TORONTO – The old adage goes, "The more things change, the more they stay the same."
Both were prominent in Toronto FC's 2010 season that disappointingly ended with the Reds missng the playoffs for the fourth straight season.
After failing to qualify on the final day of the 2009 campaign, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment said anything short of a playoff spot in 2010 would be unacceptable. With that directive, former director of soccer Mo Johnston hired Preki and made wholesale changes to the roster to reflect the US Hall of Famer's plan to play a tough, defensive style.
Despite scoring troubles, TFC played well at the start, going undefeated in seven games at one time. But the World Cup break seemed to break the momentum as the team struggled post-Cup. A heavy schedule – combined with injuries, suspensions, a lack of depth and poor finishing – took their toll sending the club down the MLS standings.
Sensing problems in the locker room, and to try to salvage the season, MLSE dismissed both Johnston and Preki on Sept. 14 and named Earl Cochrane interim director of soccer and Nick Dasovic interim coach. The players responded to Dasovic's more open, flexible style, but it wasn't enough as the club was eliminated from playoff contention with three games left in the season.
Off-field issues with season-seat holders over the 2011 season ticket package added to the fans' frustrations, forcing MLSE to hold a series of Town Hall meetings in which management promised to turn things around.
On Nov. 3, MLSE formally announced the hiring of former Germany star and coach Jürgen Klinsmann, and his California-based company, SoccerSolutions, to fix the club's on-field product. Over the next six months, Klinsmann will assess the club, identify a playing style and recommend a candidate for the director of soccer position.
Though 2011 will be the club's fifth anniversary season, in many ways it will mark its first as it looks to secure its first playoff berth and repair its relationship with the fans. Here are the highlights of this past season.
[inline_node:318933]Best moment of the year
After downing Club Deportivo Motagua in the preliminary rounds of CONCACAF Champions League, TFC were thrown into the proverbial fire hosting Mexican giants Cruz Azul in its first game of the group stage. Having never faced a Mexican Primera League team, Toronto played likely their most complete game on the way to a 2-1 upset over the group favorites.
Los Cementeros could have been guilty of underestimating TFC, resting a number of starters including scoring machine Javier Orozco, but the win infused TFC and their fans with confidence and optimism of a long Champions League run and a strong finish to the MLS season.
Faced with a must-win game to keep their faint playoff hopes alive, Toronto looked to have a good chance to pick up three critical points at home against last-place D.C. United in September. How did they respond? The squad put in an uninspired performance before conceding the game's only goal late in the second half.
The Reds wilted in a similar scenario against a bottom-feeder in 2009, falling to New York in the season finale when a win would have guaranteed a playoff spot. Adding insult was the goal came courtesy of former TFC defender Julius James. The loss was the clincher for MLSE – just three days later Toronto FC dismissed its first and only director of soccer, Johnston, as well as Preki.
Maicon Santos saved the best for last, scoring one of the prettiest goals in TFC history in the home finale Oct. 16 against Columbus. Showing a touch of Brazilian magic, Maicon Santos intercepted a pass from Crew defender Gino Padula before the midfield circle, went up the middle, deked around midfielder Brian Carroll, drove forward and with four players converging on him sent a left-footed drive high by diving goalkeeper Will Hesmer. The strike, the Brazilian's fourth of the season, evened the score at one in a game that finished even at two.
WATCH: Maicon Santos' ripper against Columbus
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Sophomore Stefan Frei didn't win the league MVP award, but the Swiss goalkeeper's play this season was exemplary. Frei continued his development into one of the league's premier goalkeepers, making big save after big save, such as the stellar stop Sept. 25 at home against San Jose with TFC's playoff hopes hanging in the balance.
Up 3-2 late and looking to put TFC away, Quakes midfielder Khari Stephenson took a pass at midfield and came in with Geovanni on a two-on-one before feeding a centering pass to the Brazilian Designated Player. Geovanni took the pass just near the penalty spot and sent a low point-blank shot that Frei stopped with his outstretched right hand to keep TFC in the game.
WATCH: Frei stones Geovanni
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It's difficult to pick just one player, despite the the fact TFC failed to make the playoffs. But it's warranted to give co-MVP honors to goalkeeper Stefan Frei and striker Dwayne De Rosario. While Frei's numbers are average, where would TFC have been without his stellar and timely saves? It's no surprise the second-year 'keeper has garnered interest from a handful of European clubs.
At the same time, how far would the offensively challenged club have managed without De Rosario's team and franchise-record 16 goals? At times, "DeRo" was the team's only offense and was easily its most consistent offensive threat. The answer to both questions is nowhere.
While Adrian Cann emerged as an imposing presence in central defense, it was the constantly improving play of defender-midfielder Dan Gargan that shone the brightest in an otherwise dismal season. Joining the club from the USL's Puerto Rican Islanders, Gargan was an unknown, bouncing in and out of Preki's starting lineup the first third of the season.
But the Phliadelphia native found his stride and impressed fans with his hardnosed style, physical play and characteristic long throw-ins. He eventually became a mainstay in the starting lineup and even had a stint with the captain's armband in a game late in the season. In a season of high roster turnover, Gargan was one Johnston signing that worked.