The Tweet and Lowdown:
Toronto FC missed the playoffs in stunning fashion, losing to the league's worst team on the last day of the season. Will 2010 be better?
Setting the Scene:
Last season ended on a downer for Toronto FC. They tended to end games in last-minute losses, closed the season with a humiliating 5-0 road defeat to the hapless New York Red Bulls and ended their relationship with an unhappy coach in John Carver.
With the most pressing order of business addressed -- hiring GM Mo Johnston’s former Kansas City running buddy Preki as head coach -- the next order of business was to shore up the defense. TFC gave up goals in the final 15 minutes of play 16 times last season. To address those foibles, the team parted ways with Adrian Serioux and signed former Rapids and Galaxy defender Ty Harden. But Harden is a serviceable player at best. The Reds will need to dig a bit deeper to find the right player to plug the hole in their back line and give keeper Stephen Frei the help he needs.
Then there’s still the linger pain of that season-ending meltdown at Giants Stadium that shut them out of their first-ever post-season appearance in franchise history, a wound recently re-opened by a 4-0 preseason loss to the same New York Red Bulls. For this, a fix won’t be as easy as a new signing; this may require group therapy and some mental strength training on the part of the players.
Players in: Ty Harden (Colorado), Jacob Petersen (Colorado), Zac Herold (U.S. U-17)
Players out: Adrian Serioux (Houston), Amado Guevara (CD Montagua), Pablo Vitti (Independiente), Danny Dichio (Retired)
Coaching/Staffing: Preki signs on as head coach after leaving Chivas USA.
Star Attraction: Dwayne DeRosario
Julian de Guzman may be Toronto’s Designated Player, but midfield partner DeRosario is the real draw at BMO Field. Last year, the Scarborough, Ontario, native returned home to a hero’s welcome and in return bagged 11 goals for the Reds, enough to be the team’s leading scorer. Still without a regular scoring threat up top, Toronto will once again rely on DeRo to play the role of both creator and finisher.
Unsung Hero: Marvell Wynne
Wynne no longer gets the attention he garnered when he entered the league as a highly touted right back for the U.S. U-20s. But his speed and ability to get forward on overlapping runs up the right flank have proven to be an invaluable asset for a team with a history of attacking woes; in 2009, Wynne collected a career-high five assists.
While Toronto has benefited from his occasional exploits on the wing, he earns his paycheck as a defender. The team’s back line is not its strong suit, but Wynne has been its most consistent performer since joining the team in 2007. And while he’s slightly lacking in height, he makes up for it in spades with bruising and physical play.
Ready for Primetime: Sam Cronin
After an impressive rookie campaign that earned him his first U.S. national team cap, watch for midfielder Sam Cronin to make an even bigger splash in 2010. The former Wake Forest star and Hermann Award finalist was the surprise bright spot at BMO Field in 2009 grabbing significant playing time in a midfield loaded with veterans. In his first year as a professional, he appeared in 27 games, starting 26. He also grabbed four assists and a goal. With Amado Guevara gone, look for him to see even more playing time this year.
Storylines to Watch:
Nearly every preseason, the same question hangs over the heads of Toronto FC and their fans: Where will the goals come from? Since their inception, the club has struggled to find a go-to forward and has relied on their midfield to pick up the slack. Last season the team’s leading scorer, De Rosario, had more than double the amount of goals (11) than Chad Barrett (five), its most prolific forward. With 2010 being only the second year of a four-year contract extension, will the notoriously trade-happy Johnston stick with Barrett if he doesn’t start delivering?
Equally interesting will be if Preki can succeed where three coaches in three years have failed: getting Toronto into the post-season for the first time. If he can do that, he may reach legend status among the TFC faithful and stake a permanent place in the franchise’s history alongside Danny Dichio.
What He Said:
"As a team we still have some stuff to work on, but it is just little things now. Personally I think the more games I play, the more I improve and adapt to the speed of the game and the skill level.”
-Defender Gabe Gala
If everything goes right:
Preki & MoJo will have their work cut out for them if they’re to improve their team’s station in the Eastern Conference. They’ll need to find solutions to both their lingering striker problem as well as their defensive questions for this year to end differently than the last three.
The good news though is that it can happen. With plenty of time to add a few new faces before the October stretch, Toronto can find the forward and center back they need. With rivals D.C. and New York in rebuilding years, they should be able to remain competitive in an Eastern Conference that’s not as strong as it was previous years. And with expansion side Philadelphia still a largely unknown quantity, a Canadian playoff debutant may be a possibility, however distant.