MLS

Toronto FC looks to end growing pains against Revolution

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The Canadian Press
5/25/2013 11:21:22 AM
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TORONTO - As anyone who has ever tried cleaning a basement or garage filled with junk knows, things get worse before they get better.

Toronto FC is at that messy stage of the clean-up.

A year ago at this time, the perennial MLS underachiever was 1-10-0 in the league basement and had just fired manager Aron Winter.

Today the club sports a new president, manager, chief scout, two new assistant coaches and has brought in 19 new players since the end of last season.

The team is 1-6-4, proving that progress can be painfully slow. It stands 18th in the 19-team league, is winless in nine league games and has lost four straight.

Toronto has shot itself in the foot, failing to take its chances while dropping nine points from six games by conceding late goals (in stoppage-time on three of those occasions).

On the plus side, all six league losses have been by just one goal.

"Every league game this season, you can make an argument that we could have won," said manager Ryan Nelsen. "As I've been saying all the time, we're probably the only team in the league that hasn't been beaten by two or three goals in a game yet."

Some might say a loss is a loss is a loss. But hope springs eternal for Nelsen as Toronto heads to Boston for a Saturday night game with the New England Revolution (3-4-4).

Count New England coach Jay Heaps in the Nelsen camp. He too sees beyond the standings when it comes to Toronto.

"Toronto's a good team," he told local reporters this week.

The makeover has only just begun in Toronto. Nelsen all but salivates at the thought of the summer transfer window opening July 9.

Currently 11 points out of a playoff place, Nelsen's goal is not to lose any more ground in June until he can make more changes.

"Even if that's 10 points off the playoffs come the window, I'd be more than confident we'll have a very good chance getting in (the post-season)," he said.

Asked for the reason for that confidence, Nelsen smiled and said: "Because I like the window. It's a nice time."

Citing conversations with such noted managers as Sir Alex Ferguson, Sam Allardyce and Harry Redknapp, he said: "They tell me it takes three windows minimum to even get a team to where you want it to be.

"And we've only had really half of one — or one really. We're starting to get competitive and when this window comes, I think it will be a wee bit different."

As a former well-respected player, Nelsen has plenty of ties in Britain. You can bet he is twisting as many arms as he can.

As seems to be Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment's way (remember the 1,300-pound boulder in the Raptors' dressing room and Toronto FC's "Burn the Boats" locker-room slogan), Toronto FC chose a new symbol this year for the franchise.

For the most part, it seems to have been ignored in the disappointing weeks since.

But new president Kevin Payne, an American, proudly pointed to the Inukshuk when he met media during the pre-season. Ignoring the Inukshuk's original Inuit intent as a land marker, Toronto FC actually chose the more modern inunnguaq (or imitation of a person).

TFC says the Inukshuk "symbolizes co-operation, balance and unselfishness."

"Each stone is a separate entity, yet each supports and is supported by the one above and the one below it. No one piece is any more or any less important than the other. Its strength lies in its unity. Its significance comes from its meaning as a whole," read a TFC handout

Be that as it may, come the opening of the transfer window, Nelsen is looking to collect some better rocks.

Of the 19 new faces to date, four — Julio Cesar, Ashton Bennett, Taylor Morgan and John Bostock — have already been cast aside. Israeli defender Tal Ben Haim never made it here although Nelsen says talks continue with his former teammate.

Attacking midfielder Hogan Ephraim is slated to return to Queens Park Rangers. Veteran defender Danny Califf, brought in for his experience and savvy, has fallen so far down the depth chart you'd need a dredger to find him.

Califf's crime? He missed a game due to a stomach virus, never got his spot back and has dropped to the back of the bus since. He has become a US$165,000-a-year bench player, seemingly for no fault of his own.

Goalie Stefan Frei, who lost his job through injury and Joe Bendik's acrobatics in his absence, is a $200,000 observer come game-time.

Young Canadian international Ashtone Morgan, a holdover, is also watching from the bench these days.

Jeremy Hall, who has flourished in the midfield this season after shifting from fullback, says change is part of pro soccer.

"Our job is to win games and we haven't won so the coaching staff and Kevin are trying to do whatever it takes to bring a winning team here," said Hall, who at 24 is on his fourth MLS team.

Both Toronto and New England have injury concerns.

Nelsen says his injured list includes Justin Braun, Califf, Bobby Convey, Richard Eckersley, Stefan Frei and Darel Russell. Captain Darren O'Dea may remain at left back, with Steven Caldwell and Doneil Henry at centre back. Ephraim is healthy and could sub for Braun.

Star striker Danny Koevermans is ready to play after a 10-month absence due to a knee injury but is being held out of the game because the artificial turf at New England is where he ripped up his knee last July in a 1-0 Toronto victory.

TFC has not managed a league win on the road since.

Koevermans is expected to make his return next week at home to the Philadelphia Union.

New England defender Ryan Guy and midfielder Stephen McCarthy will miss the game through injury while forward Dimitry Imbongo is suspended after being red-carded last week. Defender A.J. Soares (hamstring) is close to returning and Heaps can also count on 20-year-old striker Juan Agudelo who made his debut for New England last week

New England is coming off a big 2-0 win in Houston. The Revolution have only scored eight goals this season, but have conceded just nine at the other end.

Toronto FC players (Photo: Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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