TORONTO - With wins proving as elusive as ever, Toronto FC is once again selling the alternative: Hope.
At a state of the franchise meeting with the local media, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. COO Tom Anselmi reaffirmed that the club is not where he expected it to be at this point of its existence and took the blame for that, while head coach/technical director Aron Winter made a passionate case that his rebuild is on the right track.
“It was a setback last year, Year Four should have seen results,” Anselmi said.
“We had become victims of our success, got distracted ... We’re not even rebuilding, they’re building. We missed some steps.”
Winter outlined a plan of how he intends to turn the team into a contender in both Major League Soccer and in the CONCACAF Champions League.
It started with high-profile recent trades and signings and will continue with the beefing up of the scouting department and the team’s academy. Under-15 and under-13 branches will be added to the existing U-19 and U-17’s, with the goal being to develop players who will improve the top club, the Canadian national team and/or TFC’s bottom line if they become good enough to be sold off.
Winter intends every level of TFC to play the same way, an entertaining, offensive-minded brand of soccer. “To be attacking. To win games.”
Bringing in the correct personnel and getting all the squads to eventually play Winter’s preferred thinking man’s 4-3-3 system is ambitious — many scoff that it can’t be done in MLS, but director of player development Paul Mariner disagrees. Mariner said he had “no doubts” when he heard what Winter had planned.
“We have great coaches. (Detractors) get lost in all the systems, but it’s football, if you listen to what the coaches are saying on the field ... it makes perfect sense to me.”
New addition Any Iro seemed to agree, claiming earlier in the day that playing total football intrigued him.
“If the players can buy into it, I really think we can do some attractive soccer,” Iro said.
“Everybody likes playing on a team where everybody gets touches, where everybody moves.”
Assistant coach Bob de Klerk said designated player Julian de Guzman can fit into the system, though perhaps in a different role than the one he had been shoehorned into now that Torsten Frings is on board.
That said, there are no guarantees the Canadian international returns for the final year of his contract.
Mariner, Winter and director of team and player operations Earl Cochrane said as much as talent is needed, getting the right type of characters in the dressing room is also a key.
That had not been the case and led to the departures of former captain Dwayne De Rosario and, more recently, his close friend and Day One Red, Nana Attakora, who Winter said had asked to be dealt.
“The character was not the kind I wanted,” Winter said.
But all that is now on the back burner as TFC looks towards the future.
The search for another defender is ongoing, the infrastructure is being strengthened and the team’s constricting cap situation will ease as soon as next season depending on the status of de Guzman.
TFC has not given up on the playoffs, despite the scary math and intends to make a dent in the CONCACAF derby, which kicks off next week.
Winter and Mariner rightly pointed out that it was impossible to fix in five months all that ails the franchise, but asserted they are in the process of building something of merit.
Time will tell if they are correct, but the plans to improve the scouting and build up the academy are good starts.