A New Stable Of Strikers

Related: Maicon Reunites With Preki
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July 9, 2010

The Honda Indy may have closed down much of the Exhibition Grounds, but the front office at BMO Field has been revving up – at least as far as player signings are concerned – this week.

[inline_node:4174]The addition of Brazilian forward Maicon Santos, to Toronto’s attack, rounds out a very busy four days that also witnessed the inking of Spanish striker Mista. 

This is an important signing for head coach Preki, as this is a player that understands the demands of his system having played for the Toronto boss at Chivas USA last season. 

Maicon is a smart and instinctive footballer, who complemented now Europe-based U.S. winger Sacha Kljestan at Chivas.  Although he scored just twice in 12 games in 2009 (one regular season and the other against Los Angeles in the playoffs), he is not shy to shoot from tight spaces, tends to hit them on target and draws the attention of defenders.

The 26-year old journeyman was rarely used at Chivas under new coach Martin Vasquez this year but managed to score a goal from 258 minutes of sparse involvement. Vasquez preferred to go with Justin Braun and Maykel Galindo ahead of Maicon. The Goats have also added Venezuelan international striker Giancarlo Maldonado while they try to escape the Western Conference cellar.

In a span of four days Toronto’s stable has increased from two regular strikers to four, which should be a minimum when making a charge in the league table.  Competition for place now starts between Chad Barrett, O’Brian White and the two new signings as to who will emerge as Preki’s first choice forward. A fifth option, youngster Fuad Ibrahim drops deeper down the depth chart, but his performance as a late substitue against Houston holds a slight bit of promise that he too could could re-engage in this fight by showing greater versatility.

Adding someone familiar to Preki like Maicon to the squad can’t hurt, particularly when injuries and suspensions begin to mount at this stage of the season.

July 6, 2010

The signing of Spanish forward Mista should excite Toronto fans for a couple of reasons.

First, some greatly needed experience, competition and depth will be added to the Toronto attack as Preki has already built a strong team from the back.

The second – and this is a wild card – is that the last time Toronto added a 6 ft tall, 31-year old striker from Europe, things worked out relatively well with that player.

Revisiting the first reason, it’s true that this is not the same dominant Mista of Valencia that helped Rafael Benitez to two La Liga titles in the Spanish top flight. His past injury concerns will also weigh heavily on the minds of many.

[inline_node:4160]One can point to his strike rate of recent years at Deportivo La Coruna and Atletico Madrid and wonder if this is the solution to Toronto’s goal scoring woes.  But Europe’s top tier such as Spain’s La Liga is a world apart from Major League Soccer.

At the heels of Beckham-mania, some doubted the Juan Pablo Angel signing at New York for his inability to light up the English Premier League (14 goals in his final 89 EPL appearances).  The only people that begrudge that signing today are those tasked to mark him on the pitch.  

Mista is a different type of player than the electric Angel but can be effective in other ways if he works to his strengths. On set-pieces, he can be a target man in this league as Toronto seeks an aerial presence in the final third.  From open play Mista can hold up the ball using his frame, which will allow Toronto to have a more robust attack.

The wild card in this signing is can Mista provide that Danny Dichio effect?  

When Dichio arrived four years ago, few knew of the big man to finish so effortlessly around goal when given the chance. Immediately upon entering the league he proved a handful for MLS defenders and Dichio was exactly what Toronto needed in its inaugural season. 

Four years later as the Reds cling to a playoff position and sit within striking distance of the Eastern Conference summit, Toronto needs another forward to pull similar heroics near the opposition goal.

Nicknamed ‘Sean Penn’ for having similar features as the Hollywood actor, Mista may not provide the same glamour he once did at Valencia, but any significant punch that ‘Popeye’ (his other nickname) can provide to the attack will be most welcome.

June 10, 2010

Toronto's next opponent - June 26 at 7:30 p.m. (RSN) - Los Angeles Galaxy lost its first game of the 2010 MLS season Wednesday night.

[inline_node:4020]The match was ominous from the start after a one-hour delay due to heavy rain and thunderstorms in Sandy, Utah. The final score settled in defending MLS Cup champion Real Salt Lake's favour following a 1-0 result from a controversial Javier Morales goal at the 80th minute.

