Toronto FC - Hope for Toronto Sports

This article has been submitted by Mostafa El Beheiry.

With the early end of the Raptors post season dreams, an up and down Jays squad in an impossible division and a Leafs franchise in the process of rebuilding after its third straight absence from the playoffs, Toronto sports fans haven’t been seeing much fruit ripen off the trees that their money and support have helped to grow. It’s been a depressing new millennium for the T.O. but let me tell you that there is still hope for Toronto and it comes in the form of the World’s Game and the 11th most popular league in North America.

Toronto FC played out their inaugural season in Major League Soccer last year amid a torrent (not the kind you download) of passionate fan support at BMO Field, ending their freshman year in last place with a less than respectable 6 wins, 17 losses and 7 draws with the worst goals for (25) and goals against (49) in the MLS. Not much to cheer about, but still the crowds came, selling out each match at the 20,522 capacity BMO Field.

The 2008 season of the MLS is now 6 weeks in and in their sophomore year, TFC sits tied for 3rd in the Eastern Conference and in the League (14 teams in the MLS, 7 per conference) with a 3-2-1 record and with a draw against the New York Red Bulls (that’s right, they’re named after an energy drink) last week are currently undefeated in a franchise record 4 games. Though it’s still really early in the season (24 games left to play), they’re looking fantastic and are a shadow of the team they were last year due to some smart pickups during the offseason by manager Mo Johnston.

Coaching Staff
John Carver was signed by MoJo as head coach of the Reds in February and the footprint he’s put on this team is obvious. Carver is famous for being the assistant manager to English soccer legend Bobby Robson at Newcastle United in the Premier League where he no doubt picked up a wealth of soccer knowledge which he has brought to BMO Field. He’s taught organization and stability to this team and through his connections to Europe has helped to bring talent and class to a squad that sorely needed it.

Additionally, MoJo hired on Paul Winsper as the club’s new fitness coach. Winsper had spent 10 years with Newcastle in that role. Last year, injuries plagued TFC and they never really had their ideal starting XI out on the field and so the influence of Winsper will no doubt help improve player fitness and in turn keep depth issues at bay.

The Midfield
This is where TFC has made the most significant changes which have made them one of the most dangerous midfields in the league. The most talked about and anticipated move that MoJo was responsible for was the signing of the MLS’s 2004 MVP, Honduran international Amado Guevara (the Honduran Maradona, I’m told he’s called). He can be eccentric at times but brings life and energy to the midfield with precision passing and clinical finishing (he was also the 2004 scoring champion). He’s a threat anywhere on the pitch, but especially off of free-kicks. He’s been playing as an attacking midfielder, in front of the two central midfielders and directly behind the striker and this is definitely where he can be most effective. He can draw defenders away from the striker and lay in the pass for an easy finish or even beat the defenders himself and go to the goal. Great pickup.

On the left side of the midfield, Carver used his influence to help MoJo sign one of his former players in veteran Laurent Robert who has played all over Europe for top clubs (Newcastle, Portsmouth, Benfica). The left footed Robert is the touch of class this side was lacking last year; his left foot can deliver precision crosses into the box and can hammer in goals from free kicks, giving TFC a second threat off of set pieces.

They also transferred right midfielder Ronnie O’Brien to fellow expansion squad the San Jose Earthquakes for their 2009 1st round draft pick (which will definitely come in handy as San Jose likely won’t do well in this, their first season in the MLS) plus some cash. To address the hole on the right of midfield, MoJo and Carver picked up 25 year old Rohan Ricketts who’s had stints at Premier League clubs Arsenal and Tottenham. He’s got speed and has the potential to dummy defenders one on one. With him on the right and Robert on the left, the wings are dangerous avenue of attack for TFC going forward from their own end.

MLS 2007 Rookie of the year Maurice Edu and vice-captain Carl Robinson playing in center midfield in more defensive roles also adds to the strength of this side in this area of the field. Depth-wise, there may be some serious issues should any of these players pick up long term injuries as Canadian Kevin Harmse brings energy and grit to the squad, but not necessarily anything in the way of skill. Fellow 86er and Canadian Tyler Rosenlund is also an option off the bench, he does have a cap (appearance) for the Canadian National Team and he’s got great potential.

The moral of the story: the midfield is wicked sexy and can be the source of many dutty goals, but injuries might ruin them (which is where Paul Winsper comes in).

The Strikers
Changes to the forwards were expected to be made, but haven’t, save for the waiving of Colin Samuel (no tears shed, he’s not very good). The speedy MLS vet Jeff Cunnigham with 97 career goals is slowly approaching the winter of his career and his finishing just isn’t there, he’s been pushed to a bench role with the addition of Guevara. TFC fan favorite and club all time leading scorer (with 7 goals!!!) Danny Dichio is the starting forward and is fitting into his role in front of Guevara quite nicely; he’s netted 1 goal in 5 games thus far. He creates space with his size and his height is ideal for picking out crosses.

That being said, there’s still uncertainty over the permanence of him as a starter with talks of a designated player (known as the Beckham Rule) in the form of a striker being added to the team. A DP is the clause in the MLS rule book that allows a team to sign on a massive contract with having only $400,000 of it count towards the $2.3 million salary cap. In terms of TFC, there’s not many rumors floating around about who’d they’re looking to sign, but Dutch legend Patrick Kluivert is one name that’s been mentioned but probably won’t sign. We’ll just have to wait and see.

The Defence
The defence is unanimously the weakest link for the Reds. Though the starting full-backs; Marvel Wynne and captain and Toronto native Jim Brennan have been excellent members of the back four both this year and last, the center-backs just haven’t looked up to par. The biggest problem lies in Puerto Rican Marco Velez who generally looks like a retard when trying to clear a ball that’s above his ankle. He’s had too many miscues in the first three games this season but has actually started to calm down recently. His counter-part Tyrone Marshall won the MLS Cup with the LA Galaxy in 2002 but his form has been shaky, however this could easily be because he’s been trying to cover for both himself and Marco Velez. Note, though, that Velez scored his first career MLS goal against NYRB and has been improving.

To shore up the backline, MoJo recently signed Ivorian Olivier Tebily (sort of sounds like a Mediterranean wrap of some kind) who’s got 18 caps for the Ivory Coast, was part of Celtic’s 2001 Scottish Premier League championship team and was nominated as African Footballer of the Year in the same year. He’s got the experience to fix TFC’s defensive woes but can also be a liability with erratic play. They used to call him “Bombscare” at Celtic. He hasn’t played yet so we’ll see how the move works out. Additionally, TFC’s 2007 draft pick Julius James can be developed into an excellent starting center-back for the team.

The stabilizing force of Edu and Robinson as central defensive midfielders is definitely a contributing factor to their improved team defence in recent weeks but also credit should be given to Canadian keeper Greg Sutton who has been phenomenal since getting the nod as the starting goalie with 2 cleansheets to his name and a highlight reel of incredible saves.

The Fans
The 12th man of TFC is real. For international players coming from countries where soccer is life and the fans are fanatical, playing at a packed BMO Field in front of chanting fans no doubt helps to raise their spirits and give that extra bit for the club. The atmosphere is electric and I’m sure the Reds will no doubt give Toronto something in return for all their support. I’m not suggesting the MLS Cup coming to Toronto this season, that’s still a ways away, but more likely in their current form they have a great shot at making the playoffs for the first time in TFC history.

This article has been submitted by Mostafa El Beheiry.

One Response to “Toronto FC - Hope for Toronto Sports”

  1. Bill Pucko Says:

    “Toronto FC - Hope for Toronto Sports”

    Serious question: You reaaly consider soccer a sport?

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