stand as the easiest two goals of the season.
6. Sporting had no respect for Toronto in this game. They came out of the gate too fast again and didn't realize that Toronto were ready to pounce. The lazy pass to Collin that resulted in the first goal is inexcusable and is the kind of mistake that arrogant players make. If you are going to run a system based on possession, each pass counts just as much as the next. You can't be blasé about any single pass. They all count and if you lose focus on just one, it can burn you. It certainly did in this game. It could have several other times and SKC are lucky that TFC aren't a very strong squad at the moment. While I have a lot of respect for possession based soccer, the way that possession teams get beat by losing focus and underestimating their opponent.
Clearly the team was not properly prepared for this game. As always, there are many things that could have been in play (travel, partying, etc...) but none of those excuse the poor performance by the squad today. I would have liked to have seen SKC go home with 6 points but it was not to be. After the dreadful first half, it was clear they didn't even deserve to walk away from this game with 1 point. I was happy that Sporting managed to turn on the offensive pressure in the last 20 minutes, but it was too little, too late. I would not have liked to have been in the locker room when Vermes came in to talk to the team after the full 90...
The important thing to take away from this game is that it is a long season and this is just one game. I don't want to see any more performances like this, but there's always going to be a few bad ones. No team is invincible. Hopefully this game will serve to re-focus the team and get them prepared for taking 3 points from Chicago. I'm hoping to be in The Cauldron for this game and I'm ready to sing my head off and hoping for a gritty SKC Chicago Fire showdown.
Postscript: I don't want to sound like I'm blaming the referee for part of this loss (because it was all Sporting) but the officiating in the MLS is horrendous. The penalty kick was deserved, but there were an awful lot of bad or missed calls in this game and in many that I've seen (I was at the US
Salazar Open Cup final). I think the dumbest thing this ref did was giving the teams 5 minutes of stoppage time. Sporting didn't earn the right to get that much leeway to get back into the game and there definitely wasn't enough stoppage of play to merit that. One day the MLS will figure out how to train better refs, but hopefully they fix the post-seson first. smiley face