TEAM: Toronto F.C.
COACH: Aron Winter
LAST SEASON: 6 – 13 – 15 = 33 points, 8th Place Eastern, 16th Overall
TWITTER HASHTAG: #TFC
Could the overhaul be nearing completion in Toronto?
2011 must have been a frustrating season for supporters of the Reds. January saw the appointment of former Ajax midfielder Aron Winter as Manager. Certainly some changes would come about, especially from a guy versed in the culture of Total Football. The season barely got underway before their talisman, hometown hero Dwayne De Rosario, was traded off to the Red Bulls. For a while, it wasn’t clear if the team was moving in the right direction.
Yet in the summer the club was able to entice two experienced footballers from Europe to enter the fray. German destroyer Torsten Frings and former PSV striker Danny Koevermans came in and gave some legitimacy to Coach Winter’s philosophy. Add to that the blossoming of Joao Plata, an Ecuadorian forward who gelled in the system, as well as fellow Dutchman Nick Soolsma, and Toronto finished respectably with a 3-2-6 record in their last 11 league matches. And that wasn’t counting the Group Stages of the CONCACAF Champions League, where they escaped their group and made the Quarterfinals.
So Toronto looks to have a shot of moving up in the East. They even get a chance to make a statement tomorrow evening, when they face MLS Champions L.A. Galaxy in the first leg of the Quarterfinals being held at the Rogers Centre. Look for Winter and company to go all out in front of a larger audience to prove that they is ready to bring football glory to the shores of Lake Ontario.
COACHING STAFF AND FRONT OFFICE: Winter is in his second season, and prefers to have his team playing a fluid, attacking style of football on the pitch at BMO Field. With that said, I attended the late season fixture between Philadelphia and Toronto, and it was clear that Winter became more pragmatic through the struggles of last season. “Parking the bus” certainly is not Winter’s preferred style of soccer, but in this league it is difficult to win without some form of defensive posture when the lead is seized. In regards to the Front Office, Maple Leaf Sports owns the Reds, and have certainly declared their intentions. Over the winter, they also brought on board Thomas Rongen as technical director, another man well-versed in Dutch methodology.
KEY PLAYERS GAINED: Most of Toronto’s key additions happened in the midst of the 2011 season, but a few players were brought in during the offseason. Miguel Aceval was signed from Universidad de Concepcion in Colombia, and has received a lot of playing time in the preseason. He should earn a starting job in central defense. Also in the mix for the defense could be Geovanny Caicedo, who played in Ecuador last season. The Reds also brought a young Bermudan winger, Reggie Lambe, who spent time with Ipswich Town and Bristol Rovers over the last couple of years. Toronto also picked up some depth at outside back with Jeremy Hall, in a trade with Dallas. Toronto sent a 2013 2nd Round Pick in return.
Toronto has signed both of their 1st round draft picks, Luis Silva and Aaron Maund. Silva is an attacking midfielder who has shown a nose for goal this preseason. He could be an impact player going forward. Maund will see some time on defense, mostly at outside back.
And while not an addition, Joao Plata’s loan deal was made permanent from LDU Quito. Toronto fans hope that Plata can build on a surprising first year with the club.
KEY PLAYERS LOST: Toronto’s contract offer to Andy Iro was not accepted, and he has left the team. Iro was received in the Tchani trade, and started at center back for the Reds in the second half of 2011. Other losses include wingers Javier Martina, Peri Marosevic, and Elbekay Bouchiba, as well as fullbacks Mikael Yourassowsky and Danleigh Borman.
PROJECTED STARTERS: In Winter’s favored 4-3-3, Koevermans will start centrally up front, with wingers Plata and Nick Soolsma being first choice on the forward line to complement the big man. Ryan Johnson and Reggie Lambe will also compete for starting time.
The midfield three will certainly contain Torsten Frings as the holding midfielder. Eric Avila and Julian de Guzman will be the primary starteds in the more advanced midfield roles, but Silva and Terry Dunfield are also options for Winter.
Ty Harden will continue to be in central defense, and will likely pair with Aceval. Ashtone Morgan became a first choice left back for the Reds last season. Richard Eckersley might earn the starting spot at right back, but there are other options with Doneil Henry or Matt Stinson.
Milos Kocic will continue to get the start at the keeper position.
During preseason friendlies, Winter has continued toying with a 3-back system. In the cases he decides he needs more central power, Frings will drop deep to act as a libero behind Harden and Aceval.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Last season Koevermans scored at just under a goal a game rate, coming in halfway through the season. With 8 goals in ten appearances, the 33-year old should be the focal point of the attack if he remains healthy. He had his most prolific season for AZ Alkmaar of the Dutch Eredivisie back in 2006-07, grabbing 22 goals. If he can double the production from last year’s short stint over the course of the full season, Toronto could be a surprise frontrunner in the East. If he can’t replicate that form, the team will have to rely on a bevy of other forwards to get results.
BEST CASE SCENARIO: You can bet that the expectations for this season will change dramatically should Toronto take a piece out of the Galaxy in the CCL Quarters. I think that the best case scenario for this team could be earning a First Round MLS Cup Playoff bye, by finishing third in the East. It will come down to belief and talent, and they could solidify the former with a great performance on Wednesday night.
WORST CASE SCENARIO: An improving side, I think Toronto has enough talent to secure a spot above last season at 7th Place, even if it takes them another season to find that winning mentality. Their talent is definitely improving.
PREDICTION: I think that Toronto will finish 5th in the East, and could very well earn a Playoff spot over a Western Conference team based on the unbalanced schedule.