Los Angeles felt the goal scoring play should have been called offside, but it stood, handing the Galaxy its first defeat after starting the season unbeaten in 12 (10 wins, two draws).

One of those draws came against Toronto, a 0-0 result at The Home Depot Center, on May 15 in the last match for Landon Donovan and Edson Buddle before they joined the United States National Team for the World Cup in South Africa. Depending on how the U.S. performs at the tournament, Donovan and Buddle could be back for June 26, but may be physically exhausted with the Americans' last group match against Algeria taking place just three days earlier.

Whether Donovan and Buddle are present at BMO Field, LA has proven they are a great team this season with or without their stars (David Beckham still recovering from a torn ACL).  Since leading scorer, Buddle and top playmaker, Donovan departed, LA won their first three matches over Dallas, Columbus and Houston by a combined score of 7-1 prior to the Salt Lake setback. 

Having felt what they consider to be a sting of injustice against Salt Lake, Los Angeles will be eager to make amends and restart another winning pattern against Toronto.  The Reds will have to play disciplined and be particularly aware of the threat posed by rookie sensations Tristan Bowen and Michael Stephens, who have filled in seamlessly for Buddle and Donovan in coach Bruce Arena's system.

June 10, 2010

Preki's Spring Cleaning Pays

Toronto's recent success dates back to an uncertain start

Four Nutrilite Canadian Championship and 11 Major League Soccer matches later, all of those myths and uncertainties that clouded the skies over BMO Field in the early season seems to have disappeared, or at least dissipated.

It was only three months ago that some supporters and many in the media were saying that this is a rebuilding year, the new coach didn’t understand or care about the NCC and reporters were digging up testimony from former players vilifying his training ground tactics.

[inline_node:3889]Before arriving in Toronto new head coach Preki, knew what kind of a squad he wanted and once at the helm of BMO Field, he quickly realized which players were past their best-before date in Toronto.

Without going into details of offseason transactions, even the most hardened skeptic of his house cleaning approach at spring time has to at least grudgingly admit, that the Reds at present are probably the fittest, toughest and hardest working squad this club has ever had. 

And they are winning too. 

With a record of five wins and two draws from 11 league matches, Preki has debunked the idea that this is a “rebuilding year.” Toronto is third in the Eastern Conference, four points off first place and Preki is to be credited with a better 11-game start than any of the three previous TFC coaches before him.

Under Preki, Toronto locked up the three-year old NCC tournament quicker than any previous side. They proved to be a class apart from their lower division rivals for the first time, something that had been expected in the previous two campaigns but was undelivered.

Finally, the issue of training ground tactics has been put to rest by a team that plays a very cohesive and at times attractive football. Injuries, international callups and player rotation due to a busy schedule has caused Preki to deviate from the fluid passing game that he wants on a nightly basis, but they've shown their intent.

There was a tactical setback in Salt Lake on May 1 that armed the critics with new ammunition. But Toronto hasn't lost a match since, compiling an eight-game unbeaten streak over two competitions.

Despite the recent success, Preki insists the Reds are nowhere near a finished article.

The coach has never missed the playoffs as a bench boss, and now there is truly reason to believe as Toronto shapes to Preki's demands, the Reds may just host a postseason game (or two?) at BMO Field for the first time in a year when it also holds the 2010 MLS Cup Final.

May 28, 2010

Saturday Night Football Overload

"Battle of the Best" competes with Canada prior to TFC kickoff

When Columbus hosts Los Angeles at 7:30 p.m. on GOL TV Canada – dubbed “Battle of the Best” by Major League Soccer – it will be one of the matches to watch on a busy Saturday evening that precedes Toronto’s 10 p.m. clash with San Jose. But Canadian soccer fans may be excused for having their minds elsewhere.

This is when I am especially glad for the invention of picture-in-picture. 

On Saturday night Canada will conclude its two-game South American trip with a friendly in Venezuela, played at roughly the same time as the highly anticipated MLS match from Ohio.  Canada’s first game in this series was a 5-0 blowout loss suffered against an expectant Argentina, where Diego Maradona’s side was eager to flex some muscle ahead of the World Cup. 

[inline_node:3898]Toronto captain Dwayne De Rosario played 87 minutes for Canada in that match before being substituted. He flew out to the Bay Area later in the week to meet his TFC teammates.

