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Pre-Season | TFC 2011

Here We Go Again

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Reflecting on TFC’s past year, I’m struck by how similar their situation now is to the start of the 2010 campaign. With the Reds’ first game just a week away, I am actually thriving on the drama ahead.

To buoy my spirits, I’ve found some wisdom from Winston Churchill, a master of words and tactics. He observed that “Without a measureless and perpetual uncertainty, the drama of human life would be destroyed.”

Toronto FC’s 2011 is just that; a hefty dose of “measureless and perpetual uncertainty.” So why not embrace it? Why not savour the drama?

Beyond the theatrics of each match, we also have the larger spectacle of a team and its owners struggling to reboot. It’s like the MLSE switched TFC from Windows to Mac. There is a lot of chafing at the change, but in the end we’ll likely end up with the better operating system.

Duane Rollins at the 24th Minute has it straight. There’s an inescapable tension between short- and long-term results, the 2011 season and Toronto FC’s long-term health as a club. MLSE has gambled that fans will be happiest in the long-run with their new strategy. The risk is that those fans, the harshest critics of the team and its management, will explode in rage in the short term.

As many have noted, there’s good reason to expect frustration for 2011. Aron Winter, the new boss, has told us there will be short term pain. There has been drama with Dwayne De Rosario and Adrian Cann over contracts in the off-season. And Julian de Guzman, our designated player, is still not fit to play, as he mends from surgery. Information is not flowing freely out of the team’s front office. Mostly, it seems as though everyone is trying to keep a happy face for the cameras.

It’s similar to the ground we stood on a year ago. There’s a new manager in charge. A new playing system has been announced. That new regime requires new players, while others must be let loose. On season’s eve, the roster is half full and every fan is fearing the uncertainty ahead.

Here we go again… though for the first time in team history, Mo Johnston is no longer calling the shots.

To me, the current scenario looks far rosier than 2010. I think MLSE has made some smart choices. Even if Winter can’t spin gold out of straw in the next three seasons, the long-term design of the academy will be a healthy foundation for a team restricted by the MLS salary cap. It’s too bad the new organization had to cut Nick Dasovic free, because his TFC Academy players were a strong core of Canada’s U-17 team that qualified for the World Cup. Even without Dasovic in the office, there’s something for TFC to build on already. Of course, most of those assets also will take a while to pay off.

I find some comfort in knowing that MLSE has made a bold and sensible decision to build the future around a solid academy. In the long run, that’s going to be great for the team, for the sport in Canada and for our local talent pool. Still, there’s nothing in that to rev up the spirits about the 2011 season.

Among the fans, dire pessimism abounds yet again. Even the most devoted and fair-minded supporters are feeling gloomy about the Reds potential on the pitch. Sadly, the preseason performances to date only reinforce this perspective. It could be ugly for a while, certainly for the first half of the season. To be fair, TFC still have a core of MLS-worthy talent. And it’s simply too soon to write them all off.

With so many variables at play, there’s no way to know how the Reds will adapt this season. Another finish in the middle of the MLS pack seems like a realistic forecast to me. With a few more playoff spots available for 2011, it could even be a post-season year for the Reds.

And, once again, I’m taken back to the words of Churchill who remarked that “Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.” For Winter and the 2011 Toronto FC, holding onto that esprit de coeur will be the ultimate measure of their season.

Here’s hoping the fan base fares half as well.

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