Seven years of chaos and futility left a stain only a nine-figure outlay could start to erase. Toronto FC used MLSE’s considerable resources during the winter to tempt its deservedly skeptical fans back to BMO Field to end the pain once and for all. TFC must now keep them engaged and enthralled by transforming yet another promising dawn into a successful end product.
There is no room for error. Not after the trials and the tribulations of the past and the lavish expenditures of the present. Not with Michael Bradley, Júlio César and Jermain Defoe all on board for the upcoming season. Not with the weight of expectation increased in light of those arrivals and the signals they sent to the rest of the league and the rest of the world.
TFC stepped right into the spotlight with its ambition and its intent to fulfill it. The club and its players must now function under withering scrutiny by MLS standards as they try to mold the disparate parts together into a coherent unit over the course of this season.
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Michael Bradley can expect plenty of attention this season as Toronto FC searches for its first playoff berth.
It won’t be easy. Other big market teams have tried and failed to transfer the power of the wage bill into success on the field. Ask the old Metrostars about their failings. Remind LA Galaxy about the early days of the David Beckham epoch. Review Toronto FC’s futile history to date. Scan the list of MLS Cup winners to see the importance of building a team instead of collecting a bunch of stars.
TFC manager Ryan Nelsen faces a considerable challenge to divert his team away from those dangerous paths. The selections of Bradley (a committed and earnest leader every time he steps on the field for club or country) and Defoe (a former teammate of Nelsen’s keenly aware of the expectations set forth) bode well for the foundation. Their investment in the concept and the vision makes all the difference as Nelsen strives to establish common ground and foster the unity required to push through the tough times.
The presence of several seasoned MLS figures should help the cause, too. Nelsen and general manager Tim Bezbatchenko received deserved plaudits for their high-profile signings, but the arrivals of Dwayne De Rosario, Jackson and Justin Morrow supplied a trio of players capable of meeting the standards over a grueling 34-game season. Their familiarity with the tasks ahead – plus their ability to mesh with the core of players already in place after Nelsen’s first season – gives TFC a genuine opportunity to build a cohesive squad.
Bradley and Defoe should receive plenty of help from their teammates this season, but depth remains a concern.
Depth, as always, remains a primary concern for a team with this sort of talent at the top end. The options in the starting XI look promising, but the drop off after that point is steep. The idea of muddling through without Bradley, Defoe or defensive lynchpin Steven Caldwell for any length of time could leave TFC exposed to a downturn in results. Nelsen must manage his side carefully in order to keep those integral players fresh and paper over the inevitable cracks when Bradley and perhaps Defoe turn their attentions to World Cup preparations.
The narrow margin for missteps corresponds to the money spent on Bradley, Defoe and Gilberto. Every player – from the three Designated Players to on-loan fullback Bradley Orr to the holdovers still grappling with all of the changes – needs to rise to the occasion in order to ensure all of the pieces fit together and the team performs as expected in fairly short order.
Failure simply isn’t an option at this stage. TFC pushed its chips to the middle of the table when it splurged on Bradley and Defoe and reinforced its bet by making savvy acquisitions elsewhere. This collection of players is capable of delivering on the promises made during the close season. There are no more excuses available for TFC. Only success will continue the process of atoning for the past and establishing a higher standard for the future.