Leading up to the Buenos Aires blasting, I held a discussion with members and contributors of rednationonline.ca – a website dedicated to the Canadian game. Naturally they being an online source, we communicated over email.  Aside from the Argentina match, we discussed the recent changes brought forth by the Canadian Soccer Association as well as the evolution of the Nutrilite Canadian Championship. 

Of the latter, one of the unfortunate aspects in this third season of NCC from a Toronto perspective, was a lack of regional television coverage from broadcaster Rogers Sportsnet. Those who did not have Sportsnet East or West channels were shutout from finding Toronto matches on their television. On top of it, Toronto’s game in Vancouver, already with a late start for eastern Canadian viewers, was shown on a half-hour tape delay.

This was seen as a debacle by many supporters who clamored into the Toronto FC Live Matchday Blog to voice their displeasure. But all five RedNation contributors had a nuanced take, underlining the business principles that guided these broadcasting decisions, while imploring the interested providers – CSA and Sportsnet – to work toward a better solution in the future.

“Let's not forget how far this tournament has come from the beginnings of the Voyageurs Cup in 2002,” reminds RedNation contributor Max Bell, choosing to focus on the fact that all of the games are now being shown on TV. He continued “with all three teams set to join MLS by 2012 this tournament, and its rivalries, will only continue to grow in the coming years.”

Reporter Gavin Day feels Sportsnet’s decision to show the matches as they did wasn’t “meant to slight anyone, it was just a business decision.”  However, he believes if the “teams (that) are actually playing in the Nutrilite are not served then it really does send a poor message.” 

While CSA and its broadcast partner may have fluffed the NCC coverage a little, though unintentionally, its renewed commitment to the national program hasn’t gone unnoticed by RedNation writer Steven Bottjer. 

“The CSA has done a lot of good things lately. With the main one being that they seemed to have listened to the National Team players and are scheduling more training sessions and more games. The next step is to increase the profile of the national team.”

Raising the national profile means more air time and to that end Bottjer’s online colleague Ian Clarke thinks “the CSA does not use the media to its full potential.”

Bottjer was particularly miffed that the most recent friendly matches against Jamaica, Poland and Macedonia, some of which were watched by Canadians on “very poor pirated web streams,” didn’t receive the required attention from the national media. So he is grateful that the Argentina and Venezuela matches are being shown on Sportsnet but insists more has to be done.   

“With all of the Canadian stations that now show soccer on television, there is no reason that all of the national team matches cannot be available to viewers.”

But getting the Canadian game more attention requires a stronger, greatly unified body at the association level that aims to drive the whole program toward a stated goal.  This brings to light the proposed changes announced at the CSA’s annual general meeting in mid-May.

A mixture of appointed and elected CSA directors are said to be replacing the present guard.  New blood is to come from diverse backgrounds,  individuals bringing their expertise and business leadership to replace the status-quo which has seen Canada fail to secure a World Cup berth for six consecutive tournaments since making its tournament debut in 1986.

[inline_node:3918]Former Canadian national team captain and current CBC and GOL TV Canada analyst, Jason de Vos (pictured here in his last season with Ipswich Town in England), has written on this issue extensively this month.

The proposed changes have given RedNation contributor Jeremy Loome reason for optimism. He believes that if the CSA changes take place, “it should harness the best corporate contacts of its directors to provide ongoing funding for both the national team and the development of the professional game in Canada.”     

Loome remains cautious that “the model is unproven” though he concedes it “seems logical.”

Indeed for some observers logic has been missing from the Canadian game at the organizational level for some time. Many lament that Canada has prevented its own golden generation of players from taking part in the World Cup over the last decade due to CSA’s shortcomings.

Change though, may be on the horizon.

As for more immediate matters, that of Venezuela on Saturday, Clarke sits in the realist club admitting that Canada doesn’t “have the strongest starting eleven” for this encounter. 

Bell counters by saying “it wouldn’t be unfair for us to expect a result.” 

Venezuela finished two points out of a playoff position in South American World Cup qualifying. Uruguay took the spot, and then maximized by defeating Canada’s CONCACAF rival Costa Rica in a playoff to earn a place in South Africa.

May 27, 2010

MLS Foes Square Off On GOL TV Canada

Clash of titans on Saturday will be of interest to Toronto FC

GOL TV Canada has a pair of Major League Soccer matches in Week 10 that could prove vital to Toronto's fortunes in the Eastern Conference and its overall playoff chances this season. 

