Reloading – The Red Bull Way
The scale of the job of once again trying to build/rebuild Toronto FC into the kind of club that can compete for a place in the MLS playoffs next season and beyond is certainly a daunting one. And if you spend any amount of time perusing the TFC fan message boards you might get to thinking that the task is almost an impossible one.
Many fans are lamenting that to date since season end there has only been one player brought in (Nathan Sturgis from Vancouver/Seattle) and ten players have been shown the exits in one way or another. Others are expressing concern that there are only seventeen players currently with the Reds with training camp opening in about seven weeks (and thirteen roster slots yet to fill). Others are concerned that, other than the press conference and a sighting at the MLS Cup notwithstanding, there has been little to no word from Jürgen Klinsmann in regards to what he is going to be recommending when it comes to who will be leading the club on and off the pitch for 2011. (Edit. Rogers Sportsnet reporter Gerry Dobson is reporting Tuesday morning that Jürgen Klinsmann has told him in an interview that there will be a coach at least in place before Christmas… Here is the link: http://www.sportsnet.ca/soccer/2010/12/07/dobson_klinsmann_vision/) One common thread in the thoughts of the concerned is the fact that the clock is ticking, and the ticking is starting to get louder.
Perhaps an undercurrent running throughout in the minds of those fans expressing their impatience with the pace of the rebuild is that in many ways the lack of off-season player signings harkens back to one of the worst aspects of the previous Mo Johnston regime, namely the fact that each year he was in charge players were joining the cub well after the start of the new season, and examples abound in the memory ranging from Danny Dichio all the way up to Dan Gargan. And if you want to get the backs of TFC fans up all you have to do is of course to invoke the memory of Mo Johnston and all that it represents.
Well I suppose I can’t blame some for feeling this way considering that there is only four years of less than successful Toronto FC history to base an opinion on. And having to find thirteen new players (let alone renegotiating contracts for perhaps up to nine players) certainly speaks to the scale of the job ahead.
On the opposite side of the coin there is, questions notwithstanding, significant reason for optimism…. and a recent successful model to look upon.
At the end of the 2009 season the woeful New York Red Bulls were arguably one of the worst MLS teams ever assembled. Other than ironically eliminating Toronto FC from playoff contention on the last game of the season the Red Bulls were only able to win five games in total, all of them at home. They had a minus 20 goal differential and they set a MLS league record for road futility by losing thirteen games away from home only drawing two and winning zero. The club was saddled with a number of really poor players on ungodly contracts. And the team was moving into a new stadium for 2010 and there had to be some sort of hope given to fans.
That hope took the form of new general manager Erik Soler and new coach Hans Backe. Upon the end of the 2009 season they both took over and started cleaning house, on an even larger scale than Earl Cochrane has been doing at TFC. Only ten players with the club at the start of the 2009 season were still there at the start of the 2010 season. Fourteen players were jettisoned and twenty one new players were brought in at various points of the 2010 season. No team in MLS history to date went through such a significant housecleaning and rebuild then the Red Bulls did. And they were without a doubt successful. No they did not win the MLS Cup but they did finish first in the Eastern Conference and perhaps more importantly than that, in one short year, they took the team from league laughing stock back to marquis franchise status. And this tear down/reload only took them about three months to accomplish (Rafa Marquez and Thierry Henry of course came a bit later on).
So TFC fans, yes there is a huge job ahead to try and get the Reds to the point where they can be competitive in this league. Yes there are a lot of players that need to be scouted, evaluated and signed. Yes maybe even more players need to leave… who knows.
But the job of rebuilding must begin with a clearing out. And that process has been ably accomplished by Earl Cochrane and his staff to date. The ten players that have left, plus the fact that other contracts that TFC were responsible for (Carl Robinson and Ali Gerba) are coming off the books means that whoever is tasked with this rebuild could have up to $1.7-$1.8 milion in salary cap and allocation space to use. By MLS standards that is a huge sum. There are two designated player slots now open, and arguably there are better players left with the club today then there were left with New York when they started this process last season.
And there are some additional tools available to TFC that were not available to the Red Bulls. last year Case in point…on Wednesday the first MLS Re-Entry Draft will be taking place. There are some interesting players available that Toronto might take a look at acquiring (Juan Pablo Angel from New York amongst them). Last season the Red Bulls had no such tool at hand. If they wanted to acquire an MLS veteran out of contract they had to negotiate with the former club of the player that still held their rights. Round two of the draft of course follows next week. And there are now no Canadian content restrictions that exist on TFC’s roster for 2011 that existed previously. So in may ways Toronto has a slightly easier job ahead of itself.
Yes the job ahead is big. Yes it will most likely be difficult. Mistakes will likely still be made And no there are no guarantees of success. But at least there is a viable model out there to look at emulating.
What do you think? Your comments are always welcome and appreciated.