Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP

This should finally be the year Toronto FC lives up to the hype

Leave a comment

From a personal standpoint, I understand keenly why Toronto FC fans feel burnt. As a soccer fan less than 100 miles from BMO Field, splitting TFC season tickets with friends was an easy decision. Major League Soccer so close to home? Why not give it a go?

Know what was an easier decision? Not renewing after a few years of profound disappointment. Despite a great stadium with a better skyline and an unbelievable group of nascent supporters in the Red Patch Boys, TFC was an on-field disaster.

That’s not to say it should be easy for a team created from scratch to thrive in any league, even one as young as Major League Soccer. But we’re talking eight years without playoffs, not a single conference standing finish higher than fifth, in front of a buzzing group of supporters who started to buzz, well, a lot less.

[ MLS: Can San Jose make noise in the West? ]

Toronto FC never had a chance to gel. Nine seasons in, the club has only seen eight players make more than 75 appearances. Only three — Stefan Frei, Jim Brennan and Julian de Guzman — have tempted 100 (Now with Seattle, Frei leads with 96).

How’s this for a sense of history? Sebastian Giovinco’s MVP season last year saw him score 22 goals. That places him second all-time for TFC. Second. All-time.

Toronto FC forward Sebastian Giovinco (10) celebrates after scoring on a penalty kick with teammates Jozy Altidore (17), Michael Bradley (4) and Jackson Goncalves (11) during the first half of an MLS soccer match against the Philadelphia Union, Saturday, May 2, 2015, in Chester, Pa. Toronto FC won 1-0. (AP Photo/Michael Perez)
(AP Photo/Michael Perez)

This year feels a bit different. For one, there’s continuity in attack. Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore and Giovinco (right) are all back in the fold. The first two can be expected to have much improved second seasons, while Giovinco just needs to whiff the greatness of his first to lift TFC higher in the standings. The Copa America Centenario break won’t help much, but it’ll hurt others, too.

Plus, coach Greg Vanney can change the game plan when Bradley and Altidore are gone. Benoit Cheyrou was very good in the midfield last season, while Toronto-born midfielder and reigning MLS champion Will Johnson is now playing at home and will add even more steel to the middle of the park.

Toronto also took proper steps to firm up their porous defense, which was a laughingstock last season, stung by the loss of captain Steven Caldwell.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

The Reds had some pieces in Damien Perquis, Nick Hagglund and Justin Morrow, the latter a mainstay who has flown under the radar. Now general manager Tim Bezbatchenko has brought in back liners with quantifiable MLS experience. Steven Beitashour arrives from Vancouver, and Drew Moor moved over from Colorado.

Clin Irwin, Colorado Rapids
Irwin

TFC found some steadiness in goal when they picked up Clint Irwin (right) from Colorado, a veteran who can properly tutor 2015 draft pick and USMNT prospect Alex Bono.

With fellow Toronto sides thriving in their respective leagues — the Jays are an AL East contender and the Raptors lead their division — this could be the year TFC finally delivers on expectations. There’s enough depth in the fold to think that, given a relatively healthy campaign, Toronto should be able to place high enough in the East to set itself up for a bye.

There’s plenty to be hopeful, but it’s still cool if you don’t believe it ’til you see it. We’ve learned that much, right?

FA Cup: Chelsea survive trip to Hull, advance to 5th round (video)

Photo by Ashley Allen/Getty Images
Leave a comment

With their 2-1 victory away to EFL Championship side Hull City, Chelsea joined Leicester City, Sheffield United and Norwich City as Premier League sides to reach the fifth round of the FA Cup on Saturday.

[ FA CUP ROUNDUP: West Ham bounced; Sheff Utd, Norwich advance ]

Frank Lampard‘s side got off to a flying start courtesy of Michy Batshuayi‘s deflected finish in the 6th minute, and the Blues were well on their way to a first half of total dominance.

Hull looked more prepared for a fight after halftime, but it mattered very little after Fikayo Tomori was gifted a free header two yards off the goal line. Ross Barkley‘s free kick was well placed at the back post and there was nothing that anyone could do to stop it.

[ MORE: Report: Spurs, Inter close to deal for Christian Eriksen ]

Hull pulled the game back to 2-1 in the 78th minute, and they were more than a little fortunate in how they managed to do so. Kamil Grosicki smacked a free kick with plenty of power and got the deflection of all deflections to wrong-foot Willy Caballero and find the back of the net.

The draw for the fifth round will be held on Monday at 2:20 p.m. ET, prior to kickoff of Bournemouth v. Arsenal.

FA Cup roundup: West Ham bounced; Sheff Utd, Norwich advance (video)

Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images
Leave a comment

A roundup of all of Saturday’s FA Cup fourth-round (early) action…

[ MORE: Saints hit Spurs late to force 4th-round replay ]

The draw for the fifth round will be held on Monday at 2:20 p.m. ET, prior to kickoff of Bournemouth v. Arsenal.

West Ham United 0-1 West Bromwich Albion

West Ham were the lone Premier League side to be knocked out by a lower-division side on Saturday, as David Moyes‘ side failed to find the back of the net and were beaten 1-0 by EFL Championship leaders West Brom.

