TFC 2013 – Observations & Expectations
At the office on Friday the absolute best part of my day was tearing the page labelled “February” off my desk calendar and tearing it up into about a thousand tiny pieces. For me at least dark winter is over even though snow is still on the ground. March is here and this team of ours filled with strangers called “Toronto FC” takes the field in Vancouver to kick off the 2013 campaign this weekend.
It’s about bloody time.
With five players officially coming into the fold only this week and with significant work still to do towards filling out the roster I think that any pre season prognostication as to where this club will end up in 2013 is about a pointless an exercise as there can be.
I don’t intend to make a forecast. What I want to do is to perhaps lay out for you what I had the chance to chat to Kevin Payne, Ryan Nelsen and Fran O’Leary about in person earlier this week. I was lucky enough to get an invite to the TFC 2013 Season Kickoff Event on February 26th where the club introduced the new staff, players and kit to a relatively small group of assembled supporters. After the formalities of the evening were done and dusted the staff and players mingled with us for a couple of hours. I had the chance to have a chat with all three gentlemen and in the short time I had with each of them I passed onto them an observation about 2012 and a personal expectation that I have for 2013.
The observation I had was the fact that in the home stretch of 2012 going to the stadium to watch and support Toronto FC was not fun anymore. As loss upon loss mounted it actually started to feel like a burden to have to go to the ground. Simply put TFC started to feel like work. I think a combination of frustration brought on by the results, the lack of visible effort on the field, the lack of leadership and vision throughout the team structure and the sheer hopelessness at the time of the situation the team found itself in all contributed to that feeling. To each of these gentlemen I stated that this was far and away the worst experience supporting this team since Day One that many of us had ever been through and one that did not dare repeating.
The expectation I shared with them was that I would hope that the team would find itself by the end of the summer of 2013 at least “in the conversation” for the post season. Now I know that it is probably going to take not just a miracle but a sequence of miracles to take place for the Reds to actually make the playoffs, let alone to make any real noise in the post season. But is it not too much to ask for Labour Day to roll around and for our Reds to at least still mathematically have a slim shot? This past season the 0-0-9 start sealed their fate by April. One would hope that this year will be a different.
And the difference has to come at the back. Last year the Reds shipped sixty two goals in thirty four league games, for an average of just a little under two goals per outing. Many of those goals were conceded late in games when a lack of talent, heart and fitness all contributed in seeing the team fold game in and game out. If Toronto FC ships two goals per game in 2013 with the talent they now have at the back that would be a massive shock. I know we are not talking the LA Galaxy here but by TFC standards the defenders assembled and inherited by Kevin Payne are far and away the most talented and deepest group the club has ever had. There is physical talent (Eckersley, Agbossoumonde), leadership (O`Dea, Califf), youth (Morgan, Henry) and depth (Emory, Hall) all at hand for the first time in significant quantities. And Stefan Frei will barring any more bad luck with injuries probably be the starting keeper for most of 2013 which should be a step up as well from a year ago. If we assume that the MLS league average of 47 goals per team conceded in 2012 remains a 2013 constant then Toronto FC need to concede a half a goal per game less in 2013 than in 2012 to be at or near the league average. League average keeps you in the conversation.
I strongly believe this is achievable.
And in my brief one on one with Mr. Payne he told me that he feels that this is the fittest group the team has ever assembled as well. Squad fitness was lacking last year no doubt and if it has improved to the point where it can help the team from conceding so many late backbreaking goals that in and of itself should be a significant change from last season.
And I think finally Ryan Nelsen is going to be key to the process as well. In Florida during the pre season I saw the team look both fitter than before and also play a much more up tempo and `harrying` style than I was used to seeing TFC play, particularly during 2012. If Nelsen can get his charges to buy into his work ethic ethos, if the team actually proves to be fitter and if the talent level (particularly at the back) is an overall improvement from a year ago then perhaps this team might just be a bit better than many might think.
Granted there are huge questions about where the goals will come from, the midfield is thin with a significant lack of creativity in quantity and the coaching staff is untested at this level, but those are concerns for another day and for another blog.
This weekend is about renewing rivalries, making acquaintances with our new club and for a few hours at least thinking about the possibilities.
Come On You Reds!
and welcome back