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TFC 2012

Redemption or Ridicule

There comes a time when every team has to face the music. Today’s match between Toronto FC and Chivas USA has that feeling to it. Winless in four MLS games thus far, the Reds have not lived up to supporters’ rising expectations in 2012.

Aron Winter is the competent guy who came to rescue this team from haplessness. Yet, eerily, it feels like little has changed from the teams that Mo built.

However unfair and impatient that view may be, there is no denying that many TFC fans are chafing at the ongoing futility. This was supposed to be behind us. This is not supposed to be another Maple Leafs. This Winter guy is supposed to know what he is doing.

I truly believe he does know what he’s doing. I also believe TFC are plagued by some old problems that he has not yet solved. Above all else this is about defense. It’s partly a story of bad luck in injuries, and partly about what’s possible within one year under MLS salary caps and rules.

In short, Winter finds himself without enough competent defenders. And with a line up that hasn’t found consistency or cohesion. Thus, the team is prone to lethal mistakes and can’t hold fast against even the weakest competitors.

To leave it at that is unjust. It also ignores a major philosophical distinction that Winter is making in building Toronto FC. He believes in youth development, and in carrying players up from within TFC’s expanding Academy. That means there are lots of young players being asked to play bigger roles. Many of them still need time to rise to that responsibility.

Hampered by injuries, fielding lots of youth and playing lots of contests early in the season has definitely been a tough challenge. Had the CCL worked out more magically, many people would not be grinding their molars so hard this week. With that grail beyond reach, the harsh reality of 0 – 4 is a bit harder to ignore.

Of course, not all of this blame can be heaped on the defenders. Nor is it just to pin it on the team’s defending more broadly. In many games so far, and for much of the run of play, Toronto FC have looked capable enough in both directions.

The other big problem (and another historical one) has been scoring. Bad luck has kept the goal count down, so a change of fortune might make a difference in the short-term. But the offense has also looked troubled at times this season too.

While Luis Silva is a great player in the making, he’s also looked pretty green. It’s proven for me that an effective and creative attacking midfielder is still missing from the overall mix. The forwards are talented and right for Winter’s system. The midfield is deep in numbers on the roster, but overall more biased toward defense. There is still room for a real playmaker going forward.

Cann and Frings returning from injuries in coming weeks will be a boost. There’s no denying the team is better when Torsten Frings is present. He holds things together, mops up mistakes and calmly turns transitions from defense into offense. It remains to be seen if Cann will return in the same form. Even half way there would be beneficial in the near term.

Today, it would just be nice to see a solid match. Fewer mistakes and more goals are a necessity. It’s simple to say. Yet, today TFC will have to face a home stadium filled with fans whose faith has been shaken. Pressure from supporters certainly will mount if the Reds cannot emerge ahead of poor old Chivas.

The Goats are beating expectations so far in 2012. Two road wins have almost made up for three home losses. They even beat Real Salt Lake on the road. With TFC and fan spirits down, Chivas have less to lose in this contest. And you can be sure they will be coming out wanting to heap misery onto TFC’s early season saga.

Another loss at home will really burn through the pews at BMO. Ridicule or worse is sure to follow. The road to redemption and a new lease on the MLS season could start today with a win.

Prediction:

TFC 1 – 1 Chivas

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