Two days after surrendering four-second half goals in a loss to the Revolution, Toronto FC took a step to bolster their defense.
Two steps in fact.
Russian Maksim Usanov and Canadian international Adrian Cann are the latest additions to a club that has conceded six goals in dropping its first two games. But don’t expect a quick fix to what ails the club in the back.
Saturday’s 4-1 loss to the New England Revolution featured a combination of bad gambles, errors, blown marking and missed assignments. The meltdown was startling, especially considering the solid team defense in the first half. It points to deeper issues.
First, the lack of leadership is glaring.
With the surprise offseason trade of gritty, if injury-prone, Adrian Serioux and captain Jim Brennan’s retirement last week, there’s a major void in veteran presence on defense. Nick Garcia survives as the lone veteran at the back.
However, instead of providing some much-needed direction, Garcia had arguably his worst game as a Red, committing numerous mistakes, including a critical error that led to the Revs’ second, game-winning goal.
Director of Soccer Mo Johnston brought Garcia to Toronto in a trade with San Jose last season to improve the defense. But the move hasn’t worked. His defense has been questionable at best to the extent that fans have almost come to expect a major gaffe from him every game. It wouldn’t come as a surprise if some players on the team had little faith in his defensive ability.
That’s not a good situation.
Besides providing mental focus, veteran leadership is a key to bringing along the club’s young and promising defenders, such as Nana Attakora. The lack of veterans on defense will be a detriment to his growth and the development of the other young defenders, including Gabe Gala, Zac Herold and Ty Harden.
Tack the leadership issue onto the ongoing need for a strong take-charge central defender and the defense is in worse shape than it was last year.
For now, the club believes Usanov, 25, and Cann, 29, can help turn things around.
Each brings strengths. Usanov’s age and experience in Russia and Latvia work in his favor. Cann, a native of the Toronto suburb Thornhill, holds some promise thanks to his size and 6-foot-3 height. He played the last two years in Denmark and saw some action with Canada during last year’s CONCACAF Gold Cup.
Though Johnston likes Usanov’s attacking and defending and glows over Cann’s physical attributes and status as a Canadian international, the two don’t have MLS experience, and that’s important. Can they help the defense become a cohesive unit? Last season Toronto had a revolving door at midfield and striker with new players added midseason and others going in and out of the starting lineup. The result? The team played like a collection of individuals and couldn’t come together at the end when it mattered most.
A lack of cohesion in the middle and up front is an issue, but on defense it is disastrous. A take-charge veteran would help. Without that solid presence, it will be up to TFC coach Preki to ensure that Cann, Usanov and Raivis Hscanovics, signed last week, are on the same page with the incumbents.
This can only happen with more playing time and lineup consistency. So, it’s safe to say the blending process will take a while. But how long?
With the expansion Philadelphia Union coming to town for Toronto’s home opener Thursday, Preki doesn’t have much time to develop that cohesion. If things don’t improve, the scene in the stands at BMO Field may be a lot uglier than the second half of the New England loss.