Reds no longer the parachute club

Paul Mariner, director of player development and Aron Winter, head coach, answer questions during...

Paul Mariner, director of player development and Aron Winter, head coach, answer questions during Thursday's Toronto FC media day at the Air Canada Centre. (MICHAEL PEAKE/QMI Agency)

RYAN WOLSTAT, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:34 PM ET

TORONTO - And now for something completely different:

Stability.

After five seasons spent outside of the playoff picture, largely the result of constant roster shuffling and an ever-changing plan, Toronto FC enters Year 6 in better shape than ever.

For once, the core of the roster is set and likely here to stay for a while.

No longer will players — key and otherwise — be parachuted in at the last minute.

No longer is there behind the scenes — or even readily visible ­— drama, threatening to poison the clubhouse atmosphere.

No, things seemed different as the club reconvened for a training session and then media day on Thursday.

The existing core has been augmented only slightly — a couple of draft picks here, a couple of Latin American defenders there — and most Reds now know exactly what Aron Winter, Bob de Klerk and Paul Mariner expect of them. Equally as important, the front office knows what is expected of it.

“Every year there was a new coach. Every year there were new players,” summarized Winter, the head coach and technical director.

“It has taken far too long to have a squad together. It set us back,” conceded Earl Cochrane, the director of player operations, who has seen it all during his time with the club.

“(It was always a) patchwork into March. But now, the majority of work has been done. It is a far cry from where we were a couple of years ago.”

Added Winter: “Last season was a false start,.

“(Now), I’m very happy with the roster that we have at this moment.”

Winter is aiming to have two players of similar quality at every position.

Keeper Stefan Frei, who is being pushed hard by Milos Kocic, praised that strategy, saying it keeps everybody sharp and makes teams better.

Winter said he expects nothing less than a first playoff appearance for the team. Its faithful fans are anticipating the same.

Winter also is aiming for success against the Los Angeles Galaxy in the CONCACAF Champions League quarter-finals, which begin Mar. 7 at the Rogers Centre, and another Canadian Championship.

Signing right back Richard Eckersley and spark-plug forward Joao Plata permanently, ending loan agreements was a massive step for the club.

Eckersley, 22, and Plata, 19 for another month, ooze potential having already tantalized the fan-base with dynamic starts to their Major League Soccer careers.

“Bringing Richard and Joao back is very important. We think (Eckersley) is going to be one of the best right backs in the league for quite some time,” Mariner said.

“Getting those guys into our fold again is vital for us to go forward,” Cochrane said.

“You look at all the teams that are successful in this league and they have a solid core that have been with them for a long time. Off the field is where you really see it.”

Former captain Dwayne De Rosario, the reigning league MVP, had a legitimate gripe with the organization, but always the onus is on captains not to let any bad blood poison the well, so to speak.

To that end, new team leader Torsten Frings has been amenable to whatever Winter has asked of him, even if that has meant spending time at sweeper instead of in the midfield, where he has excelled for years.

“It doesn’t matter (what position he plays), I just hope we are successful this year. That’s the main focus,” Frings said.

Successful has never been a word associated with TFC, except where ticket sales have been concerned.

But now, finally, all signs point to something different.

A 6-13-15 season is in the rear view and optimism abounds.

North of 35,000 tickets have been sold for Mar. 7 and the team has at least a puncher’s chance of competing with the defending MLS champions in the two-game set. The playoffs no longer seem like a pipe dream and the amateur- hour feel engulfing the franchise has finally dissipated.

“It’s good to see us moving forward,” said midfielder Julian de Guzman.

Ain’t that the truth.

ryan.wolstat@sunmedia.ca


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