No game felt the pinch of international call-ups quite like the Toronto FC-LA Galaxy match-up. The list of missing players was like a who’s-who of stars, ranging from David Beckham to Amado Guevara. That didn’t stop Toronto FC from putting on a show for its loyal fans that still showed up at BMO Field despite the absence of so many headliners.
It was amazing to see how far Toronto FC has come from a year ago. The short-handed squad TFC fielded against the Galaxy was still stronger than the teams Mo Johnston was forced to field at the tail end of 2007. If anything, the Galaxy team we saw on Sunday looked more like the expansion team.
SBI correspondents Duane Rollins and Nathan Henderson-James watched the match and shared their perspectives on Toronto’s 2-0 victory with us:
Even short-handed, Toronto FC shows it can still win
By DUANE G. ROLLINS
An odd and unsettled quiet settled over the crowd assembled at the corner of King and Dufferin in Toronto’s Parkdale neighborhood. Everything looked to be in place—the crowd was almost entirely in TFC red, the drums were in place, flags were being unraveled, undercover police officers attempted, poorly, to blend in.
Yet, something was off. The crowd seemed subdued. Perhaps it was the knowledge that Toronto would be missing six regulars from its line up that was sapping some of the normal energy. It could have been that it was the third game in seven games for much of the crowd. L.A. was allegedly missing a couple players too (much to the horror of Toronto’s "ticket speculators"), but it’s unlikely that was the problem.
The crowd still sang and marched to the stadium, but things were dialed back a bit.
The announcement of the starting line-up was shocking. It was one thing to know that the Reds would be shorthanded; it was another to see just how shorthanded they would be.
The playmaker Amado Guevara. The free kick specialist Laurent Robert. The fan favorite Fanny Dichio. All gone. Greg Sutton, Carl Robinson, Tyrone Marshall, the AWOL list looked an awfully lot like TFC’s starting line-up most weeks.
Going into the season it was games like this that the Toronto fan most feared. Depth, it was understood, was TFC’s Achilles heel. Conventional wisdom said that once the players started to disappear so too would the points. Actually, that could have explained the somewhat subdued pre-game atmosphere.
Whatever it was, the familiar sights and smells of BMO Field quickly lifted the crowd out of its semi-funk. The seats were full at kick-off and, notably, there wasn’t a single Galaxy strip in sight in the stands—this was not a crowd disappointed by who the visitors didn’t bring, but rather a crowd excited by the home team.
It didn’t disappoint.
For a neutral, TFC isn’t a pretty team to watch. It’s direct and it’s, at times, brutally physical. It’s important to understand that basic fact to appreciate how impressive Toronto played Saturday. No, the Reds did not leave the crowd gasping at its skillful attack, nor flabbergasted by individual flair. But Toronto controlled every aspect of the game. It smothered the Galaxy, allowing next to nothing—the infamous streamers stayed in the crowd, rendered unnecessary by L.A.’s lack of scoring opportunities.
On the attack, TFC did just enough. An opportunistic header by rookie Julius James forced L.A. to open up. Jeff Cunningham took advantage, inching a little bit closer to his century goal to close out the game.
It likely offended Ruud Gullit’s senses. It wasn’t sexy. It was just effective.
So much so that it had the formally subdued crowd bursting with energy as the game closed out. When the final whistle blew, it was as loud as it had ever been in the short history of BMO Field.
The crowd isn’t cheering lovable losers anymore. Nor, is it just happy to be there. Now, just 14-months into the history of the club, there is a real feeling of hope. The season is still young, but the possibilities seem endless.
Unreal expectations dogging erratic Galaxy
By NATHAN HENDERSON-JAMES
Last week Tim Leiweke, the Anschutz Entertainment Group executive in charge of AEG’s sports teams, including the Los Angeles Galaxy, wins the first ever Sports Business Journal Sports Business Award for Sports Executive of the Year (for my money you can never have too much of the word “sports” in an award title). I guess that means bringing David Beckham and Cuauhtemoc Blanco to the United States cancels out pretty much the entire history of the Los Angeles Kings. Fair trade, I think.
But, boy, it sure didn’t take long for that award to go to his head. Rumors in the blogosphere bring whispers of Leiweke recently laying down the law to Los Angeles Galaxy players and management: become a “super-club” and win MLS Cup in November or else. Oh Timmie, Timmie, Timmie… you are such a card! No kidding – a regular laugh-riot! Have you thought about stand-up? I bet Simon Fuller has the contacts to get you on stage at The Improv…
Look, Tim, do you actually watch the games? Do you see things like the complete inability of the team to function at MLS level without David Beckham and Landon Donovan in the line-up? Did you note an international calendar that has all your best starters missing several games including in the crucial month of October? Have you heard about this thing called “the salary cap”? (And, boy, saying things like the team will have “the flexibility to improve the squad as needed this summer” sure won’t fuel any allegations of league favoritism for the Galaxy.)
Case in point: Los Angeles Galaxy versus Toronto FC, Saturday May 31, 2008.
Point: LA midfield’s ability to win the ball = missing.
Point: LA midfield’s ability to string together passes leading to an attack = missing.
Point: LA midfield’s offensive creativity = missing.
Point: LA defense’s ability to cover for lack of midfield control = poor.
Point: LA strikers’ ability to do anything without any service or support = nonexistent.
Point: Toronto FC missing two starting strikers, two starting attacking mids, one starting defensive mid, one starting center back (and after 18 minutes one reserve center back), and one starting keeper.
Point: LA missing one starting forward, one starting attacking mid, and two starting defenders. (And one starting forward only played 25 minutes.)
Result: TFC dominated from start to finish and the G’s managed exactly one shot on goal.
So from where, exactly, Mr. Timothy Leiweke, is this mystical MLS Cup supposed to materialize? I can assure you that it is not coming from the foot of Alan Gordon who continues to show a great workrate but pairs it with the first touch of a brick wall and the finishing ability of Chad Barrett. It’s not coming from the positioning of Troy Roberts, burned on both TFC goals. It’s not coming from the technical skills of Joey Franchino who loses half the balls he wins due to hard first touches or errant passes.
By my calculations, the Galaxy have exactly five players ready to be in the starting 11: Klein, Franklin, Becks, Donovan, half of Ruiz, and half of Jazic. That means the acquisition of six players under a stretched salary cap. I might even believe that you could pull it off if not for two things: One, the aforementioned Los Angeles Kings. Two, you ARE the guy who hired Alexi Lalas, right?
So, Timmie, shut up, fire Alexi, give Ruud Gullit and Paul Bravo your support and remember that the best clubs in MLS thrive on stability, have quality from back to front, and build enough depth to hold it together when injuries and call-ups hit. Do that and maybe you can put a third MLS Cup next to your spiffy new award.