Anyone Getting Worried?
The end of February is upon us and March brings the beginning of Toronto FC’s fifth season in Major League Soccer. It is creeping up pretty fast isn’t it?
Today TFC’s Director of Business Operations, Paul Beirne, tweeted the picture to the left showing that the under soil heating at BMO Field is working. It has been engaged and the pitch is starting to look a little greener. In just a little over three and a half weeks that surface needs to be ready for TFC’s first home game of the season against the Portland Timbers.
I have no doubt the pitch will be ready in time.
Will the team be as ready as the pitch likely will be?
Since training camp opened in Turkey almost a month ago Toronto has seen five Academy players (including 16 year old Keven Aleman, called up Monday after a stellar CONCACAF Under-17 tournament that saw Canada qualify for the World Cup), three draft picks from the 2011 MLS Super Draft, fifteen players under contract and fourteen trialists take part in training camp. Perhaps there may be more players coming to South Carolina before they break training camp and head to Vancouver for First Kick on the 19th, or this club will be breaking camp pretty much as is. Again we will all have to wait and see.
This season MLS is allowing for expanded rosters of thirty players to accommodate expanded numbers of Academy players being allowed to graduate to first teams and for the return of the Reserve League. And there are four more regular season matches taking place as well. Suffice it to say TFC arguably needs a full roster even more than they did at the start of last season.
In one month of training there has not been one single official word from the club about the signing of a single player to date. The only trialist who was allegedly “officially” signed was Bas Ent, subsequently released, and who is reportedly threatening to lodge a formal complaint with FIFA over how TFC handled his contract status and subsequent release.
Now Toronto is not the only club in Major League Soccer that is still well short of a full roster or for that matter even close to a starting XI as of the end of February, or even without controversy. Columbus Crew have done a significant tear down themselves in the off season. They looked far from the finished article last week in Champions League competition against Salt Lake City. Vancouver Whitecaps supporters are becoming increasingly jittery by the day over the apparent lack of action on their roster, particularly when it comes to strikers. The New England Revolution appear to be in significant disarray with their best player (Shalrie Joseph) being arrested by Police for trespass after showing up at training camp after being suspended by the club for unreleased disciplinary reasons. And this is only a small sample of what is happening league wide.
And the issue of the off season, the festering “problem” of the contractual status of captain Dwayne De Rosario has not as far as we can tell moved any closer to some satisfactory resolution. Yet again it might have, but once again we have no way to confirm this.
For the record I am not panicking.
Aron Winter and Bob de Klerk are smart guys. They know football. They know what they want to do and they are by all accounts committed to installing a style and system of play from the Academy up to the senior team that they feel is the key to long term success.
Paul Mariner is the voice of MLS reason/sanity for TFC. He knows MLS, knows the quality of the league and knows what kind of player should or should not be able to cut it in North America. Long before last December I was preaching from the rooftops to anyone who would listen that this guy was part of the long term answer. He is here now. I am still convinced that he still knows what he is doing.
On the field some of the Academy players have not looked out of place. Matt Stinson has looked excellent. As has Ashtone Morgan at times in the limited amount of on field game play we have been able to see. Jacob Peterson, much maligned last season by most TFC supporters has at times not looked out of place. DeRo has looked strong and engaged. Trialists like Martina and Gay have showed flashes of quality and late round draft pick Demetrius Omphroy looks to me to be a keeper.
And to repeat myself for emphasis … I am not panicking.
But I am worried.. and I think a lot of TFC fans are as worried as I am.
This time last season TFC was much more the finished article going into the 2010 campaign than the 2011 edition appears to be, and we all know how 201o ended up. More players were under contract at the end of February 201othan there are in 2011 and there are five additional roster spots to fill this year!
Toronto FC needs to be better prepared for the start of this campaign in particular than it ever has been before. The MLS schedule is laid out in such a way that there is a real chance for Toronto to set themselves up well for a playoff run later on in 2011 if they start strong. There are some relatively easy matches up front. Starting with two expansion teams is a gift. And after all that happened in 2010 there is not only significant fan discontent out there, there is perhaps increasing indifference as well. The hardcore fans are already sold. They will return through thick or thin. The more casual fan, which without a doubt makes up the bulk of the fans in seats at BMO Field, needs to see some progress this season as well.
There are allegedly at least three trialists already signed by TFC, yet there had not been any official announcement from the club confirming this. Perhaps it might be a good time to draft a press release letting us know that there has been progress… that there had been real movement towards building a new team.
What do yo think? Your comments are always welcome and appreciated.