Toronto FC are now 10 games into the Ryan Nelsen era and it’s clear that the Canadian club is very much in a rebuilding mode under its new leadership regime.
While TFC's play has improved compared to what supporters witnessed as their club limped to the finish line last year, it is also impossible to escape the fact that the team has only one league win and has dropped a number of points due to late-game defensive breakdowns.
With an eye towards getting over the hump and turning relatively encouraging performances into tangible results, Nelsen this week turned to players who are known quantities to him with the loan acquisitions of Birmingham City defender Steven Caldwell, Queens Park Rangers defender Tal Ben Haim and New Zealand international forward Jeremy Brockie.
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“Whenever we need hardness and experience, we just melt down and give away the easiest goals,” Nelsen told MLSsoccer.com. “So we need to bring in experience, plural, back there [on the backline]. With Jeremy, it is a case where we just don’t have enough strikers. We have no options going forward and we needed to address that.”
The arrival of Caldwell, Ben Haim and Brockie has come several months after Toronto brought English players Hogan Ephraim and John Bostock to Toronto on loan agreements at the beginning of the season.
Toronto FC president and GM Kevin Payne has previously spoken of his preference for loan deals as a way of maintaining financial flexibility as the team rebuilds and as a tool for evaluating whether or not players deserve long-term contracts with the club.
According to Nelsen, they also present a mechanism for him to bring in experienced quality players at a time when the club is lacking the type of characters and technically proficient players that he needs to build a competitive side.
“[Loan deals] aren’t exactly a club philosophy. It was that we had no players when we first came to Toronto," Nelsen said. "When we first arrived at the club, nobody had done any scouting and the club was actually a mess. The squad was so unbalanced and the quality was low. We needed a short-term band-aid as quickly as possible. That’s how we got those players.”
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While it is possible that Caldwell and Ben Haim could conceivably prove themselves indispensable in the coming weeks and ultimately end up staying with Toronto longer-term, at the present time, Nelsen sees both players as experienced pros who will be able to bring some much needed experience and a winning mentality to a squad that has often been its own worst enemy.
“With these other players, we’re just bringing them in again to help out the situation until we can find the right guys who we really want to invest in for the long term,” Nelsen added. “We are under massive salary-cap restrictions. The club had invested ridiculously in a few individuals and we have had to sort that out.”
As for Nelsen’s former teammate with New Zealand at the 2010 World Cup, Brockie is expected to fill a hole in the Toronto roster in the short term and will then return to Wellington Phoenix FC in August.
“He is a good goalscorer," Nelsen said. "He can create something out of nothing and he works really hard. He is a really hard guy as well and won’t back down from anything. I know he is looking forward to it and we are looking forward to having him. He is just going to here for the [A-League] offseason at the moment. His offseason is pretty much the majority of our season, so it works well.”
Steve Bottjer covers Toronto FC for MLSsoccer.com.