The Hundred Days
By this point just about every single scribe/pundit out there (with the likely exception of yours truly) that writes, or even cares, about Toronto FC has weighed in with their post season look backs of the season that was for the Reds. And the diversity of opinion has been very interesting reading this week. Some articles have been more critical of the club that others. Some have heaped praise and some scorn on Aron Winter and company, and some have done both. And many of the decisions the club made on the player front have been discussed and dissected again, again and yet again. Yet one major area open for criticism has I think been passed over.
Here is a select list of some of the generally excellent punditry out there in the TFC blog-o-shpere that is definitely worthy reading if you are interested in detailed post season breakdowns from a ton of different perspectives. All are excellent in their own way:
And there are definitely things to criticize. Champions League success notwithstanding this club is still on the outside of the playoffs for the fifth year in a row and the rebuild is still far from complete. Many players brought in this year, particularly at the beginning of the season, were frankly proven as the year wore on to not be of MLS quality (looking in the direction of guys like Javier Martina when I write this). It could be perhaps stated that the De Rosario situation was left to fester by TFC and go on way too long in the off season without a settlement and that at the end it got in the way, no matter what side of the DeRo argument you are on, of the club moving forward. The DeRo business took up I am sure a lot of the attention of people like Paul Mariner earlier this year when perhaps he could have been focusing on other things.
The team was in mid season essentially blown apart and re-built. Only four players on the roster last weekend for the New England game were on the roster for the Vancouver game at Empire Field in March. And it took months for Winter and company to realize that the players they had that were being evaluated on the fly were either not talented or skilled enough to play their way.
The on field struggles, particularly defensively and on set pieces spoke to a lack of either experience or ability at times on the part of either the players or coaching staff to get things right behind the ball. I for one lost count as to how many times coverage was blown on corner kicks or set pieces that led to the Reds giving up goals unecessarily and more often than not it was not necessarily a lack of quality at the back that led to those goals in my opinion, it was more often than not poor coaching and organization.
But as we know things did become less bleak as the season wore on. Frings and Koevermans were signed. Academy graduates like Stinson, Henry and Morgan started to clock significant minutes and became better professionals because of it. Milos Kocic stepped up to perhaps challenge the place of Stefan Frei as the first choice keeper for the club going forward. Some young and for want of a better description “interchangeable” pieces like Johnson, Avila and Marosivic arrived who fit in well with the tactical approach Aron Winter was taking. And a sense of salary cap sensibility returned to the club. Aron Winter started to look later on in the season as a much more self assured and astute bench boss. Old contracts like the DeRo deal and Chad Barrett are as of season ending off the books. There is cap space and allocation money Paul Mariner assured us in the Town hall meetings last month to add to the team.
We also can’t forget the horrible injury crisis the club faced in 2011 either. Elbekay Bouchiba never saw a minute of game action, nor did the promising youngster from 2010, Nicholas Lindsay. Adrian Cann and Dicoy Williams, the two first choice centre backs early on in the season, went down early on and we all saw the impact those two particular injuries had on the club.
And there were embarrassments, particularly at home, that really took the wind out of the “Fortress BMO Field” mentality that there was to a degree here in previous seasons. Losing to Philly by four goals, to Seattle by a goal at the death, and to Charlie Davies and DC United by three at home (all in a row mind you) were rude shocks that shook the faith of both the hardcore and casual supporters, making it easier for clubs to steal points in Toronto when they perhaps should not have.
All of these points I think have some degree of merit to them, and I will ket you the reader decide for yourself how much. But there is one thing that I think made what was going to be a hard year no matter what that much harder. And it was what I call the “hundred days”. On September 14th of last year Mo Johnston and Preki were fired by MLSE. It was not until November 3rd that Jürgen Klinsmann was officially brought on board to help the ownership group find and hire a new management team. On January 6th of this year the club hosted a press conference announcing the hiring of Aron Winter, Bob de Klerk and Paul Mariner to take over the club. Two months of nothing between September and November were two absolutely precious months lost. And even once Jürgen Klinsmann came on board his mandate was simply to help the owners figure out which path to follow on a high level and who to hire to run the club. And between September and January next to no moves were made by the club to push the on field enterprise forward.
If somehow the time between Mo leaving and Aron arriving could somehow have been shortened the there would have been more time to get the DeRo mess straightened away. There would have been much more time for the coaching staff to assess who they intended to keep and who they intended to jettison and to get on with the jettisoning. Bottom line, there would have been much more time to get things moving forward on all fronts.
If the new staff and essentially new club that was TFC this year had two or even three extra months between when Mo/Preki was fired and the end of the 2011 season to work with then the eventual outcome might have looked a bit different. The Reds started to look much more like a decent MLS team later on in the 2011 season, and the Champions League success they earned is the tangible result from this improvement that I think we all can see. Who knows when that proverbial corner might have been turned this season past if some of those “hundred days” were not wasted in the way they were?
There is lots of blame to go around for what happened in Toronto FC’s fifth season when it comes to the continuing lack of success in Major League Soccer. But when we look back at the choices Aron Winter made or did not make, lets not forget that Tom Anselmi and the MLSE Board need to take a much bigger slice of responsibility for how it all ended this year considering that over three months of precious time were thrown away before the current promising direction was even embarked upon.