TORONTO - Paul Mariner summed it up best: “I think it has been a whirlwind,” TFC’s director of player development said upon completing his first season in Toronto.
Not just for him, but for the Dutch duo in charge of turning around what was a lifeless club.
“We knew the first year was going to be very difficult,” Aron Winter said.
Forty-two players, eight trades and a pair of designated players later, TFC completed its fifth season — an erratic schedule that for the first time ended with the club moving in a positive direction.
While local pundits were quick to slag the Reds, it takes a complete lack of insight to ignore the positive adjustments Winter manufactured in 10 months.
After signing two of the league’s most efficient designated players, TFC lost just four of its final 20 matches.
Couple that with an astonishing showing in CONCACAF, and it’s safe to say TFC in no way resembles the side that Vancouver embarrassed on opening day.
While questions remain, supporters were left wanting more rather than smugly criticizing the club for a fifth time.
At Monday’s meeting, Mariner addressed TFC’s muddled defence that conceded a league-high 1.7 goals per game this year.
Prefacing his assessment by pointing out the significance of multiple “season-ending injuries,” Mariner reiterated that there’s “more work to do.”
In an option year and racing to rehab a torn ACL, Adrian Cann is hoping to return to the form that earned him 2010 team MVP honours.
The same can be said for Cann’s one-time partner Dicoy Williams.
Although both appeared upbeat Monday, neither were pressed on the likelihood of a quick return. Suffering their injuries in June, popular thought puts the duos’ comeback at February or March.
With the Reds needing Torsten Frings to move up, management knows the remaining options — Ty Harden and Andy Iro — are not starters.
“We’ve been doing a hell of a lot of scouting,” Mariner said.
Which could spell the end for someone.
It comes down to weighing the Cann and Williams situations against the players that finished the year.
Do you take a chance on one or both of the injured pair, or is the risk too much?
Both of the stand-ins had less than flattering moments in 2011.
“We’re going to get some new players,” Winter said.
Regardless, a new dominant central defender is a requirement.
MIDDLE OF THE PARK
It’s simply a matter of coming to terms to preserve an improved area of the field.
Julian de Guzman and Frings are locks next season and Elbekay Bouchiba — returning from a torn ACL — could bolster a solid midfield further.
“You have the right balance in the team it allows me to excel as a player,” de Guzman said. “It has to do with me being healthy and then the confidence.”
As Eric Avila and Terry Dunfield begin negotiations, should the club re-sign a pair of players that undertook massive roles in 2011, the Reds will be in good shape if they can find a defender to manage the responsibilities currently holding Frings back.
AS FOR THE ATTACK
Should the club land a central defender ahead of the draft, with the fourth pick in this year, TFC must identify a target forward to play under Danny Koevermans.
As the Reds could approach 50 matches next season, Winter should seek a player capable of issuing the Dutchman rest while providing the one- and two-touch target play so crucial to TFC’s system.
“If you watch the teams who are reaching the playoffs … they have backups,” assistant coach Bob de Klerk said.
Koevermans admitted while he hopes to “do it again next year,” the travel MLS teams face is more taxing than in Europe.
With Nick Soolsma announcing his intentions to return this week, TFC’s focus must be on re-signing Ryan Johnson to a new deal. The Jamaican was instrumental in providing a second scoring option and was invaluable in the Champions League.
Most concerning is whether Joao Plata’s season caught the eye of Quito – the team that loaned him to TFC.
“We’re going to try (to keep him),” Winter said.
If Quito agrees to sell Plata, but for a high price, the Ecuadoran would have to be designated — an impossibility as the club already has the maximum number.
If TFC can come to terms for a reasonable price, securing Plata would be a huge acquisition in looking to earn the Club’s first playoff berth next year.