[inline_node:3908]On Thursday night at 8 p.m. FC Dallas (11 points from nine matches) visits Bridgeview, Illinois to take on the Chicago Fire.  With nine points after eight games, the Fire could pull within a point of third place Toronto in the East with a win, before the Reds play on Saturday night (Rogers Sportsnet, 10 p.m.) against a resurgent San Jose. 

According to the league site, Dallas has won each of its six previous matches in Chicago, a streak that dates back to 2003 and includes the most recent meeting, a 3-0 victory for the Hoops last May when Jeff Cunningham opened the scoring on route to his Golden Boot winning season.

On Saturday evening, GOL has a live broadcast of the league's clash of titans. Western Conference leader Los Angeles visits Eastern table topper Columbus. Neither club has lost this season, with Los Angeles winning eight of their 10, and Columbus taking maximum points from six out of eight matches.

[inline_node:3909]While MLS results have been similar for the clubs, diverging paths have greeted individual stars on the two teams. Los Angeles will be without Landon Donovan and Edson Buddle, who have been selected for the United States World Cup squad.

Not so lucky for Columbus are centre back Chad Marshall and left sided midfielder Robbie Rogers, who were both cut this week from the U.S. team headed to South Africa and should be available to bolster the Crew. 

If Los Angeles were to pull out a result in Ohio, Toronto and New York (who are in action against New England on Saturday), could pull closer to Columbus in Eastern standings with wins. Columbus currently leads with 20 points, New York has 15 and Toronto is two back of the Red Bulls in third. Top two teams in each conference automatically make the 2010 MLS Cup Playoffs with the Final being held in Toronto on November 21.

May 24, 2010

Top Red In Buenos Aires

Dwayne De Rosario to face Argentina

Toronto captain Dwayne De Rosario will be the Reds’ sole representative for Canada in an international friendly versus Argentina on Monday (Sportsnet, 3:30 p.m.) from Buenos Aires.
[inline_node:3803]It’s a rare occasion for Canada to be involved in a match against a potential World Cup winner. Their last five friendly matches were against Cyprus, Guatemala, Macedonia, Poland and Jamaica. Some of these are strong sides but hardly world-class national teams in the make of Diego Maradona’s Albicelestes
In anticipation of this May 24 friendly, and a second south American encounter in Venezuela on May 29, I took the opportunity to pose some questions about Canada’s international plight in football, particularly from an organizational stand point, to the writers and contributors of rednationonline.ca
Those who follow Canadian football, be it club or country, may be familiar with the work of RedNation writers, who were kind enough to respond to my questions over email. Their answers will be broken down in two parts ahead of the respective friendly matches.
This first piece looks specifically at the Argentina game and De Rosario’s inclusion. The second, coming later this week, on the Canadian Soccer Association in general as the country’s governing body over the beautiful game is in the process of what many hope will be transformative changes.
Gavin Day, who is covering the match from Buenos Aires for RedNation, spoke to De Rosario upon his arrival in the Argentine capital. Day writes that the Toronto captain was “bagged after the trip to LA and Vancouver” as Toronto FC traveled west following their Nutrilite Canadian Championship win over Montreal two weeks ago.  To add to his fatigue, Day reports that De Rosario’s plane from Texas to Buenos Aires was turned back for a medical emergency halfway through the flight.  But he expects the Scarborough-native to be fresh for Monday and lead Canada’s attack.
Leading from the front isn’t anything new for De Rosario, his club’s leading goal scorer in Major League Soccer. Steven Bottjer, who often covers the Reds at BMO Field, says he expects “De Rosario will play a very similar role to the one he currently plays for Toronto,” as the “focal point” of head coach Stephen Hart’s Canadian squad. 
But Max Bell, a contributor to RedNation and a member of The Voyageurs – an unofficial Canadian National Team supporters group – believes Hart could employ De Rosario two ways noting that the coach “favoured a 4-3-3 system” that will mean the Torontonian “will be used as one of the wing players in the attacking three.” But should Canada choose a 4-4-2, Bell expects De Rosario to slide behind big Germany-based striker Rob Friend “in a roaming creative role.” 
Most observers wouldn’t give Canada much of a chance against Argentina but interviewer Ian Clarke doesn’t see this as an issue.
“I think most supporters of the (National Team) have come to terms that at least for the next year, Canada’s friendlies are not about getting results,” wrote Clarke.
That is because he believes matches like this one is being used “to sift through the players they will be counting on for the 2014 World Cup Qualifications.” 
[inline_node:3450]While 2014 is a distant and untainted dream for Canadian supporters, it’s the upcoming 2010 World Cup in South Africa that has Argentina buzzing. Another contributor, Jeremy Loome, believes that the home team is eager to “put together a cohesive performance” before traveling to Johannesburg, where Lionel Messi and co. will play their opening group match at Coca-Cola Park against African giants Nigeria on June 12.
Loome isn’t expecting much but hoping for a respectable margin on the score sheet with hamstrung Toronto midfielder Julian de Guzman, and perhaps Canada’s most athletic player, Atiba Huthinson missing the contest.
The match at El Monumental – the 65,000-seat home of 2009 Carlsberg Cup guests to BMO Field, River Plate – will prove to be a hostile Argentine affair, says Bottjer, but not necessarily due to Canada being an opponent. Having just limped into the World Cup via qualification, Argentina will “be looking to win decisively in their final friendly” to dispel any worry that Maradona has a squad unfit to compete against the world’s best in less than three weeks.
Part two of my discussion with writers and contributors of rednationonline.ca about pending Canadian Soccer Association changes, and the evolution of the Nutrilite Canadian Championship is coming up later this week.

