After seven years of failure, it finally seems as though Toronto FC is moving in the right direction.
With Major League Soccer's youngest general manager Tim Bezbatchenko at the helm and the vastly experienced Tim Leiweke heading up the organization, we are starting to see encouraging signs as the foundation is laid for a much improved roster in 2014.
Of course, there have been many false dawns before at a club that has changed direction far too many times in its short history, but this time it feels different. There actually seems to be a plan being carried out by people who have the ability, knowledge and relationships to get the job done.
The signing of24-year-old Brazilian forward Gilberto as a Designated Player on Friday could be a major piece of the puzzle, but other moves made this week also give an indication that progress is being made.
Jackson's arrival from FC Dallas provides the club with some MLS experience as well as someone who can play in a number of different positions. The trade of Stefan Frei along with re-signing of Joe Bendik ensured the goalkeeping situation was dealt with in a timely manner. The fact that these moves are being made in early December instead of March is a welcome change.
At Toronto FC's Downsview Park training facility, “the war room” as Bezbatchenko likes to call it has a board with long lists of players they are chasing. The moves the club is making are calculated. There are top targets, and many back-up plans as the GM and his team work through a process paying great attention to detail, determined to get the best fit possible for their club in both a football and financial sense.
They have made no secret of their intention to sign a big-name Designated Player. Jermain Defoe is set to join the club in January from Tottenham Hotspur, but he is just one of four or five top level DPs the club has targeted. Plan B, C and D are all on stand-by in case there is a last minute hitch with the England forward, although I understand the deal has already been agreed to to bring Defoe to Toronto for a transfer fee that could rise as high as $13 million.
Beyond the DP signings there are also two or three other key players Bezbatchenko expects to bring in. Dwayne De Rosario is a potential target, but only if the deal is right. TFC certainly won't overpay to bring the veteran home.
Bezbatchenko is taking a methodical approach that will hopefully ensure the club isn't left scrambling in preseason looking to sign players as has been the case on so many previous occasions.
This year, there should be no need for 10 players to turn up for a preseason trial in Orlando, or for multiple players to be rushed to the border to activate work permits on the afternoon before the season opener. There was even an occasion a few years ago where a deal was done so late that a player had to sign his contract in the taxi on the way from the airport to the stadium for the first game of the season!
I sense those days are over.
When talking with Tim Bezbatchenko it is easy to see he has a plan. He also has the relationships within the league to assist in making that plan work. In the tight knit community of Major League Soccer, the importance of having relationships with other clubs, agents and players cannot be underestimated, and having worked at league office, Bezbatchenko has earned respect across MLS.
Toronto FC fans have the right to be skeptical - they have seen failure too many times before. But with three months until the new season begins, the club is finally starting to deliver on its promises, and that is an extremely big step forward for a franchise that cannot afford to fail again.