Fletcher on MLS: Searching for positives with TFC

Toronto FC 's Jonathan Osorio. (CP)

TORONTO — Another week produced another Toronto FC loss, and another attempt to put a brave face on it by coach Ryan Nelsen.

This week it was frustration at out-possessing and outshooting the opposition and still coming away empty handed in a 2-0 road loss to New England, prompting Nelsen to state that “for 60 minutes of that game, we were what we can be. But that’s frustrating because it’s just a tease.”

Like all the recent post-game interviews that leave fans wondering if they’re watching the same game, there is an element of truth to what Nelsen said, though it doesn’t give the full story.

The 60 minutes in question came when New England had already taken the lead after dominating early on. Nelsen explained it as a slow start, but that doesn’t recognise the opposition’s role; when New England needed a goal and was going for it, they were clearly the better team. Only after they scored and eased off a bit was when TFC managed to come into the game.

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Even in the second half when Toronto was pressing more, and out-possessing and outshooting New England, there were few quality opportunities created. It was the Revolution who looked more dangerous, creating chances on the counter attack and culminating in their second goal in injury time.

A 2-0 score-line was very much a fair result, another good indication of just how far TFC still have to go. But it’s not to say there weren’t glimmers of hope, a few positives to cling to that show where TFC might find the improvements they need.

The most obvious one was Jonathan Osorio, fresh off being called up by Canada, who came on as a second half sub to play on the left wing in place of Reggie Lambe who was once again anonymous. Right from the start Osorio was much more involved, repeatedly causing problems for New England defender Andrew Farrell and linking up well with Matías Laba and Darren O’Dea. It’s a performance that should earn him a starting spot next week and continues what has been a very bright start to the season for Osorio.

Laba also had a good game; he may never have the impact to match the expectations that come with the DP tag, but he again showed he has what it takes to be a valuable piece of the puzzle as the team grows.

Jeremy Brockie was another who impressed on the night, almost opening the scoring after his hard work won the ball and created a chance that was blocked by Bobby Shuttleworth. He was a bundle of energy throughout the game, though he didn’t quite have the final touch to link well with Robert Earnshaw. Chances went begging due to passes not going quite to the right place and being quite quick enough.

This was best exemplified in the second half when he through on goal and passed up the chance to shoot in favour of laying it off to Earnshaw. Not a terrible choice, but Earnshaw was running hard to the goal in search of a potential rebound and thus the pass was behind him. That sort of understanding and familiarity will come with more time spent in games and on the training ground, but there was enough to suggest when that happens, Brockie can be a very good option in the future.

The big improvement to come, the great hope, is of course Danny Koevermans who looks likely to play against Philadelphia next Saturday. Even if it takes a while for him to get to full fitness and sharpness, his presence will help in a few ways.

First of all, he’s a much better target than the smaller Earnshaw. For better or worse, the long ball forward is still a big part of TFC’s game, and the big Dutchman will help a lot with his ability to compete with the centre backs, win balls and hold them up to maintain possession. That will help the defence as much as the forwards, as fewer balls coming right back at them can only help them rest and reorganize.

Next up there’s the positive impact it should have on Earnshaw’s game. With all due respect to the likes of Brockie or Justin Braun, Koevermans is a presence the opposition has to worry about. This will take some of the attention and pressure off of Earnshaw, giving him a better chance of escaping his marker and finding space to get a shot off, or to pounce on mistakes from a distracted defence as he did early in the season when teams maybe weren’t focussing on him as much.

Mainly, Koevermans will supply goals. He obviously played a big part in making poor Toronto teams look competitive in 2011 and 2012, much the same way that Earnshaw’s hot streak masked TFC’s problems earlier this season. Having two strikers with the potential to score in bunches can only help a team desperate for points any way it can get them.

If the New England game showed anything, it’s that on the whole, TFC aren’t good enough to be able to compete, create chances and make things happen without their best players. Eventually they may get to the point where the squad is good enough to not have to rely on the return of a 34 year old coming off a serious injury to turn their fortunes around. Right now, though, that’s exactly where they are.

Duncan Fletcher is a Toronto-based writer and key contributor to Waking the Red, a blog about Toronto FC and Canadian soccer. Follow Duncan on Twitter.

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