There have been hundreds of articles on Toronto FC this season. There have been numerous storylines, too. The Maxi Urruti signing/trade, the acquisition of Matias Laba, the Amway Canadian Championship heartbreak, the displacement of Richard Eckersley, and the mass firing of the Toronto FC front office made 2013 a dramatic year in the club’s history. Ryan Nelsen, Tim Bezbatchenko and Tim Leiweke now lead the team into 2014, but there are a few things that went unsaid this year.
So, on the last day of 2013, let’s bring some of these things up, as we look forward to a new season in Major League Soccer.
In 2013, Toronto FC finally figured out the art of passing. For once, players passed with a trust that their teammate would be in the spot that they were. We saw the backline look the part of a unified force near the end of the year, and the midfield with Laba in the middle looked competent and composed.
Ryan Nelsen may be an inexperienced coach but he has managed to keep the locker room longer than many coaches before him. His players remain confident in him and his plan, and much of that comes down to Fran O’Leary, who, in my personal experience, looks the part of an assistant coach. He is an ever-present voice in Nelsen’s staff, who does the behind-the-scenes work while Nelsen takes on the spotlight.
After a seasons’ worth of press conferences; Nelsen is a players’ coach. He rarely, if ever, discredits his players to the press, remains positive and refuses to blame individual players’ mistakes. He takes responsibility for failures but allows his team to win praise when earned. This is a coach who knows how to handle the media. Whether he grills the players away from the microphones is yet to be seen, but in front of the peering camera lens, Nelsen knows what he’s doing.
It’s because he knows how he looks on camera that Nelsen is worth watching next season. Most of what Nelsen says is in his body language, the pauses between words, the slow, deliberate breath he takes before answering a tough question. If Nelsen truly does have the confidence of his bosses, his demeanour should reflect that. Keep an eye out for Nelsen in the first few games of next year; it should indicate where he stands at the club.
While we’re on the topic of media darlings, Dwayne De Rosario’s potential return to the team warrants a bit of discussion. Look, if De Rosario returns, it’s because he wanted to and the club wants to make amends for past discretions. In truth, it is a genius marketing move and a great symbolic gesture for a hometown player looking to hang his boots with a bit of glory. However, Toronto FC should be building this team with the mentality that he isn’t even there.
Just because De Rosario is a league veteran doesn’t mean Toronto FC can now boast having league veterans on the team. We need more Justin Morrows and Jacksons before that aspect of the roster is fulfilled.
Speaking of Morrow, expect to see much less of Ashtone Morgan in 2014. Morrow is a league all-star left fullback and while he didn’t start a full season last year, he is a proven commodity. If Morgan cannot outperform Morrow, than the latter will get a starting spot.
Orlando and New York are about to make Toronto FC a veteran team in the league. With those two, there have been eight franchises added to MLS. This puts Toronto in the middle of the league pack and it’s about time we shed this “building a franchise” identity – this is a club with a history of failure behind it. It’s not a “now we’re starting right,” mentality. The team has a “did we fix it now?” approach.
Much of this project, therefore, lands on the shoulders of Tim Bezbatchenko. This is a man with contacts, the likes of which we haven’t seen quite yet in MLS. He’s worked as the salary cap manager for a handful of teams in the league. It’s time we see what he can do. However, Bezbatchenko is not the only thing this team needs.
A balanced budget does not a winning team make. It helps, but just because Toronto FC’s salary cap structure is in order doesn’t mean this team is MLS Cup winning material just yet. If Nelsen’s claims that the club was in dire straights and needed fixing is true, than the notion is that fixing the budget builds a winning team, but it doesn’t; individual games need to be won, tactically and with confidence. The season cannot be simulated – the team must perform well in 2014.
Tim Leiweke is not Kevin Payne; if Leiweke’s dealing with an important Maple Leafs or Raptors issue, he won’t be paying attention to TFC wholeheartedly. Leiweke has said that he believes Toronto FC is an easy turnaround. He has outlined Designated Players as the solution to TFC’s problems.
This means Toronto FC is going to burn some bridges in Europe after the latest DP signing. It’s one or the other, and it looks almost assured that it will be Jermain Defoe. That leaves Gilardino – and his people – unwilling to deal with Toronto FC in the future.
And, I have to ask: why did Gilberto sign for Toronto FC? Brazilian forwards of the goal scoring variety make European moves far before the age of 24. Something about this signing is off, but it could just be a case of too-good-to-be-true. Gilberto absolutely has to produce. Another Miguel Mista or Eric Hassli would cripple the team’s plan moving forward. FC Dallas can’t afford to keep buying our failed DP experiments – Gilberto must score in the double digits.
Lastly, to Mr. Don Garber, who proposed a winter schedule change for MLS – did that ice storm change your mind, at all?
2014 looks like a promising year for Toronto FC. Keeping these issues in mind, let’s see how the club responds in Nelsen’s second go in MLS. Finally, to all our readers at RNO, thank you for your dedication and continued readership.
We wish you and your families health, prosperity and a Happy New Year in 2014!”