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TFC 2011 | Week#1

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Vanbummer time

I have few illusions about tomorrow’s contest between the Vancouver Whitecaps and Toronto FC. I am feeling grounded in my low expectations for TFC’s 2011 season. I’m resolved to be happy about cheering them through yet another season of struggle.

Woulda, shoulda and coulda are not exactly new buzz words around BMO Field. And hey, the MLS power rankings dropped the Reds to #18 this week (dead last), describing them as a work in progress. Duh.

For all the media hoopla about history, tomorrow’s match will be most interesting in what it signals to Vancouver and its fans. To say they’re confident is an understatement, especially if you read the discussion boards and supporters buzzing online.

Yet the MLS is a step up from the league they’ve thrived in over recent years. It isn’t fair to count them out as a competitive entity. Just as it isn’t realistic to say that this Toronto FC squad is a fair sample of what they’ll be facing week in and week out. Whitecaps fans can be forgiven for their optimism and enthusiasm, and even their idiotic Toronto hate-ons. Ok, maybe not that.

As I watch the match on Saturday, however, my schadenfreud-ometer will be tuned to Whitecaplandia. As it will be for much of this season. It will take another season of humility to be a TFC supporter.  So I figure that entitles me to a little guilty pleasure in seeing some comeuppance on the western horizon. Sure, the Seattle Sounders made a big splash when they arrived in 2009. But that’s no reason to believe there’ll be another exception to the natural laws of MLS expansion teams – and that, in a word, is struggle.

On the homefront

Anyone frothing about this week’s hurried signings by TFC –  one trialist (defender Mikael Yourassowsky), two draftees (defender Demitrius Omphroy & midfielder Matt Gold) and four TFC Academy lads (defender Ashtone Morgan, midfielders Oscar Cordon, Matt Stinson, and forward Keith Makubuya) – should look around at the news from other MLS clubs. Almost all of them have been busy with the same kind of housekeeping as well.

Sure, there are a few teams trying to add marquee talents. Mostly, though, it’s sorting out the back benches. With the season starting, management needs to make decisions about the players in their camp. Deals need to be done, or not.

For Toronto FC, these deals indicate a clear focus on the future.

It’s great news that Aron Winter has found so much to like inside the TFC system. These young guys are going to get lots of time in the reserve games, returning to MLS for 2011, and likely some time with the first team too. It’s a big step up for all of them, and they’re going to have to fight to prove they belong.

Of course, somewhat cynically, it’s also clear that young guys, hungry to ascend are probably Winter’s best asset. He’s just started installing a new system into a yet again reconstructed squad. Big plans for the hive need plenty of eager worker bees.

By my count, Toronto FC’s roster now stands at 25. The cap this season is 30 players, so there’s still considerable room for acquisitions. Maybe there’s a lingering deal to drag in some expiring talent from abroad in the next few weeks. Maybe there’s a plan to fill those slots later in the summer when the transfer folly opens up again. It likely won’t matter.

For 2011, we’re looking at big picture and long-term growth. Winter is not listening to the hysterics – ahem, far too many big media outlets who can’t find a more intersting story to tell – who claim that the sky will fall if TFC don’t make the playoffs this year. It’s ridiculous. Does it really matter if they make the playoffs in 2011? Yep, that’ll be five years in a row. Won’t we all be happier in three to five years when TFC are regularly finishing in the top 5?

You can’t blame Winter. He’s starting with a clean-ish slate and has ambitions he’s patient about achieving. No DP can come in and make enough magic to turn the Reds into a powerhouse this season. Not even two more DPs could raise Toronto FC that far.

We should be inspired by his restraint. Hopefully, they’re saving up for those big additions. The smart plan would be waiting until they know they have the foundation that’ll support that big dollar talent. No more Mistas. Por favor.

Tomorrow, I’m just watching to see what our guys have to put on the field. And I, for one, still believe that might be enough to beat the Whitecaps.

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