Conor Townsend scored the game’s only goal in the 9th minute, and though the Hammers controlled possession the rest of the way, they created very little in terms of scoring chances and finished the game with just three shots on target. West Brom finished the game with 10 men, but West Ham could do nothing with their 18-minute advantage following Semi Ajayi‘s second yellow card in the 72nd minute.

Millwall 0-2 Sheffield United

Sheffield United’s dream season continued with a comfortable 2-0 victory away to Championship side Millwall. Both goals came inside the final half-hour, but the Blades were unquestionably the better side even before breaking the deadlock.

That came in the 62nd minute, when Muhamed Besic placed a stunning curler inside the far post for 1-0. Not long before full-time, in the 84th, Oliver Norwood drove his effort hard and low and into the corner to make it 2-0.

Burnley 1-2 Norwich City

Norwich and Burnley were largely inseparable for the majority of Saturday’s clash at Turf Moor, save for a four-minute period early in the second half in which Norwich scored twice and booked their place in the fifth round.

Grant Hanley made it 1-0 in the 53rd and Josip Drmic added to the advantage in the 57th minute. Erik Pieters pulled Burnley back to within a goal in the 73rd, but that’s as close as the Clarets would get.

FA Cup fourth-round scoreboard

Southampton 1-1 Tottenham Hotspur — FULL RECAP
Newcastle United 0-0 Oxford United
Portsmouth 4-2 Barnsley
Coventry City 0-0 Birmingham City
Reading 1-1 Cardiff City

RB Leipzig beaten, Bundesliga title race thrown wide open

Photo by TF-Images/Getty Images
Leave a comment

BERLIN (AP) Eintracht Frankfurt defeated Bundesliga leader RB Leipzig 2-0 to throw the title race wide open on Saturday.

[ MORE: Report: Spurs, Inter close to deal for Christian Eriksen ]

Frankfurt defender Almamy Toure scored a brilliant goal just after the break and Filip Kostic sealed the win in injury time to deal Leipzig its first defeat since a 2-1 loss at home to Freiburg in October.

Borussia Monchengladbach cut the gap at the top to two points with a 3-1 win at home over Mainz, thanks largely to goals in each half from French striker Alassane Plea.

Bayern Munich has the chance to cut the gap to one point with a win at home over Schalke in the late game.

[ FA CUP: Saints hit Spurs late to force 4th-round replay ]

Borussia Dortmund is just four points off the top after its 5-1 win over Cologne on Friday.

Also Saturday, Union Berlin defeated Augsburg 2-0 at home, Hertha Berlin came from behind to win 2-1 at Wolfsburg, and Paderborn moved off the bottom with a 2-0 win at Freiburg.

FA Cup: Saints hit Spurs late to force 4th-round replay

Steven Paston/PA via AP
Leave a comment

Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur played to a virtual stand-still for nearly 60 minutes before Jose Mourinho’s side broke through with a moment of true quality from Son Heung-min and Giovani Lo Celso, but finished right back where they started after Saints hit back late to force a replay in the fourth round of the FA Cup.

[ MORE: Report: Spurs, Inter close to deal for Christian Eriksen ]

Prior to that, Lo Celso put the ball in the back of the net and briefly thought it was he who had put Spurs ahead, but the Argentine was denied his third Spurs goal on the basis that the ball hit Son on its way through traffic, and the South Korean was in an offside position.

Spurs’ best chance of the first half chance came and went just minutes later, with Lucas Moura in disbelief and Angus Gunn the hero of the moment. Dele Alli played Lucas into open space inside the penalty area and, with the goal gaping to Gunn’s left and right, Lucas looked to place his right-footed shot inside the far post. Gunn was up to the challenge, though, and pulled off a sensational left-footed save from close range.

Seconds later, Saints had a surefire scoring chance and were denied in equally spectacular fashion. Danny Ings used his chest to control a free kick into the box and looped it goal-bound over the head of Hugo Lloris, only for Japhet Tanganga to make the last-second headed clearance in front of an open net.

[ MORE: Mourinho in favor of PL’s winter break, but says timing all wrong ]

Saints were the first to go ever so close to a goal in the second half. Michael Obafemi crossed from the right side and found Ings inside the six-yard box, where he redirected the ball ever so slightly, but not enough, to send it inches wide of Lloris’ right-hand post.

Following a spell that was all Saints to start the second half, Spurs broke the deadlock through Son in the 58th minute. Lo Celso drove through the heart of Southampton’s midfield before playing the ball to Son near the top of the 18-yard box. He took a touch to set up the shot and fired a left-footed arrow inside the far post.

The lead lasted just shy of 30 minutes, close but not quite over the finish line. With 87 minutes on the clock and a full head of steam over the preceding quarter-hour, Southampton got their hugely deserved equalizer. Sofiane Boufal arrived near the top of the box as Ings’ cut-back ball arrived and the Moroccan international hammered it home.

The two sides will meet again for their fourth-round replay in two weeks at the Tottenham Hotspur. The draw for the fifth round will be held on Monday at 2:20 p.m. ET, prior to kickoff of Bournemouth v. Arsenal.