June 15, 2009
Groundbreaking week for TFC
By GARETH WHEELER, SUN MEDIA
Toronto FC moved up its midseason state-of-the-union to last Thursday, giving the club's upper brass a chance to clear the air with certain media members after a less-than-stellar week.
The round-table included everything from the business operations to the on-field product.
You've got to give Mo Johnston and Co., credit -- they answered the tough questions in a straight-up manner. And agree with him or not, the fiery Scot is steadfast in his belief in the team he has assembled.
That's not an easy thing to do with boatloads of criticism coming his way over the shortcomings of the team. And it's clear he's not ready to do a mea culpa. And ditto for MLSEL for standing by its man.
The reasons for the flaws in the team are many. And Johnston is quick to play the coulda-woulda-shoulda card, always mentioning the players he has pursued but failed to sign. The act comes off more as a justification than an excuse, but at the same time it doesn't really matter who the club tried to get. It matters who's on the field. And thus far, his project is incomplete.
Johnston is essentially a one-man show when it comes to the scouting department.
Locally, he is getting help on that front, reaching out to Carmen Isacco, a well-respected member of the Toronto soccer community and head coach of the York University men's soccer team.
Projects of this nature will pay off long-term. But of more immediate concern is Johnston's current roster.
Debutant Nick Garcia was average in TFC's 2-1 win over the New York Red Bulls on Saturday. For all his savvy, the central defender lacks pace and was hesitant in his defensive decision-making.
It's been only one-game, so the jury is still out, but Garcia has a whole lot to prove from an organizational perspective before it can be determined whether he is the solution to the gaping hole at centre-back.
Garcia's arrival coincided with a formation change. Head coach Chris Cummins started a 3-5-2 system, with starting wing-backs Jim Brennan and Marvell Wynne out of the team.
Interestingly enough, the 3-5-2 is Johnston's formation of preference.
Johnston insists he doesn't talk formations or tactics with his head coach, but nobody could blame the guy if he gave some healthy advice to Cummins.
After all, the man who built the team should be on the same page as his coach.
Regardless, the 3-5-2 worked, forcing the team to use the width of the field. TFC's biggest flaw in its possession game had been not using the wings and playing far too narrow. The 3-5-2 changed that.
The formation also put Adrian Serioux into a position in which he can flourish, being a physical man-marker instead of marking space.
In the other marking role, Johnston and the rest of the TFC staff are high on the potential of Nana Attakora. The young Canadian has a lot of work to do with the ball at his feet and with his service, but is already a physical force, suited for an all-out marking role.
Upon the returns of Brennan and Wynne, Saturday's backline could well stay in tact, with Wynne pushing to an outside right position, while Brennan could find himself outside left or even on the bench.
After Cummins adjusted mid-game on Saturday, shifting Sam Cronin back as a fourth defender, TFC lost the midfield.
Another change on the weekend was a starting role for striker Pablo Vitti.
Johnston has an intriguing decision to make on the on-loan striker. Vitti's lack of production (no goals, no assists) has raised questions whether Johnston should send him back to his club Independiente or ride out his cold spell in hopes he can get things going, offensively.
For all the frustration, Vitti's quality is all too apparent to pull the plug. He's got the pace, is heady off the ball movement and takes players on.
A better picture of where Vitti fits into the equation will come after July 15 when the transfer window opens. If Johnston needs to free up monies to improve the side, sacrifices will have to be made to stay under the cap and within roster restrictions.