Panic won't solve woes

BILL LANKHOF, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:56 AM ET

This is Toronto. Just call it Panic City where, from season to season, sports teams and their fans lurch from one train wreck, to impending disaster, to calamity.

The latest disappointment to happen has been the soccer team. After two expansion seasons of being unreservedly adored -- win or mostly lose -- voices of discontent are growing louder.

One game into their Major League Soccer season, after a road win, the cock-eyed optimists had Toronto FC ticketed as the best thing to happen to soccer since the invention of short pants.

Two home games later and the hand-wringing pessimists see so many things wrong, the Reds might as well have Maple Leafs' logos tattoed on their backsides.

The reality is somewhere in between. This team is neither as good as some people hoped, or so bad it couldn't beat an 0-3 team on its home ground while giving up the tying goal with three minutes to play. One game does not a season make -- or break.

True, the team that is supposed to end the playoff drought of Toronto's pro teams is looking a lot like the south end of a northbound mule lately. Many of the familiar horrors that afflicted this team in its sophomore season have been revisited.

TFC surrendered a league-worst 13 goals in the last 15 minutes of games last season. On five occasions TFC conceded a goal in the final 10 minutes, and this year's club has not shown the grit necessary to defend those late leads with any more confidence then it did last season.

Toronto's offence? Lets just say John Cleese with a banana has had a better chance of launching a succesful attack.

All this has naturally put the bloggers and impassioned TFC followers into a dither. Fire the coach! Fire the GM! "Get rid of Barrett," suggests one. Move De Rosario up ... back ... anywhere but where coach John Carver is playing him. Hire a coach "from Brazil" suggests another -- as if Juan Valdez grows them on his coffee plantation on demand.

Silly talk, all of it.

Despite the missteps, four games is too early in the season to panic -- and, too late to do anything about it if there was panic.

That isn't to say there can't be some moves made. Greg Sutton and Steve Frei can't both start in goal. Perhaps that turns into a trade for a defender. But before ripping this team apart again, it must be given a chance to mould itself. Amado Guevarra has been on international duty and missed practices with a welt on his leg. Carl Robinson has been absent. Pablo Vitti hasn't been here long enough to finish a cup of coffee.

There are more national entities here to weave together than at a meeting of the United Nations. This team has been in constant flux for more than two years. It never has had a chance to come together psychologically or technically. Players have changed so often they should hand out "Hello, I'm (fill in name here)" with the practice jerseys. When that changes, so will the numbers on the scoreboard.

This is the collection of players that Carver and director of soccer Mo Johnston have placed their trust in to carry them to the playoffs. If they have any faith in their own judgment then four games into the season is not the time to change that judgment. Fans may want change but rarely is it possible to rebuild a team in mid-season. That's done through free agency, the draft and off-season trades when good players are willing to move. It's done when the best coaches aren't already employed elsewhere.

Face it. Rio Ferdinand is not coming to the rescue. Nor anyone like him. Not now. While it is possible to find a good piece to the puzzle in mid-season, rarely is it possible to put together a whole new puzzle.

This team, individually, is better than it has shown. The Reds have to find a way to become as good as the sum of their parts. There really is no other option.


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