“Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” – Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr
“The more things change, the more they stay the same” is a rough French to English translation of the proverb above. If there was ever a quote to describe the history of Toronto FC, that just about sums it up.
For the 2nd consecutive year, TFC stole all the headlines, making them the undisputed off-season champions once again. I’m sure majority of this could be cut and paste from previous years, but more specifically, from the Bloody Big Deal that marked the 2014 season. By now we’re all well aware of the debacle that followed.
There have been changes galore: Player changes, coaching changes, stadium changes, jersey changes, captain changes, and almost even a jersey sponsor change. Nearly everything that could be changed has been, barring the name of the team itself, of course. For readers from other markets who don’t know much about TFC, all these changes might shock you. For us supporters, this is par for the course.
It is impossible to convey just how important the 2015 season is to this franchise. Another failed campaign without a post-season appearance would have irreversible effects. This time it’s serious. No pressure though.
At this point you might be asking yourself, “after all the good things they’ve done in preparation for this season, why is this guy being so depressing?”
I’m being realistic, there’s a difference. We’ve all seen this movie before.
That being said, could this be the year that the mad scientists who run TFC finally get their experiment right? Will this be the year the critics are finally silenced and the giant monkey comes flying off the back of Toronto’s MLS franchise? I believe so, but let’s break it down.
As was the case last season, player turnover has been high. What is remarkable about this season is the quality of the incoming players. Yes, Gilberto, Defoe, and DeRo are the tougher names to get over, but gone also are the “depth” players like Kyle Bekker, Jeremy Hall, Andrew Wiedeman…etc. Taking their place are players of a calibre that we have not seen. Most notable are the additions of Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore, Benoit Cheyrou, and Damien Perquis. These 4 players, as well as Michael Bradley, hold the key to TFC’s success or ultimate failure.
The “backbone” of this team has drastically improved. Having two anchors in central defence (Caldwell and Perquis) is something TFC has never had. If these two are able to stay healthy and further build their chemistry, they could be the best defensive pairing in MLS. Having Benoit Cheyrou and Michael Bradley patrolling the central midfield can’t hurt their chances either. Two solid CBs plus two ball winning central midfielders with creative ability will spell trouble for opposition.
Italian attacking midfielder Sebastian Giovinco is not only a massive addition to the club, but a coupe for the league. At 27 and still largely in the prime of his career, Seba could be the link between the midfield and strikers that TFC has always been missing, our first #10. His quickness and creativity are just what the doctor ordered for Altidore, who has struggled in his career development since leaving AZ Alkmaar. One would have a difficult time finding a stronger lineup than this. The quality is undeniable.
What could make or break this lineup and the team’s chances are 3 main factors: chemistry, health, and coaching. If last season was any indication of how things can go wrong when there is no chemistry, we can only hope that management has learned their lesson from it. The fact that, for the first time in years, all players reported to training camp and had a full pre-season together will bode well for their chances. Not only did the entire squad have pre-season together but, unlike last season, all players returned home without picking up any injuries. Things will start to get interesting TFC come summer time when Altidore and Bradley will be called up for the US national team’s squad for the Gold Cup tournament. Losing the big target man and the team captain could break TFC at a crucial time. Hopefully the veterans and depth can push them on.
The beauty of this current crop of players is that by all accounts, they actually want to be here. Money can make people say things they don’t actually mean though a la Jermain Defoe. But these guys want to play in MLS and most importantly, they want to play in Toronto. They are up to the challenge. This kind of attitude and mentality can and will foster the passion that seemed to be lacking during the difficult stretches last season. Sometimes it’s not about how skilled you are or the number on your pay cheque and the end of each week, it’s the desire within to fight for the badge and win for your club that sets players apart.
With 10 games remaining in the 2014 season, Tim Bez pulled the trigger and fired nearly the entire coaching staff. Many think that this was the turning point in the season and one of the main reasons the team, once again, missed out on the playoffs. Although that is the popular belief, as we’ve seen so far, it was part of a much bigger picture.
At the helm is, at least to start the season, coach Greg Vanney. Although he does have a FIFA coaching badge and some valuable coaching experience within MLS, it’s difficult to see him as much of an upgrade over Ryan Nelsen. Under his tutelage, TFC had a ended the 2014 season with a miserable record of 2W-2D-6L in MLS league play. Even worse was that players hardly seemed motivated to perform any better than they did previously. Not exactly playoff material.
Starting fresh this season, coach Vanney will have his former Chivas USA head coach and former New York Red Bulls assistant Robin Fraser by his side. The two coaches appear to have good chemistry and the hope is that they will pool their knowledge to use their players effectively.
As we have seen in preseason, Vanney has used a 4-4-2 formation as well as a 4-2-3-1, utilizing Jozy Altidore in a target man role with Giovinco supporting him in the centre and Oso and Findley flanking them. Should these plans fail and the team continues to struggle, I wouldn’t be surprised if a coaching change is made rather quickly, presumably with Fraser being promoted to the head coaching position. That said, here’s to hoping the revolving door of coaches takes a break for a while!
Due to the ongoing expansion of BMO Field, the Reds will kick off their most important season with a 7 game road trip starting in Vancouver, with a stop in Columbus, then at Real Salt Lake. This, by far, can be a make or break for the Reds and set the tone moving forward.
However heavily weighted the start of the season is in terms of road games, the end of the season balances it out and tips the scale in TFC’s favour. Seven of their final ten games will be played at BMO Field. That is a possible 21 points (equal to roughly half their point total from a year ago). If TFC wants to be in the playoff picture they will have to make BMO a fortress and take as many of those home field points as possible.
Predicted Preferred Starting XI
Findley – Giovinco – Osorio
Cheyrou – Bradley
Morrow – Perquis – Caldwell – Creavalle
I do believe that, barring an absolute catastrophe, this will be the Toronto FC side that ends the drought. Last season’s Bloody Big Deal brought in players that stuck out like sore thumbs on the pitch. If you were able to neutralize the big names, the rest of the squad was impotent and therefore unable to mount any real threatening attacks, not to mention having one of the most vulnerable and inexperienced backlines in the league. This season though, there is balance all through the ranks with a bench that has players able to complement those whose places they may be called on to fill. Although the Canadian content has greatly diminished in comparison to past seasons, one can make the argument that during this period of transition for the CSA, the youth player in the Canadian ranks just cannot compete at this level quite yet. That isn’t a knock on the Canadian player or TFC, it is what it is. All things considered, this team can be everything its supporters have ever wanted them to be. I believe it will be.
The words of Tim Leiweke as he opened the Bloody Big Deal press conference can be cut and pasted into this present season for Toronto FC and they will be as true as they were just a season ago.
“…We created a very good opportunity, but the hard work is in front of us. In fact, by virtue of the alphabet, we are in last place today in the standings in the East Coast. We know our place, we know this is a moment in time that creates a great opportunity, but we also know that the great opportunity will be won by hard work, perseverance and a commitment to excellence, and that’s what lies in front of us today…some people see things as they are and say ‘why?’ Others dream of what could be and say ‘why not?’ Today is ‘why not’. Why can’t we be great?”
(image courtesy of Chris Young/The Canadian Press)