May 14, 2010

Unparalleled Dominance

Todd Dunivant on Los Angeles' 2010 start

Los Angeles has been scary good in 2010. That’s neither an earth shattering revelation nor is it meant to convey hyperbole. It is what it is, they are simply the most in-form club in Major League Soccer and no other team even comes close as we enter Week 8 of the season.  

This was accentuated last week as the Galaxy faced down two difficult away tasks in Colorado and Seattle. Somehow Los Angeles managed to make it look easier from one game to the next.

First they went to Commerce City and the five thousand feet-plus of altitude that visitors must contend with, say nothing of the strike force of Conor Casey and Omar Cummings, when visiting Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. Despite allowing 18 shots (six on goal), LA made their 1-0 win look convincing, limiting Colorado to mostly half-chances aside from goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts (who has six clean sheets) foiling Cummings on a breakaway.

[inline_node:3791]Only three days later, they were off to Seattle to take on a talented opposition that was growing increasingly desperate for a win at home, having started the season poorer than expected. This is where LA became particularly frightening. Four different goal scorers contributed to a 4-0 mangling of Seattle in front of 36,000 stunned Emerald City fans. None of the strikes came from LA’s league-leading poacher, Edson Buddle.

Buddle’s early season form (nine goals in six matches before going scoreless in Week 7) has been the topic of discussion in MLS circles. But Galaxy players know that it’s not just Buddle’s remarkable strike rate that has their club sitting on a staggering 22 points from eight matches – the only blemish a scoreless draw at Kansas City in Week 5 – scoring 15 goals and conceding just two in the process. 

“We have gotten a lot of questions about why Edson is the only one scoring. When things are going well they have to come up with some type of controversy, but we never thought twice about it,” said fullback and former Toronto FC player Todd Dunivant.  He was one of the four to open his goal scoring account in Seattle. 

What mystifies many is not that LA was able to beat Seattle so convincingly last weekend, but that they did it just three days after descending the Rockies.

“The quick turnaround from Denver to Seattle was a definite challenge. The Colorado game was physically demanding and we needed to be very smart about our recovery,” Dunivant reflected on playing close to his home town. 

“Our staff did a fantastic job of getting us ready. That's the physical part. The mental part we got right as well.”

If anyone had thought LA was a one-man team with Buddle’s scoring or that the club might find itself in trouble once its depth was tested, were sorely disappointed last week as Dunivant pointed out.

“(Buddle) has been finishing everything in sight, but beyond that, he is holding the ball up and making all the little plays that make a difference. It was only a matter of time before other guys got on the score sheet."

One of the men who rediscovered his goal scoring instinct in the Seattle rout was the always dangerous Landon Donovan, who helped to create the first three before taking his own chance.

Now that players not named Buddle are also scoring goals, things could get uglier for LA’s opponents.

Toronto is next to challenge their Galactic supremacy.