Training camp for Toronto FC's 2009 season opens a week from today with a whole lot of optimism.
Of course, the optimism goes hand in hand with the arrival of Dwayne de Rosario. At his introductory news conference, everyone involved with the club was feeling so upbeat that the "P-word" was being thrown around with reckless abandon.
That word? Playoffs.
The confidence is refreshing but in reality, another P-word should be used about expectations: Premature.
Not taking anything away from de Rosario -- trading for De-Ro was the best move TFC could have made aside from signing Julian de Guzman -- but the team still has a long way to go. De-Ro cannot turn the team around by himself, nor should he have to.
Aside from de Rosario, TFC's off-season additions include draft picks and extending training camp invitations to a group of unproven and/or underachieving roster hopefuls. This isn't to say that none of the new players (not named de Rosario) will have an impact. The reality is TFC is returning as virtually the same team that had the worst goal differential in MLS, a side unable to move the ball with any kind of consistency or rhythm, and a roster that is all too weak in central defence.
Are more moves on the way?
Mixed messages are coming from director of soccer Mo Johnston. If his past track record is any indication, don't expect much.
Johnston has suggested the team is close to adding a striker as a Designated Player, but we've heard that before. Johnston also speaks of upgrading central defence -- another no-brainer.
Mo's wish list is one thing, but the fact he is publicly using his excuse Rolodex is another.
The same old excuses of roster size and salary cap restrictions are coming from Johnston; a clear message to the fan base to temper expectations.
But it should be questioned whether the excuses hold water.
Although the new roster limit, set at 20, seems to be restrictive, there certainly are players on the current roster that are expendable. And about the salary cap -- on the surface, it would seem the team is right up against it. But actually, Johnston is well-equipped to deal with the issue, having been craftily hoarding allocation money over the past two seasons, allowing for cap flexibility. The team has the purchasing power to get things done.
Excuses are one thing, action is another. And if the roster stays as is, it's not markedly stronger than last season.
Tyrone Marshall and Marco Velez cannot commandeer a steady centre-backline on an upper-echelon MLS side. It also can be argued whether Jim Brennan's strongest position is left-back or outside left. Regardless, the defence isn't strong enough.
It's a cliche, but defence wins championships. Just ask the Columbus Crew how vital MLS defender of the year Chad Marshall was on its championship run.
The good news at the back is that is looks like Marvell Wynne will be staying in Toronto after all and Kevin Harmse was impressive at last season's end.
So building blocks are there, but the team is still a work in progress. It may frustrate supporters if an extra push isn't made to make the team a legitimate contender now. But Johnston readily admits TFC still is in building mode, and if he thinks the squad is still a year or two away from making a push for a championship, he is doing the right thing by holding on to his allocation money and having trust in the development of his draft picks.
Players such as Sam Cronin and O'Brian White cannot be expected to produce this season -- but that's not to say they won't have value down the road. Same goes from drafted goalkeeper Stefan Frei, whose Generation Adidas status and talent are too good to ignore.
MLSEL scores a Gol
MLSEL is building towards the future off the field as well with the acquisition of majority control of Gol TV.
Is it a coincidence that MLSEL would take control of its own product after being caught in a tug of war between Rogers and TSN over the coverage of Raptors games on TSN2?
Having Gol TV allows MLSEL to decide when, where and how its property is shown.
TFC learned last season what happens when networks have control of games, with multiple contests moved by CBC to its little-known digital channel CBC Bold.