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TFC 2011 | Week#19

Shuffling The Deck

High Stakes, Low Limits

Today’s game against FC Dallas marks the beginning of a new era for Toronto FC. Paul Mariner and Aron Winter were brought in to make changes. This week sees the much anticipated arrival of at least four new players through trades, and the introduction of two new Designated Players.

It’s finally fair to say that the Mo Johnston era is truly behind us. With this shuffle of the roster, the Winter flavouring of  Toronto FC genuinely begins.

The past few weeks have shown that the owners and new management were sincere in their pledge to make bold changes. Mid-season transfer activities are often simple transactions to assess. We need ringers for a playoff run. Let’s move for a stop-gap for injuries in certain positions. But a wholesale reconstruction is uncommon.

A team that ships out three starters and hires two new Designated Players all at once, among other moves, is making a definite statement. But if the feeble Toronto FC weren’t the most active team during this transfer period, then Winter and Mariner would not be doing their jobs. TFC needs further renovations, and there’s no sense in waiting.

Big Bets

On the subject of Designated Players, one can only imagine that Koevermans and Frings will have an immediate impact on the quality of Toronto FC’s play. If they stay healthy and start performing well here, their leadership on and off the pitch will also reap benefits for a team determined to build with local youth. Neither of these guys are young, in career footballer terms, so a few years of fire and forging is about all we should expect of them.

What their arrival means to the original DP, Julian de Guzman, is the subject of much discussion at present. It seems his place is secure through his 2012 contract term, but also that Winter and Mariner have opened the door for him as well. It will be interesting to see if JDG can find some better form now that the quality of players around him is starting to rise.

My hope is that de Guzman does find a groove at last. It would be great if he could finally answer his critics with more consistent and valuable play here.

New rumours out this week suggest that Israeli side Maccabi Tel Aviv might be kicking his tires, and considering a trade that would bring a new striker this way. There’s nothing to suggest this is a serious deal in the making, and JDG’s camp are denying there’s anything to it. But, given the frustrations all around, there’s always the chance Julian de Guzman will choose to put his largely unflattering years at TFC behind him sooner rather than later.

Playing The Table

The calculations of intra-MLS trading bring surprising outcomes – like trading Tony Tchani to one team to pick up Terry Dunfield from another. But usually every story has some inner drama or sub-text that makes it, well, less surprising. Tchani is good but raw. Dunfield has fallen out with the new coach in Vancouver. Overall, this seems like a smart deal for TFC.

What Dunfield might lack in long-term potential versus Tchani, he more than makes up in work ethic and ‘of the moment’ talent. He’s been playing well this season, for the ‘Caps and Canada, and will be a great addition to Toronto FC’s midfield. What’s not to like about a Dunfield, Frings and de Guzman line-up?

Many Reds fans were concerned by the dispatch of Nana Attakora, yet his time with the club was obviously coming to an end under Winter. It is a sentimental milestone to see the last original TFC roster-member depart, and a local guy too. Yet, even with the shortage of centre backs, it probably is not a consequential loss for the Reds. The acquisition of winger Ryan Johnson will be a useful one, and the trade that brings Andy Iro in from Columbus will more than fill Nana’s boots on the back line.

Going Blind To The River

This can’t be it for Toronto FC. Winter has said as much. So the cards will continue to flip.

There are still gaps in the core elements that need to be filled with someone other than teenagers. Andy Iro’s height and might will be great in defense and on set-pieces. He’s not shown himself to be an anchoring leader at that position, however, and neither have Ty Harden or Dicoy Williams. So, chances are some deal-making remains to fill that role.

Perhaps Stefan Frei and Torsten Frings can put some Teutonic order into the defenders from either side of the line. And if they’re bold enough to hold on that bet, Mariner and Winter could still be out chasing some strikers. It certainly wouldn’t hurt to put some more money down to put more goal-scorers in TFC red.

Counting The Chips

All told, the renovations are dramatic. And the work is still rough around the edges. It may be years before the cost/benefit exchange on these trades and acquisitions becomes clear. Beyond talent and fit in Winter’s system, the players arriving now and in the next few weeks will need time. Weeks and months of playing together are required for this newly shuffled roster to develop the chemistry and heart for a winning game.

Those two elements, in particular, have been in short supply for Toronto FC this season. It may be multiple seasons before they can contend with the MLS’ top performers week in and week out. In the short term, a few good leaders and some strengthened resolved will go a long way toward making the Reds competitive again.

One thing is certain: it will be a different team that appears at BMO Field this week. The improvements still may come slowly, but the design and implementation on a game-plan is big step forward in itself. Getting used to a whole bunch of new names and faces means these are exciting days again. Wheel and deal now, I say, and deliver on the big bets down the line.

 

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