Toronto FC hopes to locate the right course at last after Altidore, Giovinco arrivals
Even by the heady and star-crossed metrics used to measure Toronto FC signings, the past few days provide reason for excitement and hope in Ontario.
The transactions resemble a sequence in a game of Football Manager. Jozy Altidore lands with TFC on Friday to complete a swap deal to send Jermain Defoe to Sunderland. Juventus forward Sebastian Giovinco seals his summer move on a lucrative free transfer three days later.
TFC has spent much of its existence attempting to acquire players as if to win in a video game, but this latest outlay makes sense. It is not some bloody big deal. It is not just pay and pray. It is a viable attempt to make the best use of the resources available.
There is a purpose and a plan in place now. Altidore and Giovinco join Bradley to form a trio of ascendant players willing to spend the prime of their playing careers with the club. TFC should benefit from the peak of their powers and wield them menacingly over the past few years.
It is what TFC needed to do years ago. Identify core players capable of leading the team for years to come. Invest the funds required to procure them. Rely on those marquee signings to establish the expectations within the squad. Resist the urge to spray money all around the place to anyone willing to take it to fix short-term holes. Set a measured course toward elusive success.
Consider the revamped approach — build a team underpinned by a couple of carefully identified stars and spend well over the market price to procure them — as an admission of the ill-fated decision to sign Defoe and a nod to the template for success in MLS. Collecting talent isn’t enough. Plenty of teams try and fail when they pursue that route. Success hinges upon creating a blend of flourish and graft to navigate through the protracted regular season and the compressed playoff structure.
LA Galaxy illustrated the way forward for the well-heeled over the past few years. Galaxy manager Bruce Arena imported Robbie Keane from Tottenham Hotspur and trusted Landon Donovan and Omar Gonzalez to provide the foundation. He procured capable figures from a variety of sources to construct the infrastructure necessary to make the best use of their talents and survive the inevitable defections. The end product of three titles in four seasons reinforces the value in that approach.
Make no mistake: TFC still faces considerable work to reach those lofty heights and sidestep the inevitable hurdles along the way. This is a side still in transition, a team still trying to cobble together all of the necessary pieces and locate enough depth to compete over the long haul. TFC general manager Tim Bezbatchenko and coach Greg Vanney addressed some of those concerns during the offseason by retaining defender Steven Caldwell and securing reliable fullback Mark Bloom to a new deal. The continued pursuit of Damien Perquis reflects the enduring need to sort out the all-too-pliable back four after years and years of missteps in that department. The potential loss of Gilberto underscores the need for more attacking options.
There are no guarantees for success even with these drastic measures. TFC knows the perils and the pitfalls of expectation all too well. Altidore must recover his confidence quickly to make his desired impact. Bradley must receive more help than he enjoyed last year to get the balance right in midfield. Giovinco must settle during the summer to illustrate his commitment and ward off those lingering notions about a money grab. The rest of the squad must perform to expectations and process the salary inequity within the ranks. Vanney must show his ability to manage those issues and tailor his approach to extract the most from the players at his disposal.
It is a lot to accomplish over the course of one season, but TFC now boasts the necessary vision for the long-term even if more time is required. There are key pieces under club control for the next several years. There are capable figures in place to provide support, though more are required. The academy system promises to supply further options down the line and tether the club firmly to its roots.
Most importantly, there is no need to hit the reset button once more. The money is spent. The players are in the squad. It is now time for Toronto FC to let the game play out and see if all of this hope will finally translate into the tangible end product it so desperately seeks.