Morrow’s red card no excuse for tactically naive Toronto FC

Warren Creavalle, happily not trying to defend at that moment.

Warren Creavalle, happily not trying to defend at that moment.

Did Justin Morrow get the ball? Yes he did. Did he also get the man? Yes he did. Did he get the man first? It was close, but yes, yes he did. Was it a foul? Personally I think it was a good tackle, but I’m an old man with standards that are much more lenient that what generally gets called these days, so it doesn’t surprise me that it was called. A bit harsh, but not absolutely outrageous.

Did Damien Perquis (after giving the ball away to Ethan Finley in the first place) kind of give up on the play, thus ensuring that Morrow was absolutely the last man? Yes, he did. Did Morrow’s tackle knock the ball out of Finley’s path if Finley hadn’t been knocked down? No, not at all, he’d have been in great position to shoot. If it’s adjudged a foul, should it have been a red card for denial of an obvious goalscoring opportunity? Absolutely.  Giving the card to Perquis initially was an absolute joke, yes, but the rest of it falls well within the boundaries of normal (for better or worse) refereeing, so i think the witch-hunt, accusations of bias and demands that Dave Gantar should never referee another TFC game again are all a bit much really. We see worse calls every week in MLS and every league in the world.

But I can understand the outrage, the call was certainly in the ‘debatable’ category (didn’t surprise me it was called, also wouldn’t surprise me if the red card gets rescinded on appeal), and hey it’s what football supporters of all teams do, a handy whipping boy rarely goes unwhipped, a scapegoat un, erm, scaped. But the idea that that call is what cost TFC the game? Let’s move past that shall we, teams survive that sort of thing all the time and do well with ten men, see San Jose against Seattle this week, there were plenty of other issues it’d be much more relevant to focus on here.  To be fair to Toronto, once you move past the juiciest quotes picked out by the media to stoke the controversy/distract from the issues, and watch their interviews/read the full quote sheet, both Greg Vanney and Michael Bradley take a disappointed but reasonable tone to the decision and acknowledge that the defeat was still down to how the team played in the 2nd half, which is refreshing to read. I’ll copy paste them into the comments section rather than clogging things up here.

So, what were the issues? Well firstly unlike last week, the best players weren’t the best players. Sebastian Giovinco got a few chances in the first half, but poor shots saw them go to waste, or in one instance an overly delayed pass/cross to Robbie Findley mean the opportunity to put him in behind the defence was lost. There were again flashes of skill and promise, but the end product was definitely missing this week, and for a player the attack is suppossed to be run through, only 38 touches is pretty weak, compare to 71 for Federico Higuain. Talking of missing, Jozy Altidore was pretty pretty anonymous in this one. He had a decent game last week and there’s plenty he brings to the team, he definitely did his bit to help out the defending, but if you want an alarming stat, he now has 3 shots in 2 games, that’s attempted shots, not shots on goal, one of them was the penalty, that doesn’t suggest we should be expecting too many 2 goal games from him.

Moving on from the fancy forwards to the fancy midfielders, Michael Bradley had a lot of giveaways in that first half and has yet to put in a particularly impressive performance, the full backs advancing and centre backs going wide meaning he’s playing a very defensive role so far.  In this game so was Benoit Cheyrou, as Columbus attacked down TFC’s left side a lot (as illustrated in the average positions map below, and by Matthew Doyle over at  dragging the defence over to the left before before putting crosses in for Justin Meram coming off their right wing, or switching play earlier over to the right whenever the Warren Creavalle sized holes were available.

Columbus on the left, TFC on right. Via

Two things really stand out from that, firstly just how forward Columbus’ full backs were able to get, I definitely think they’re very much the prototype of what Greg Vanney eventually wants to turn TFC into, and a good advert for it as well. Then there’s how much further forward Findley, Osorio and Creavalle are on the right than Altidore, Cheyrou and Morrow on the left, whether that’s by Vanney’s design, the players own decisions or merely reacting to what Columbus did, is up for debate.  Anyway Cheyrou and Bradley were rarely able to have much offensive influence on the game, and there were a few notable mistakes (the 2nd goal, the Morrow sending off for 2 high profile examples) from Damien Perquis as well, so those who shined last week didn’t really follow it up.

Another problem, Warren Creavalle. I don’t think he’s as bad as people make him out to be, and he wasn’t caught out of position as much this week as last, and often him being out of position is really him following orders. This week though he was very noticeably there, but ineffective at crucial times. Justin Meram beating him to the header for the first goal wasn’t a coincidence, that was the 3rd time a cross from their right had found Meram outjumping Creavalle. Often that was right in the middle of the box, a testament to Kei Kamara’s unselfish movement pulling Steven Caldwell out of the middle. Now Creavalle did some good things as well, and as I’ve said before if you’re going to have your full back be a midfielder, might as well have him actually be a midfielder, but defensively he really stuck out this week.

Has Creavalle done good things going forward? Sure, and Columbus very much showed the value in full backs getting forward, but for now this is very much a work in progress for TFC. It might be for the best to stabilise things a little as we go through the growing pains of the team getting to know their tendencies, when to press or when to drop back all that sort of thing amidst a 7 game road trip. That might mean adapting his role, telling Creavalle to think more as a full back and less as a midfielder, or simply bringing in Mark Bloom to bring his naturally more defensive full back instincts to the same role, but something needs to change.

