2014 Toronto FC Preview: Building a brand new superclub at BMO Field | Armchair Analyst
Spend big, win big? Toronto FC certainly won the offseason messaging war, laying out close to nine figures in transfer fees and contracts to land a trio of Designated Players in Michael Bradley, Jermain Defoe and Gilberto. It's no guarantee of success, though – from the "Big Spenders" camp, only the LA Galaxy have claimed an MLS Cup.
Depth test: Right now, TFC's roster is pretty top-heavy (duh). There's no clear No. 1 partner for Bradley in central midfield; there's definitely no natural replacement should 33-year-old central defender Steven Caldwell start showing his age; and Bright Dike's latest injury means there's no proven target forward on the roster. The big names are going to have to carry a lot of weight while the rest of the squad sorts itself out.
Fortress BMO: Those saying that TFC fans "invented" supporters' group culture in MLS are going a bit too far, but anyone who was around in 2007 will admit that BMO Field was packed, and loud, and raucous, and a can't-miss atmosphere. Was it worth anything in the standings? Not really – we all know TFC have never made the playoffs. But it made for must-watch TV, and will again in 2014. Even if everything goes wrong.
Star Attraction: Michael Bradley
Defoe should get the goals and most of the headlines, especially if he reps England this summer at the World Cup. But Bradley is the one who will have a bigger influence on not just how much the Reds win, but how they win.
TFC were third from bottom in total possession, but that only tells part of the story (especially since the "possession" stat is a big old can o' worms). Even when they were able to get on the ball in midfield, the Reds rarely strung together functional possession – the type of passing sequences that good teams use to control the game's tempo and where it's played, and great teams use to build chances.
Bradley, in a lot of ways, looks like a one-man solution on that level. He's got a phenomenal soccer brain, and is at his best putting others in position to make a bit of magic.
Probable Formation: 4-4-2
Major Acquisition: Defoe
Let's take a quick look at the resume: No. 14 on the all-time EPL goalscoring list; No. 5 on the same for Spurs; 19 goals in 55 caps with England (plus the hope for more of each this summer). And he's still in the tail end of his prime.
Simply put: There have not been a ton of acquisitions like Defoe in league history. It's a bloody big deal.
Stylistically, this should be a slam dunk as well. Defoe is the prototypical "fox in the box" striker who finds and buries the same types of chances that Camilo won a Golden Boot with last year in Vancovuer.
SEE MORE: Transaction page
What He Said
“When I spoke to everybody involved here, I started to understand what they are working to build here and the determination they have to make it all happen. As a player, you want to be involved in something like that. I have always made decisions in my career based on the football and what is best in that aspect. I made this decision with that same thing in mind.”
Fantasy Pick: Jackson ($7.5m) – Owned by less than 1 percent of fantasy owners, this speedy attacker could provide some serious upside if Toronto's offense gets going early on. Keep your eye on Álvaro Rey as well. (Teams selected by: 0.5%.)
Just as there is for every other team in the world that brings in new pieces – especially big, important pieces – there will be a learning curve in Toronto. And that is not going to make March's schedule, which is brutal, any easier. Especially since conventional wisdom says head coach Ryan Nelsen is on a very, very short leash. Lots of stuff at play from the opening bell for this group.
But if they get through March, and then get through April ... then they might be in business. They now have undeniable quality up front and in midfield, and their defense was much better over the tail end of 2013 than you probably remember, conceding only eight times over the last seven games. This looks like a playoff team.
Will it be enough to challenge for the top of the East? Probably not. Sporting and New York are just too deep and balanced. But for the first time in franchise history, TFC should be in that next group, and November will finally mean something at BMO Field.