Thursday, February 19, 2015

Toronto FC 2015 Season Preview: Send the Drunken Sailor to Toronto. With His Wallet

A rainy day at BMO.
What Happened Last Year
Toronto FC tried so friggin' hard to make the playoffs for the first time in 2014 that it's fair to wonder if the Major League Soccer (MLS) Competition Committee didn't spare them a pitying thought when it expanded the number of playoff spots going into 2015. TFC's 2014 saw the arrival of Michael Bradley, who embraced the club with both arms, and Jermaine Defoe, who...ah, moving on. Gilberto came, too, and he did...things. It's hard to remember now, but TFC started pretty brightly – even as an uncomfortable number of red "L's" trickled into the early returns. No, my chief memory of Toronto's 2014 was the faint, yet very real awareness that their playoff hopes were absolutely fucking dead by September (this headline is funny in that context). The players talked bravely in the media, but the funeral dirge played a little too loudly by the time the last games came around. This made for painful viewing, to be sure, even as the Reds dying corpse could still kick hard enough to, oh, end my Portland Timbers' playoff chances (touche, fuckers). Conventional wisdom held that too few capable planets revolved around TFC's stars. Eh, could be. It certainly didn't help that Stephen Caldwell had to raise pups like Nick Hagglund while trying to hold Toronto's defensive line. It also probably didn't help that Defoe missed too much of the season (and hated Toronto with all his heart) and that the World Cup kicked Bradley's ass twice over (that's once for wear and tear, and once more for confidence). Whatever happened, the whole project has to float near the top of MLS's all-time Expensive Flops list. Fer reals.
Final Stats: 11-15-8, 41 pts., 7th in the East; 44 gf, 54 ga

What's Happened Since
A lot of positives, as I see it. If a ray of sunlight shines on the general desolation of TFC fandom it surely radiates from the club's manic enthusiasm for spending money. And the club's owners went fucking nuts this offseason, by way of a spending spree that messaged rather opposite to the league's pleas of poverty. They started by rescuing Jozy Altidore from Hell (sometimes called Sunderland), then they baited a hook with enough dolla-dolla bills to lure Sebastian Giovinco from Serie A. Those moves caught the eye and produced headlines, but they also sounded like more of the same – e.g. stocking the pond with more minnows than sharks. This year, however, Toronto looks to have rounded out the roster with players who built quality CVs in quality European leagues. Even if I don't know them from Adam, the signings of defender Damien Perquis and midfielder Benoit Cheyrou sufficed to convince me that TFC had learned enough from 2014 to dub them "winners" of the 2014-15 offseason.

What to Expect This Year
Look, if TFC fails to make the playoffs in 2015, the owners need to order an excavation of BMO Field so they can find the Indian burial ground that clearly emanates evil from below. Some kind of exorcism should follow, obviously. They should have the firepower, at long last, to do better than squeak in, too. And Bradley, for one, feels like the club has finally signed enough "men" to pull it all off. It hardly hurts that the gang will (barring injuries) all start the season together. And yet, it bears acknowledging that, even with the newly-arrived European contingent in some of the right places, the defense still looks like a weak spot. Toronto ought to score more, but improving on the other side of the field could matter more. It'll be interesting to see how they attack. I finally got around to treating myself to a Giovinco highlight reel and can't help but admire the twinkling toes, but a misplaced part still won’t work right no matter how good it is.

Say this for Toronto: they've been damned interesting two years running. Hope that goes a little way toward making up for the lack of success.

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