In my 2011 season preview, I predicted that Toronto would struggle for the first few months under its newest leadership structure (new general manager and head coach) but toward the end of the year start to look like a promising team for 2012. I had no clue that the amount of change they would undergo in a few short months: only two players would start both the first and last game of the season. The 2012 version of Toronto FC is a new franchise personnel-wise, and I suspect we will see more changes over the next few months.
So is this team now good enough to make a playoff run this upcoming season? Despite the infusion of new talent, there are still many gaps that need to be addressed by this franchise. To continue our series, below are three questions the team needs to address this offseason:
1. Are everyone’s expectations for the team realistic?
Off the pitch questions may overwhelm on the pitch questions this offseason. In an interview with Alex Labidou, Toronto FC head coach Aron Winter bluntly stated that he would not be disappointed if his 2012 team does not make the playoffs: “We are focused on building something that will have progress not only in the playoffs”. When you are doing a total rebuild that is the result of some really bad management in the first few years of your franchise’s MLS existence, this kind of attitude makes sense. To be blunt, Toronto has lived too long off of the good will of its fans in a league where over 50% of teams make the playoffs.
However, the statement does ignore some realities that make this position untenable. Rogers Communications, the Canadian media conglomerate that part-owns many sports franchises and properties in Toronto, recently bought a stake in the Reds. Undoubtedly, this makes many fans salivate with the thought of corporate money being able to fund some player acquisitions.
The team is also the victim of its own success. By advancing past the group stage of the CONCACAF Champions League plus ending the 2011 MLS season on a hot streak, the fans have seen that this team can have success against good opponents. For the head coach and management to essentially say “let’s not get ahead of ourselves here” especially in light of gaffs like jacking up ticket prices a few years back, there could be a major division between the team itself and its fans. Setting correct and manageable expectations for the team, players, and fans may define the success of this rebuild more than the on-the-field performance.
2. Is Julian de Guzman still part of the plan?
Dwayne De Rosario was quickly shipped from Toronto to New York to relieve a high-priced problem early in 2011. Their other high-profile player was forced to shape up while new names were brought in that could compare to de Guzman’s stature. As a result, de Guzman played better in 2011 and actually became an important part of the Toronto midfield. However, he was left unprotected in the recent expansion draft, which while it may have been done strategically could send a signal to the player about his future in Toronto.
Undeniably Julian de Guzman is a very good player that can be a critical part of the Toronto attack. However, with a rebuild overshadowing the team and he being the most visible sign of the old Toronto FC, does he have a role in Winter’s team? Maybe more importantly, does he want one?
3. How close are they to the three year plan being completed?
This question ties somewhat to the first one, but how close is this team to reaching their goal of being a replenishing playoff contender? Their 2011 acquisitions paid off big-time in many ways, with Danny Koevermans being their best acquisition by scoring loads of critical goals. The other designated player acquisition Torsten Frings helped stabilize the midfield and young players like Ashtone Morgan and Joao Plata really shined under Winter.
However gaps do exist and how management chooses to fill these gaps will be a telling sign of how close they believe the three-year plan is to completion (a year early). Their only big offseason acquisition so far has been Reggie Lambe, a winger who represents
Jamaica Bermuda and played in England last season. However, the team has not locked up Plata for another year (he’s on loan from Ecuador) and has not addressed some of their defensive issues (hello Andy Iro!). Will they try and sign some established players, or just rely on the growing academy to fill in slots? The answer may define how quickly this team makes a playoff run, if at all.
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