In Toronto FC’s end-of-season press conference, Paul Mariner was asked how many players he considers starting line-up material, and though he eventually answered with a blunt “seven,” it was the 15-second pause in between that spoke more to Mariner’s intentions than his eventual answer.
As Paul Mariner counted players in his head, fans and followers alike were all thinking the same thing; surely, a heavy roster change is in the works for Toronto FC. Mariner and Earl Cochrane confirmed their intentions during the conference, with player deals apparently already in the works. Mariner is currently in Scandinavia, kicking off player talks.
So, what do we know about Toronto FC’s offseason fate? Well, it’s quite clear now that many players in the team will not be here next season. Milos Kocic and Ryan Johnson looked the most likely to make a switch, Eric Avila is not favoured by Mariner, and even Luis Silva, who enjoyed a decent first season (and is up for rookie of the year accolades) was dismissed by Mariner as, perhaps, a draft pick too high.
The grass may look greener on the other side, but there is a problem that comes with a heavy roster turnover, as Toronto FC fans are more than aware of, after six years of players coming and going. That number seven is misleading – there are probably about 15 players on the roster that can be considered MLS calibre, but certainly not everyone is starting XI material.
It is why players like Jeremy Hall, Quincy Amarikwa, Aaron Maund and Logan Emory should not be seen as useless players – they’re not. It’s an easy game to compare Toronto FC’s players to the players in similar positions on other teams. In fact, you can look across the league and find gems of talent that Toronto FC should take a serious look at:
If Jeremy Hall is not good enough to start for Toronto FC, the club should look at a right fullback from Chicago Fire by the name of Dan Gargan. He’s a no-nonsense kind of player, who does his job, stays in position and can be used all over the park. Sure, he’s not the most gifted player in the league, but he is a good, cheap option that would provide Toronto FC with something consistent at rightback.
The middle of the defence was the biggest issue at the beginning of the 2012 season, and a lack of options at centerback made life difficult for Aron Winter. Nowadays, Richard Eckersley and Darren O’Dea make a formidable duo, yet they cost as much as a pair of Designated Players, so justifying that cost is almost impossible.
Toronto FC should look at centerbacks such as Marvell Wynne to replace the speedy Richard Eckersley, and Julius James in place of Darren O’Dea as a physical option; Wynne is arguably one of the fastest defenders in the league, while James is tall, strong and can pop in a few goals from corners now and then.
As for attacking midfield, Toronto FC have a few options available locally too. Luis Silva, for all his strengths, is still a rookie and needs time before he can be an undisputed starter – meanwhile, Chivas USA are going through a massive structural overhaul and their creative midfield maestro, Nick LaBrocca, may be available.
On the right hand side, Toronto FC will also need to evaluate their player choices – does Reggie Lambe deserve a starting spot? The Bermudan is still young and raw, and perhaps an MLS fringe player may work well as a starter at Toronto FC. Sporting Kansas City employs such a player, who goes by the name Jacob Peterson. He would be a gamble, but one that may pay off for Toronto FC.
Finally, we move to centre forward. Simply put, Eric Hassli and Danny Koevermans have not been able to stay fit long enough to warrant a starting spot at centre forward. Toronto FC should take a good, long look at San Jose’s Alan Gordon as a target man striker. Gordon recently made his US debut and has scored 13 goals this season, a respectable tally that beats any striker Toronto FC currently has on their team.
(Disclaimer: I am aware that each player has donned TFC red at some point!)
Now, while Dan Gargan, Marvell Wynne, Julius James, Nick LaBrocca, Alan Gordon and yes, even Jacob Peterson, may look like solid, capable players for their respective teams, the reality is, they were not superstars at Toronto FC. There are numerous other players that fit this mold (Tony Tchani, Sam Cronin, Todd Dunivant, Maicon Santos, etc.). While looking from the outside in, they look like talented players, but in their time at BMO Field, they were dismissed as not good enough.
It takes a bit of faith in the personnel you have to make these ordinary footballers useful squad players. Dumping the current crop would be foolish. If Luis Silva is sold, he will excel elsewhere, and Toronto FC will rue not having him on their roster. If Eric Avila is traded, history has shown he will do well for another club. The disposability of players in Toronto is unprecedented, but there is a precedent for future success once a player has left.
It’s been called a curse by some, but it is, in essence, the lack of faith from management that squanders otherwise serviceable players. Have some faith in the fringe players that make up Toronto FC – there are more than seven talented footballers in Toronto today. These players will excel if given some faith, even if they are just coming off the bench.
I am not denying that Toronto FC do need some more players of starting quality; that much is obvious. This is merely a case for the other guys, the players who are not quite up to starting XI quality but can be useful for this squad. Dumping players because they are still young and raw is bad practice: the former TFC players are a testament to that. It’s time Toronto FC created a few heroes of their own, instead of letting other teams do it for them.
It’s time Toronto FC kept some faith.