There was no doubt new Toronto FC head coach Preki would waste little time in putting his stamp on the team after taking over this past offseason.
The former Chivas USA manager continued his makeover of the club by shipping out three more players this past week in the lead-up to the team’s season opener Saturday in Columbus. Preki even hinted at another possible move before the match.
This week, striker Ali Gerba, defender Marvell Wynne and backup goalkeeper Brian Edwards got the chop. Edwards was the latest to go, released on Friday. However, they're only three of the running list during Preki's coaching career, which is almost reading like a who’s-who of past Toronto starters.
First there was Honduran international and midfielder Amado Guevara, who didn't see eye-to-eye with Preki at Chivas USA. The eventuality that Guevara wouldn't return to the club was a given.
Fan favorite and Toronto native Adrian Serioux was next, traded to Houston. He was followed by two-time team MVP Carl Robinson, who was sent packing to the New York Red Bulls. Both those names came as a surprise to many, especially the departure of Serioux, whose gutsy play and long sideline throw-ins endeared him to fans.
It’s common for a coach to put his stamp on a new team, but the extent of this purging has begun to ruffle feathers. What has really drawn the criticism of the Toronto media and, consequently, the fans, is the team’s inability to replace those players with ones of equal or better quality.
At Wednesday’s practice, Preki took the opportunity to criticize the Toronto media for the negative pall it has cast over the team. It may seem befuddling, but Preki claims he has a plan, or as far as the fans are concerned, a method to his madness. On Thursday night he even appeared on The Fan 590, Toronto’s all-sports radio station, to explain his approach.
Can we doubt him? Should the fans trust him?
Preki knows a thing or two about playing and coaching. As a player, he donned the U.S. jersey and played for Everton. As a coach, he took Chivas USA to the playoffs each of the last three years.
Perhaps it’s a matter of addition by subtraction. But what’s clear is that the departed players didn't fit into the philosophy he’s seeking to espouse. Throughout training camp, Preki emphasized tactics and formations while telling anyone who would listen how he wants his team to be difficult to play.
The focus on fitness, however, has been the biggest difference and what has set this training camp apart from those of his predecessors. Preki wants a team that can go a full 90 minutes, a squad that is gritty and tough to play against and one that is technically sound all over the field.
The team showed little of that last season and it cost Toronto FC its first playoff berth. The biggest blow came in a deplorable 5-0 loss to the league-worst Red Bulls in New York with a playoff berth on the line.
So, gone are injury-plagued Serioux, the soft Guevara, the seemingly slow and out-of-shape Gerba and the perennially out-of-position Wynne. Coming in are midfielders Nick LaBrocca and Argentine Martin Saric, who last played in Slovenia, and former Chivas USA goalkeeper Jon Conway.
LaBrocca, a former Colorado Rapids player, has been a model of endurance while TFC director of soccer Mo Johnston praised Saric for his steel-like demeanor. Conway? Preki knows him from their time together at Chivas USA.
It remains to be seen whether the club will rue making such a drastic overhaul, but one thing's for certain: This club needs to make the playoffs in its fourth season -- not only for the fans, but also to secure Johnston’s future.
So why not leave the task in the hands of someone who has taken his last four teams to a place Toronto has never gone before?