So Far So Good – TFC in Turkey
First a caveat.
Judging how Toronto FC is truly doing so far in training camp, and how it will all translate into the upcoming MLS regular season is truly a fools errand. There is no independent media observing what is happening in training camp in Turkey, nor ask questions to Winter and the players that might provide insight over and above what we are getting from the club via its website.
Now onto a shot of optimism.
In two of three scheduled exhibition games against two strong clubs so far in their Turkey sojourn, Partizan and Red Star of Belgrade respectively, TFC has acquitted itself pretty well. In the first match TFC drew Partizan 1-1 and of course on the weekend past Toronto beat Red Star 1-0 on a goal by academy player Matt Stinson.
Courtesy of TFC TV, (if you have not seen the video from both matches I recommend you look them over) here are the clips they posted for both matches with Partizan first followed by the victory over Red Star.
The Red Star video was much more impressive as the viewer could see the entire pitch a little better than the Partizan video and get a bit of a better look at what was actually happening on the pitch. TFC Academy product Matt Stinson scored the winner against the Serbs on Saturday and of course Nana Attakora notched the Reds goal in the first game. One more exhibition tilt remains before TFC returns home and it is on Thursday of this week versus Dinamo Zagreb of Croatia.
The fan message boards are full of speculation as to who has impressed and who of the triallists will be coming back with TFC from Turkey. I guess we will see in a few days who does and who does not.
Getting back to the caveat at the top of this piece for a moment I think that the only things that we can truly extrapolate from the trip to Turkey so far is that Aron Winter appears to be going into training camp with no preconceptions. He is committed to instituting his philosophy of possession soccer where the players move as a unit and cover one another as a unit. In MLS, with grueling travel, 100+ degree heat on summer afternoons and thin rosters due to the tight salary cap he must believe that keeping the ball is a lot easier than going and winning the ball back. And there is proof in the numbers from last season in my opinion to back this possession soccer approach up.
TFC allowed 41 goals against in league play last season (11th worst overall in the league). Of those 41 goals a whopping 26 (or 63.4%) came in the second half of games. Ten of them (24.3%) came in the last fifteen minutes of matches. How much of these awful numbers that can be attributed to the quality of the players on the pitch, the system they were playing or the fact that TFC was simply not able to hold onto the ball and had no legs to get it back is a topic for further debate. But in my eyes with the aforementioned challenges that MLS presents (and the additional complications of the Voyageurs Cup, a longer than ever MLS season in 2011, Champions League, Gold Cup and World Cup qualifiers) a possession approach sounds pretty smart to me.
This Turkey trip may also have a lot of benefits that may not be as readily apparent or quantifiable. If Toronto can find a way to get a good result against Dinamo Zagreb later this week the results in Turkey can without a doubt give the club a big shot of confidence. Good results in three matches against strong European opposition (even in training) will certainly be something that many of these youngsters can perhaps use as a confidence builder as the fight for jobs gets more intense betwen now and March.
Troubled captain Dwayne de Rosario has temporarily left the squad (as has Adriann Cann) to play in a friendly mid-week between the Canadian National Team and Greece in Larissa. Dwayne still wants to play for Canada and giving him a chance to temporarily leave camp and play for his country might be looked upon by the player a nice olive branch from TFC that might help him and the club bury the hatchet and come to some sort of peace. If TFC was not conveniently next door to Greece right now in Turkey then this gesture would likely not have been a possibility.
Finally having a couple of weeks away from family, agents, the media and annoying bloggers picking over every word and action is now starting to look like a real smart move as well. Living with the new coaching staff and with the new teammates in camp surrounded by few people who can even speak English, and without those aforementioned distractions is probably allowing everyone to get to know one another a lot quicker then they would otherwise. And with perhaps more than half of the team starting the MLS season in March 2011 being different than in March 2010 this is going to be critical.
So far so good. Let’s see now who comes home from Turkey in the next week.
What do you think? Your comments are always appreciated and of course welcome.