March 16, 2009
TFC rounding into form
By GARETH WHEELER, SUN MEDIA
After a productive off-season, the 2009 Major League Soccer season gets underway Saturday for Toronto FC as they visit the Kansas City Wizards (9:30 p.m.).
A lot has been said about the off-season improvements to the team, but how much of a difference will they make?
Time for fact or fiction.
With the addition of Adrian Serioux, TFC's defence is strong enough for '09.
Fiction -- One player cannot make up for the all deficiencies in the backline. Serioux is better as a horse: Adding physical presence and grit to a defensive unit, rather than being responsible for the organization of the back-four. He's the only significant addition defensively to a team that gave up a miserable 31 goals on the road last season.
Marvell Wynne makes up for defensive lapses with great speed, but he can't be considered solid defensively. Jim Brennan's more suited to play left midfield than left-back. Both players can excel in a system with stable defensive parts around them. However, this is not the case with the FC.
The lack of quality at centre-back makes the idea of Carl Robinson shifting into a defensive role a likely scenario, which would create a massive hole in the holding defensive midfield position. TFC fans have been told a central defender is still coming, but supporters have heard that song and dance before. A summer addition is a possibility, but far from a sure thing.
Because of TFC's lack of defensive options, Serioux is their most important player.
Fiction -- The most important piece of the TFC puzzle is striker Pablo Vitti.
After two years of kick-and-run, inconsistent offensive soccer, Mo Johnston brought in the highly talented, under-achieving Vitti, 23, as the high player that will hold up the ball and create off the dribble. Not only does Vitti bring those intangibles, but also comes to Toronto with something to prove, having failed to live up to his potential on his travels. While Chad Barrett, Amado Guevara, and Dwayne De Rosario are the engine for offensive production, Vitti's the key to how strong the frontline will be.
And remember, Argentines regularly excel in MLS.
TFC's biggest strength is their mid-field.
Fiction -- Attacking players are fine, but there's so much more that goes into being a strong midfield. The overall speed on the wings is mediocre and the players penciled into those positions aren't natural wingers. In the centre of the park, for all the gifted offensive talent, there isn't a whole lot of muscle.
The strongest position is goalkeeping.
Last years starting goalkeeper, Greg Sutton, took unfair criticism for his play. Sutton had to deal with an unorganized and under-manned defence in front of him. As a shot-blocker, Sutton is as good as any in MLS.
Breathing down Sutton's neck is rookie Stefan Frei, who looked strong throughout training camp. Unlike previous years when a rotating group of goalkeepers were thrown into the fray because of injury and international duty, TFC's adequately covered in net.
John Carver's the right man to coach TFC.
Fact -- Carver's first year started on a promising note only to turn rather quickly, as a lack of squad depth caught up to the side. Now, Carver has a significantly more talented roster than the rag-tag bunch of players he got results from toward the end of '08. Credit Carver's competitive fire for TFC's late-season run.
As a tactician, Carver has a lot to prove. It's debatable whether the 4-4-2 deployed in pre-season is best suited for his roster. Carver needs to find a way to get the most out of his attacking talent, specifically using the offensive prowess of Brennan and Wynne attacking from the wing-back positions.
If Carver doesn't find success with this roster, he will not be back next season.
Mo Johnston's job is on the line if TFC misses the playoffs.
Fiction -- Johnston's in with MLSEL -- period. Give Mo credit. He has done well with his assets to upgrade the roster. That being said, the team he has put together is unbalanced, having a glut of attacking midfielders while being paper-thin at other positions.
Regardless, win, lose or draw, Johnston's going nowhere. From the academy to the club infrastructure, Johnston's put a thorough plan in place for the organization that will take years to fully come to fruition.
TFC is a legitimate MLS Cup Contender.
Fiction -- At this point, no, but that can change. If Johnston can find a way to bring in a dominant centre-back and add more muscle to the midfield or backline, TFC could develop into a scary good team. Even if that doesn't happen, the talent currently on hand will be enough to make them a playoff team in '09.