Get primed for the 2013 MLS season with a look at what might lie ahead for Toronto FC. TSN Radio 1050's Gareth Wheeler takes you through the off-season shuffle with the Reds and whether that can turn the tide after a disappointing 2012 campaign. Keep reading for players to watch, a projected starting line-up and Wheeler's prediction for how TFC will finish this season.
Toronto FC enters each new year with loads of promise. When will they finally deliver for their rabid fans?
Toronto FC season previews have become repetitive. And it's not the good kind of consistency either. Replace the names of the characters with the same dominant narrative; an off-season of great change with hopes of brighter days ahead. The pattern holds true ahead of the 2013 Major League Soccer season.
2012 was an unmitigated disaster for Toronto FC. High hopes, including a push for a playoff spot was expected. Instead, the team started the season on a nine-match losing streak; the worst ever start in MLS history. The revolving door of head coaches - and, therefore, team direction - continued with Aron Winter replaced by Paul Mariner after 10 games. When the dust settled, Mariner was unable to get the team on track either, and Toronto FC hit rock bottom, finishing on a league-worst 23 points, seven points worse than any other MLS side.
A lack of overall on-field talent, inflated salaries, and patchwork team building by a fractured front office all contributed to the teams' downfall. Faced with a wavering fan-base and the embarrassment of failing to make in-roads towards a playoff spot, it was gut-check time for the organization. Internal evaluation (not the kind coming from commissioned outside influence) lead to swift changes, drastic decreases to ticket pricing and the arrival of the club's first ever President.
Long-time MLS and U.S. Soccer executive Kevin Payne was given the reins of Toronto FC and authority to set the directive of a club lacking on-field vision and a uniform approach. Payne has spent the off-season shedding high-priced, underperforming players who have to cripple the roster. To guide this latest, new-look version of Toronto FC, Payne name Ryan Nelsen the club's third head coach in the past year and number eight in Toronto FC's history.
Nelsen was lured right off the playing field, arriving from QPR of the Barclay's Premier League. Many an eyebrow raised with concern how a manager still playing (and playing well, at that) and without coaching experience would work for a team desperate for stability.
A wait-and-see approach is difficult to preach in Toronto but there's reason to believe this time is different than past failures. There is no question Payne and Nelsen are on the same page. Nelsen was Payne's hand-picked choice for Toronto. The 35-year old made an impression on Payne with his leadership and desire to become a student of the game while together at D.C. United. A uniform approach between coach and front office is essential for the long-term health of the franchise. Payne has set the directive. Nelsen will see out the process.
To expect immediate results would be a monumental ask. Toronto FC supporters have seen it before. It takes time to rebuild a roster any time a front office change has been made. The new group in charge hasn't brought in the right players to execute the vision as of yet and player acquisition thus far has been few and far between. Toronto FC heads into their season opener in Vancouver Mar. 2 a team ill-equipped to cope with the rigours and challenges of a MLS season.
The good news is that for the first time in club history, defenders may be a position of strength. The arrival of veteran MLS centre back Danny Califf allows Richard Eckersley to slot out to his preferred right-back position. Darren O'Dea and Ashtone Morgan are no-brainers to join the duo as the starting back four. Goalkeeper Stefan Frei returns after missing last season with a broken leg. Frei's road to recovery has taken a side step, breaking his nose in pre-season. All in all, this defensive group should be vastly improved from the team conceding a league worst 62 goals in 2012.
From there questions are abounding, ranging from quality and reliability in attack. Toronto FC has yet to replace the goal scoring of Eric Hassli and Ryan Johnson; both traded away. Other than unproven rookies and questionable trialists, the only true addition has been holding midfielder Julio Cesar. Much more is needed in the wing and forward positions to make the team ultimately competitive. Attacking midfielder Luis Silva is the teams' most talented player and will be all-important in linking between the defensive midfield play and whoever is the best fit up front. Silva showed decent vision and ability on the ball in his rookie year.
Midfielder Torsten Frings' future has been decided as the 36-year-old Captain was unable to recover from hip surgery sufficiently to make an impact and retired from the club. Moving on was logical. Striker Danny Koevermans is a much more interesting case. The Dutch forward had season ending knee surgery in July and is on the road to recovery with a June return most realistic. The 34-year-old is a natural goal scorer who can help the team. Whether or not he will prove fit enough to be a true contributor remains to be seen. Either way, the departures of Frings and Hassli means two DP spots and ample cap space are available to improve the roster. Using those spots on younger players who can be of greater influence will be a priority going forward.
Home and Away
One Canadian and One foreign-born player for TFC fans to keep an eye on in the 2013 season.
Gareth Wheeler Says: With much work to be done on the roster, to make a proper prediction how Toronto FC will fare over a marathon season is a fruitless exercise. But here we are. Toronto FC will be much better defensively. The 62 goals conceded will not happen again. Finishing 30 points out of a playoff spot (seven points more than the 23 they finished with) won’t happen either. On paper, Toronto FC at present time has the least talent in the Eastern Conference. Now having two DP spots at their disposal and significant cap space bodes well for recruitment. It’s critical for Payne to take advantage of the roster flexibility he’s created and bring in young talent to build around, preferably in attacking and wing positions. But it will take time for players to settle. A point total in the mid-30’s is a reasonable guess. The Eastern Conference is strong. And if Nelsen’s no-nonsense, direct approach to the game pans out with a stronger defensive side, competitive football can follow. This season is about progress. Expect no better than 8th place in the conference, with a 10th place finish more likely. Set the bar low. It’s much easier to clear.