Saturday, April 22, 2017

Toronto FC 3-1 Chicago Fire: Art and Scaffolding

Yep. Down to the visage of grim concentration.
After watching Toronto FC knock off the Chicago Fire 3-1 in Toronto, I logged out of MLS Live confident that the first headlines I read would hail the return of Sebastian Giovinco. And, yep. That’s entirely understandable because goals win games, after all, and Giovinco played like a man seeking to make whole his wounded professional pride…

…and, side bar, I think that’s what MLS really needs when it comes to foreign players; guys who play as if the stumbles they encounter in MLS somehow invalidates their accomplishments elsewhere. (Another sidebar: or guys like Diego Valeri, who feels a like an orphan who found a home.)

I’m going to lean into another cliché to explain this win: Toronto won this game in the middle of the field. Toronto’s trio – which put Michael Bradley in the hole behind Victor Vazquez and Marky Delgado – simply overwhelmed Chicago’s duo of Dax McCarty and Juninho, with Bastian Schweinsteiger in front of them; congrats to Toronto, too, for being the first MLS team to contain Schweinsteiger…proves it can happen. In recent weeks, Chicago has been able to get the ball in, near, and around the top of a team’s defensive third and keep the ball in there; they worked combinations from there (like this) that led to goals. Toronto’s midfield – and especially its back three – stepped aggressively to keep that area clear; any time it got in there, their defense swarmed to either pick the ball clean or force a bad pass.

Chicago couldn’t get a damn thing going as a result. The broadcast threw up another cliché – e.g., that Chicago was “having trouble getting hold of the ball” – and I landed on a more nuanced connotation for that concept, one broader than possession. Think of it as “handle” in basketball, something closer to a lack of control; Toronto basically strangled off Chicago’s preferred paths to goal and that killed them. A moment came around the 60th minute when Schweinsteiger made a clear attempt to haul the game onto his shoulders, but Toronto swallowed that up too. Pretty impressive outing.

So, yeah, absolutely credit Giovinco for a lovely brace (and he does this thing when he’s near goal and he’s got a defender squared up between him and the goal, where he aims for the near-post (example, just not the best one); few attackers make that work like Giovinco). But think of the rest of the team as the scaffolding that lifted Michelangelo to the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling. The scaffolding ain’t pretty, but it did the heavy lifting.

I’ll close out with some notes…

Toronto FC
- Giovinco got the headlines – even during the broadcast – but Jozy Altidore put in some freakin’ glorious work and all over the field and throughout the game. His brightest moment led to Toronto’s first goal – but it happened too far ahead to make the highlight reel. Standing in the center circle, Jozy received the ball facing TFC’s end, his first touch took the ball backwards – something that, in the moment, I greeted with, “Jozy, what the…” – his next touch pivoted inside, however, and the next ball opened Chicago’s right wide open. It was like a feint, only on the scale of the entire goddamn field. Jozy would later shank a sitter, and that’s a shame, because it’s so visible…just WATCH Jozy, and watch him closely. The man’s doing things all game – something simple as pulling up on a run to let the ball across – that flummoxes the fuck out of defenses. Jozy’s killing it in early 2017. Full stop.
- Finally figured out why Justin Morrow got dropped into the back three. It’s the whole Drew Moor “monkey heart” situation. Just took me a couple games…I’m slow like that. It’s getting Raheem Edwards into games, though, playing at the left 5 in Toronto’s 3-5-2, and that’s been fun.
- Eric Zavaleta’s second goal of the game and the second goal of his career was the sucker punch that laid out Chicago. Brutal.
- Last one: Delgado did everything a good defender aspires to do: be invisible during the course of the game. You should see the problem with that (psst…he’s a midfielder). Toronto’s midfield dominated the game, just without attacking that well; Jozy and Giovinco did most of that work. Only Vazquez looked elegant. That’s of interest, I think.

Chicago Fire
- First, they didn’t play horribly; they just got neutralized in midfield, then they got beat.
- That said, two Fire players absolutely died out there: Michael Harrington and Michael deLeeuw. I’m going to give the latter a pass, if only because the broadcast team flagged that performance as an off-night, but…dude was shit, a whirlwind of terrible decisions and tripping over everything around him. With Harrington, Hot Time in Old Time raised questions about him as a starter before the season and they were right to do it. The man looks like he’s playing a league above his abilities. One last thing on de Leeuw: he puts in the work, shows he wants to be in Chicago. Part of me wonders if his struggles don’t grow from playing out of position. He’s not a winger.
- Know who looks like a decent winger: Luis Solignac. Man might have found his spot. I’d start Arturo Alvarez over de Leeuw. Just to vote…
- I totally might have covered this before, but it bears repeating: Joao Meira provides a solid case study in why a team should stick with a player: I rated him pitiably low after 2016, but he’s a leader in that backline and a super-sharp reader of the game. Chicago did right to keep him.

All for this one…I pulled a grand point out of this, but the current plan is to top the weekly with it.

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