TORONTO – Even though Toronto FC have just completed a season in which his team won only six matches and missed the MLS Cup playoffs for a seventh consecutive year, head coach Ryan Nelsen sounded like a man confident that his squad have turned a corner when he spoke with reporters at the club’s end-of-season media event on Monday.
“We are very close,” Nelsen said. “It doesn’t take too much to turn a team around. We are in a position to move forward with a lot of flexibility and with a lot of excitement around the development of the base that we’ve got here."
“It’s been a roller-coaster ride and we have had some real ups and downs, but I can now sleep really well at night knowing the situation we are in now because I didn’t think we would be in it this quickly due to the salary cap situation, contracts, lots of debt and no real foundation of core MLS players [when I took over at the club].”
According to the TFC gaffer, the club’s 2013 season was one in which the team had to endure some short-term pain in order achieve the long-term gain of putting the team on the right track salary cap-wise and in terms of player personnel.
“I used the loan system this year because I didn’t want to handicap the club or the salary cap if something didn’t work out,” Nelsen explained. “I don’t really care about my situation [as head coach]. If it was only about me, I would have brought all my friends over from England and would have probably made the same mistakes as in the past. I have to put the club first and I will always put the club first.”
While there has been plenty of recent talk concerning Toronto going after a pair of big name Designated Players during the offseason, in Nelsen’s estimation his main task was achieved during the season, with the development of a group of young players he believes will make up the core of the team for years to come. He highlighted players such as Joe Bendik, Doneil Henry, Matias Laba, Ashtone Morgan, Jonathan Osorio and Kyle Bekker by name.
“Have they got better from the start of the season to now?” Nelsen said. “I think so. I think all of them have got a lot better. I think the problem in the past is that we haven’t been patient with players like that and we have moved them on and they have been developed somewhere else. Then they come back to haunt you as good players on other teams.”
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As a club that has struggled to find success on the pitch during their seven years in the league, Toronto FC have often been criticized for massive turnover among both players and coaches. With that in mind, Nelsen was quick to state that supporters should not expect massive changes over the offseason, while explaining that the team will be looking to add several veteran MLS players in addition to the two Designated Players, who are expected to be forwards.
“We do still need to get better beyond the DP scenarios,” Nelsen said. “But we’ll have the majority of the guys back. They know everything and know the system and they will be fit and strong and are already desperate to come back. I can’t wait for preseason.
“We don’t have to make any major changes,” he added. “The only changes that we will be making will be complementing the team. There won’t be any trialists and wondering if a player can handle MLS. We know that the majority of our players can now handle it. The only additions that are going to be made are to make the team stronger.”