It seems enough time has passed to soften the disappointment of an unsuccessful and bitter end to Toronto FC’s 2015 season. A broader perspective on the 2015 campaign may cast Toronto FC in a more positive light.
Despite securing a first ever playoff spot on October 14th with a convincing 2 – 1 win over the New York Red Bulls, Toronto FC managed to lose three in a row to finish the season; the final two regular season games to the Columbus Crew and the Montreal Impact FC respectively, and a stinging 3 – 0 loss to the same Impact in the postseason knockout round.
The ensuing banter and recommendations among both fans and media has been harsh on the recent management of coach Greg Vanney. Some have called for his dismissal, citing failure to manage games properly, establish a consistent identity over the season, and failing to achieve defensive stability.
In terms of resources, Vanney had the league’s top scorer and likely MLS MVP in Designated Player Sebastian Giovinco. He also had two critical pieces of the U.S. National Team’s starting eleven in Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley. Add the potential quality brought by veterans Benoit Cheyrou, Damien Perquis and Ahmed Khantari, and one has to wonder how so many bright episodes could be offset by dismal losses.
Failure to establish a strong defensive core, evidenced by a league high 58 goals allowed continues to hound Toronto FC. With a 15-15-4 record, the Reds were truly a .500 team, able to master just about all teams below them in the standings, but mostly falling short against the stronger teams in both conferences. If anything, the win on October 14th was the high point of the season, playoff clinching aside.
Over the previous eight seasons, Toronto FC had not only failed to make the playoffs, but did so many times in a late season state of collapse when they were close or in a miserable state of incompetence when they weren’t. The primary goal had always been to establish respectability and to become a team that opponents would find tough to play against, especially when visiting BMO Field. This wasn’t always the case and despite initial fan fervor in the early years, massive drought in the win column and a stale relationship with a diminishing fan base were all too common.
Critics often stated that Toronto FC lacked purpose, identity or any sense of vision. Many forget that it was during the rebuild of 2010, that Toronto FC laid out a clearly stated vision, presented by Aron Winter, a manager with an extensive set of accomplishments as a professional and Dutch international. That same Aron Winter was later let go once the team had recorded a futile, record setting ten consecutive losses early in the 2011 season.
Many forget that during those days, Toronto FC looked far more amateur than their 2015 edition. The teams of 2010 to 2013 could rarely hold possession and string more than three or four passes together. A pervasive sense of desperation with absolutely no key offensive leadership and a tendency to play a hopeless long ball style resulted in continuous calls for new personnel on every level. The calls were answered as coaches and DP’s came and went. The organization never really stayed the course in realizing its vision.
Against this backdrop, the current Toronto FC must be given some credit. A record number of fifteen wins and a total points at 49 have been delivered, not to mention a four game win streak for the first time ever. Perhaps most importantly, Sebastian Giovinco has led the way in bringing an original brand of offensive flair to this organization for the first time. While the score and win-loss record absolutely matters in a results-based business, the positive and creative play demonstrated by Toronto FC in the offensive end this year, was often remarkable, world class in some respects.
No one, not even Jermain Defoe or Danny Koevermans have come close. For that, Toronto needs to count some blessings for once. The build-up play and offensive execution often demonstrated by Giovinco and company has to be appreciated as a performance that has brought the elegance of soccer to Toronto. Throughout the soccer world, fans pay attention and pay to see just that. Winning is important, but in the absence of well played soccer, is not complete.
Moving forward, it appears that new Team President Bill Manning will hold on to Greg Vanney. The off season plan is to keep all DP’s and secure bright spots such as Justin Morrow. Arguably, Jonathan Osorio and Marky Delgado, to name a few, have had seasons worthy of a return. In terms of shopping, efforts to find a supporting centre back, a right back and perhaps a defensive midfielder, would go a long way to turning this group into a serious challenger in MLS. An additional influx of speed on the wings would also enhance the attack. Many have suggested an addition in goal, a suggestion that is hard to argue with.
It is worrisome that 2015 saw limited development of Nick Hagglund, Daniel Lovitz and Clement Simonin. Bringing younger players into the fold would increase depth and serve as a success story that would stand favorably for Greg Vanney. One only has to look at the Red Bulls and players such as Matt Miazga to see that other teams are doing it well.
The management of veteran players such as Benoit Cheyrou, Robbie Findley, Collen Warner and Herculez Gomez in terms of whether or not they are retained and how they are utilized in 2016 will ultimately influence their effectiveness as a supporting cast that makes it possible for the offense to once again flourish and a potentially new defensive core to keep the ball out of the net. These are the critical issues Greg Vanney and Tim Bezbatchenko need to tackle well before Toronto FC embarks on training camp in the new year. With Manning’s blessing, it’s time to get to work.
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