TORONTO – Things are good at BMO Field these days.
Toronto FC sit third in the Eastern Conference with three games in hand that could lift them into first place. They have a star striker in Jermain Defoe, who has scored in double digits, while US national team talisman Michael Bradley is back from the World Cup. They're even relatively healthy, with plenty of depth. Most importantly, they find themselves smack dab in the middle of the playoff hunt in July for the first time since 2009.
The Reds have plenty going their way.
That was the plan when the club teamed up general manager Tim Bezbatchenko with head coach Ryan Nelsen, and their makeover is bearing fruit midway through the 2014 campaign. With 24 points, the Reds have amassed the club's best record through 15 games, topping the 22 points earned in both 2009 and 2010.
“We’re very pleased, very pleased with our roster,” Bezbatchenko told MLSsoccer.com. “We’re confident in our current roster and the depth we have in all positions. It’s great to see us producing after the heavy transition during the offseason. We have a long way to go. But especially with the games in hand, we’ve positioned ourselves so that in the second half of the year we can really press forward and make a run.”
Bezbatchenko oversaw 30 player transactions since last fall, another massive overhaul, which Toronto FC fans have seen plenty of times over the club's history. But if Bezbatchenko has his way, it will be the final makeover of this magnitude supporters will see for some time.
“If you look at the most successful teams in MLS in the last few years – the LA Galaxy, Seattle, Real Salt Lake, Kansas City – it’s finding that consistency, that expectation of winning,” Bezbatchenko said. “It’s habitual.
"After you’ve tasted success and you have a core foundation, you make sure you’re not mortgaging your future and you continue to add to that core. If you mortgage your future, you end up having to rebuild every year. To be successful, I believe we need to stick to our core and add to it when opportunities come to upgrade the team.”
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Bezbatchenko has set this team up to do just that: With the No. 1 spot in the allocation ranking and five picks in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft (four in the first round, one in the second), Toronto FC are in a position to add quality pieces, possibly as early as the summer transfer window.
“We feel it’s important to complement these players we already have with whatever tools they need so we can make a run for MLS Cup,” Bezbatchenko said. “It’s our responsibility to make sure that we never stop improving, and that includes improving current players on the roster through training, but also keeping an eye out for players looking to return to MLS through the allocation ranking.”
Without being specific, Bezbatchenko said he is fielding calls on a daily basis from players eligible to be acquired through the allocation process. However, with most of the team's holes already filled and with ample cover at each position, the Toronto general manager can afford to be choosy.
"We like where we’ve positioned ourselves to achieve everything we want to achieve," Bezebatchnko said. "But until we give [the playoffs] to our fans – that feeling, that taste – I wouldn’t say that we have, as a club, achieved everything we want to achieve.”