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TFC 2012

Flip, Flop and Fly

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Reds and RedBulls: Alike, but seasons apart

I’m not convinced that Toronto has reversed course yet. But the past three games have been a rebooting of sorts. And respectability has returned (game to game, at least). It’s a bit easier to find some pride in supporting them.

Goals are being scored. Competitive focus and confidence have been building with that success. New coach? New formation? New motivation? It’s not yet clear.

Only one match was a solid 90 minute performance. As TFC fans we’re used to the heartbreak and chokes, like the Reds expiring after 70 minutes and squandering two goal leads, two games in a row. But the Reds were in a deep hole, mentally and organizationally. It’s actually a bit surprising to see them surge forward so strongly.

Mariner’s move to a 4-4-2 seems to have helped. The depleted and inexperienced back line has been helped by putting Toronto in a more defensive posture overall. Ashtone Morgan’s runs down the flank have delivered sweet service into the striker’s attack zone. It’s also helped that Johnson and Koevermans have actually converted some chances.

Dominance may not be in the Reds near future, but competence seems plausible.

Though the Red Bulls sit on top of the Eastern Conference, 22 points ahead of TFC, their current form is similar to TFC of late. Kenny Cooper and Tierry Henry are capable strikers, and New York has a potent attack they can turn on with dramatic effect. Fortunately, for the recovering Toronto FC, RBNY are also suffering from injuries and inexperience in central defense.

So, tonight, as these two teams square off at BMO Field, the forecast looks like it calls for goals in both directions. It might be too much to hope for another decisive victory from the Reds, but the Red Bulls are ripe for defeating.

Prediction:

Toronto FC  2 – 2  NY Red Bulls

 

 

 

Flip, Flop and Fly

The transfer season is upon MLS clubs again. With news that Burgos and Plata are on their way out at TFC this week, and that Italian defender, Alessandro Nesta may be on his way in, the Mariner era is now about to begin in earnest.

For me, with this MLS season a write-off, Mariner has two realms in which he can prove his leadership. The first will be how he shuffles the player deck. The second will be the Reds’ Champion’s League results.

New Stock or Walking the Walk?

The biggest question hanging over this club now is whether the current management can build a team with a solid and lasting base of playing talent. All previous TFC administrations have been absolute failures in this realm.

Mariner’s supposed to be the guy with MLS scouting prowess. Connections to Europe will help, of course. The TFC Academy is growing into its full form too, but cannot be expected to generate potent first team call-ups in the near term.

A player like Nesta, should he stay healthy, could certainly offer a few years of veteran leadership where it’s most needed. TFC’s new regime certainly has a greater deficit to fill in central defenders. It’s possible that we have those prospects now, but only a few games with a strong leader guiding them will prove that point.

It seems likely, if rumours are to be believed, that Nesta will be hired without DP status but will assume that role and salary in the future. Probably, it will be after Julian de Guzman’s contract ends this season, and he’s shown the exit or gives up his DP status.

I hope that the revolving door next to TFC’s bench is finally sealed up. I would actually prefer to see them hold onto the young squad and develop the talent that’s here. Toward that, a healthy Nesta will be a huge addition on the pitch. Nesta, Frings and Koevermans game in and game out, definitely seems like a move that will help spur on a young and promising corps.

Beyond the DP sagas, some more depth at striker is going to be required as well. Johnson and Koevermans looked good now, but an injury to one or both of them would leave the Reds wanting for attackers. Soolsma has a place in that calculation, but his best abilities seem to come from runs down the flank. It’s unclear to me if he fits the profile of a 4-4-2 striker.

TFC is a young roster. It may be most congested in midfielders. The options at the back and front are still limited. Likely, Mariner will have to do some juggling to bring in talent with more experience and skill in these roles. In MLS terms, that’s no easy feat because those acquisitions will have to come with reasonable price tags. And one major benefit of a young squad is that their salaries are on the lower end of the scale.

It’s only in comparing the Reds to Vancouver and Montreal that I become dubious. True, those teams were both built into MLS teams on the backs of organizations that had been running long-term operations in lower leagues. Toronto FC started from scratch in 2007.

Yet, when one looks at the rosters those sides have put together in the past two seasons, it’s easier to see why Toronto has struggled for so long and continues to flail in MLS competition. The Whitecaps and Impact are much better organized and have forged competitive rosters in the near term, with reasonable prospects together going forward. Toronto FC has yet to hold a manager or a roster for long enough to claim a solid base or prove a respectable future.

Management failures have been a large factor in TFC’s impotence. Winter began the necessary transformation. Mariner now has to capitalize on the long-term strategic investments made in the DPs and the Academy. Let’s hope his tenure will exceed the short commitments given his predecessors. A large measure of consistency and competence would be a welcome change.

Santos Laguna, Part Two

The Reds’ Champion’s League fate this season will be Mariner’s one shot at proving the team can win in competition. I’m not saying that a significant bounce up the MLS table won’t be proof of the same, but the CCL offers a chance to win games that count for something. A good show in that competition will go a long way toward bolstering the team’s and the administration’s confidence. Fan support, of course, will follow as well.

For me, the CCL is a chance for Mariner to prove his worth as a motivator and tactician. This might be the least proven of his leadership abilities, but in all fairness he’s amply qualified to deliver.

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