Creavalle’s inclusion so far is a symptom of something that is affecting the whole team, which is that Greg Vanney seems to be just a wee bit too optimistic at the moment. He’s talked about wanting to control games and not be as reactive as TFC have been in the past, but so far through 4 halves of football, there’s been one good half. That half came when TFC took a much more circumspect attitude and controlled the game by not trying to aggressively force themselves on it. More of that attitude would have been helpful in the second half here as TFC adapted to Morrow’s red card. When teams go down to ten men and lose a goalie or defender in the process, more often than not the outfield player sacrificed to restore the defence is an attacker, but not here, Vanney choosing to leave Robbie Findley on and instead weaken the midfield numbers by removing Osorio. It didn’t work (obviously the injury to Steven Caldwell didn’t help matters) despite having the advantage of a full half time to figure that out, a luxury teams don’t often get, usually having to adapt on the fly. Rather than focusing first on solidifying defensively and then going from there, that decision allowed Columbus to run riot in the second half to the point where the 3 attackers barely had a chance to do anything more than try their best to help out the overmanned defence.

Playing a positive, assertive style is all well and good, there’s definitely potential for these tactics to work well given the necessary tweaks and modifications that will be required through the season. Once it all gels properly and the correct balance is found, add in the talent that’s there and TFC could become a very good team.  Right now though that balance isn’t there and until it’s found, good teams are going to have a field day as we’ve seen twice now. Obviously this was one game against a good team in trying circumstances, writing anyone off after that would be as foolish as planning the parade based on the opening day win, but currently, the second half against Vancouver aside, Vanney’s optimism is seeming more like naivete, and making it way too easy for the opposition.



Author: Duncan Fletcher

Blogging journeyman formerly of Cruel Geography and Waking the Red, also briefly with Sportsnet and every now and then with the Guardian. As a supporter of Darlington, TFC, England and Canada, football's been unfair and poking fun at Duncan for decades now, so it's only fair he does the same right back at it. Follow him on twitter @duncandfletcher

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    On whether the red card was the difference maker in the game
    It’s easy to say yes, I mean there were some moments in the first half that we had some things that we needed to take care of at halftime. Early in the half, I thought we had a couple really good looks at the goal, where seba broke through and we won some balls in good spots. But, defensively, we needed to make a couple adjustments. When that mystery happens there at the end of the half, we have to make totally different adjustments. You can’t really bother with what happened in the first half. You just got to realign the team and just get them focused on playing a man down.

    On tonight’s match
    It wasn’t perfect for us in the first half; we had a few chances based off of things early on. We needed to adjust a little but defensively just to close them down a little bit earlier and a little bit better, but then the game gets redefined just before halftime. I would like for us to give it a little run there to try to keep ourselves into it. But, at the end of the day, for sure playing a man down in Columbus against a good team doesn’t define the season or anything, it’s just a speed bump. We move on and we continue to get better as a team.


    On how the red card altered the team’s mindset coming into the second half
    Obviously a red card changes a game. We got to halftime, tweaked things a little bit and still felt like everything was there to play for and that the game was still going to play out in a way that we could control, even down a guy. I think we lost concentration on two plays defending inside our own box and obviously the margin for error is so small, and then when you go down to 10 men it was even smaller, so when you’re not quite as sharp as you need to be on both ends then it makes for a difficult night.

    On if he said anything to the team as the captain at halftime
    No, like I said we felt like even with the red card that there was still going to be a big chance for us to get something going for the game. Obviously we feel like we have a good team and we still have confidence when things don’t go perfectly or when things don’t go our way, that we can still come away with points. On that end there is disappointment for sure that even despite the gulp down to ten men we weren’t quite good enough in the second half in decisive moments and weren’t able to get something from the game.

    On his talk with referee David Gantar as the teams were walking off at halftime and if he received an explanation for the call
    No. I mean for me, at the end of it when you have the luxury of watching it on replay, it’s probably a little bit soft, but obviously we put ourselves in a bad position. When our guy is running in like that and you put yourself in a position where the referee has to then make a call, it can go one of two ways, and today it went the wrong way for us. Like I said, when you have the luxury of being able to slow it down and look back at it, for me it’s a tough one but it’s probably not a red card. It certainly is one that you see given at times and tonight he chose to give it. For me, the biggest disappointment is not that, it’s just that now even with that in the second half I still felt that were going to be able to control things in a smart way and still find our chances to play and get opportunities of our own. I just don’t think in the decisive moments in the second half, at both ends, that we were good enough.

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    • Whoa a comment article in the article.

      Look no one should be penalized for good play. Morrow got to the ball and there was no dangerous play. Finlay pushed the ball 5 or 6 yards ahead of himself and it was a foot race. Morrow is entitled to that ball and got position. Finlay did fall over trying to win the ball. Just play on. Certainly no card-able offense. Enough said.

      Early in the season with seven games on the road, a good defense plan would be a priority. Can we not defend well before venturing forth with half of defenders in or near the opposing teams box.

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      • I would agree with you, but I;m not entirely sure the way the game is called these days agrees with us. was the offence in and of itself cardable? absolutely not, if this had happpened in midfield no card wojuld have been given, there’d have been a minor grumble and everyone moves on without being outraged. but if it’s a foul, just cos of where it is, it’s definitely a red. perquis was too far back.

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        • I agree – and it’s like Bradley said, you put the Ref in a position where he has to make that call, and he’s running behind you making it on the fly, edge of the box, last attacker flying forward – definitely a high risk of getting a red. Even a great, legitimate tackle rums that risk.

          Also agree with the comment(s) above – can’t leave ourselves that exposed because we will get counter punched all day long.

          Interesting to see where Vanney settles in terms of attacking intent and defensive solidity. I’m with you Duncan – get Bloom back in there for now until the team settles into its style.

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  2. Nice to see someone else notice the fact that Perquis is culpable here

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