Finally Getting Excited
A week our from the start to TFC campaign number seven and I have to confess I’m finally getting excited enough about the upcoming season – and for that matter the impending death of Winter (the season – not the former coach!) to finally start posting again on what I hope will be a regular basis.
I’m getting excited about the team that we are all about to see in Vancouver this coming weekend and at the Rogers Centre for the Toronto opener on March 9th maybe not as much as I am the season as a whole, but still excited.
In any case the start of each new season should fill the supporter with at least some sense of the possible and of a sense of anticipation to see what this ever changing club will look like on the field and in the front office.
On Tuesday I will be lucky enough to get a first glance of the new team and new management group up close as I was one of the lucky ones to snag a pass to the TFC Season Kickoff Event where players and management will mingle for a few hours with fans to commemorate the start of season seven. The new kit will likely be on display I hear. As well I will try and snag as much photo and video content as I can that I will share with you in this space over the coming days.
But enough of that for now.
What I want to ramble on a bit about now are some little snippets of news/debate that I think are definitely worthy of notice and discussion heading into the start of the season:
Hassli Gone – Frings to Go?
Eric Hassli now plies his trade in the city where TFC Designated Players apparently go to die, and that is of course Dallas Texas. The way that Kevin Payne essentially stated that he was unaware of the re-signing of Hassli while in negotiation with MLSE to come to Toronto as President speaks to the fact that he was not Payne’s guy to begin with. At least TFC got something for him in return ( a draft pick) which they would not have gotten if they had released him.
As far as Torsten Frings goes it looks like he is done with playing and done with TFC for that matter if you believe any number of reports and rumours circulating out there. I for one will not be shocked if he is done and that the club is waiting for the time to announce it. With him returning to Toronto from Florida ahead of the team maybe it is a matter of some sort of negotiated end that will see the end of Frings’ time here. I also don’t think that a slow midfielder on the slippery slope to forty is really the kind of player that Payne wants to bank on anyway. It might be telling if he is not at the season kickoff event Tuesday.
New Kids and a Staffing Shortage
Bekker, Agbossoumonde, Califf (not exactly a kid I know!), Braun, Bendik, Cesar, Welshman, and a list of triallists make up some of the new faces that make up for the departing ones such as Hassli, Plata, Cann, Harden and the like. The draftees are not listed on the official club roster to date awaiting contacts and/or offers.
As we have all become used to its going to take time to become familiar with what is once again just about a completely new team. Nineteen players “officially” on the roster however less than a week out from First Kick is deeply troubling.
Looking at MLS opponent club websites puts this number into even more sobering context. The average number of players under contract and on active rosters of MLS clubs at the start of the final week of the pre season averages just a little over 26 players per club. Even Chivas USA, a club that can rank up there with Toronto for futility in recent seasons and who is apparently on a kick to try and field only Hispanic players has 24 under contract. Only Toronto FC of nineteen league clubs has less than twenty players under contract at I write this.
Better At The Back – Who Knows Up Front
If Toronto FC somehow finds it in itself defensively to ship a half a goal less per game in the 2013 campaign they will find themselves near to the league average for 2012 in goals conceded. Near the league average at least gives the club a chance to be competitive, especially at home, does it not? I for one think this group can (on paper at least) stop the hemorrhaging of goals at back, or at the very least staunch the flow. O’Dea, Eckersley, Morgan, Califf, Henry and Agbossoumonde (along with backup/depth players like Emory and Hall) are arguably the most talented and deep defensive grouping this team has ever assembled. There is veteran leadership and experience in this group mixed with youth and athleticism. Colour me hopeful but I have some real excitement for once about this team at the back. By TFC standards average defending would be wonderful defending.
Up front is another story. Justin Braun comes to TFC from Salt Lake City via Montreal where he had a less than stellar 2012. In fact in sixteen appearances he scored a grand total of zero goals. Career stats speak to a player who has averaged a goal per 3.33 games in MLS. Compare that to Danny Koevermans all time topping goal per 1.98 games clip and you see that he has a ways to go. Braun also turns 28 this spring so one would think that he might be just about as near to the finished article as he is likely to be. Until Danny comes back (if he does come back we are looking at June most likely) some combination of Braun, Silva, Weideman and perhaps Welshman are going to be relied upon to score. Not exactly a scary lineup up front to opponents now is it?
I watched bits and pieces of three matches that Toronto played in Florida and was struck by one thing that I thought carried over from each game, and that was the relatively up tempo pressuring style that I saw TFC try and play. Nelsen is known as a Leader and if he is the character guy we have all been led to believe by the comments from former managers and teammates of his I don’t think he is going to sit still and accept what passed for effort late on last season from this team going forward.
This team in 2013 will only go as far as their effort will take them. A tighter at the back mentality and lots of leg work might enable this team to finally start turning things around.
How the players react to Ryan Nelsen and if they buy into his hard work at all costs ethos might be the difference between how last year turned out and something resembling respectability.