|Toronto FC Julian de Guzman battles for the ball with DC United Dwayne De Rosario (R) during the first half of their MLS soccer match in Toronto May 5, 2012. (REUTERS)
TORONTO - Who says there’s nothing to look forward to following TFC’s abysmal 1-9-0 start? Here are the team’s top five storylines following the international break that will ultimately make this season as entertaining as any other.
1 Summer changes
Had it not been for former Philadelphia Union defender Danny Califf pleading with head coach Peter Nowak not to trade him to Toronto, the Union was reportedly close to negotiating a deal to send the veteran defender to BMO Field. But with Califf set to collect just shy of $300,000 this season, what were the Reds prepared to give up to bring the former U.S. international to Canada? Although TFC’s director of team and player operations Earl Cochrane has repeatedly said the club is constantly invested in trade talk, director of player development Paul Mariner told the Sun earlier this season the Reds are up against the salary cap. As drastic times call for drastic measures, in order to provide a bit of cap relief, it’s clear the club is beginning to drift away from the affection it once had for some of the players it hoped to keep. As the Union received cash and a versatile winger in Michael Lahoud from Chivas for Califf, it’s possible the Reds were set to swap a similar player with Philly earlier this month. Although it didn’t go through, the precedent has been set, and it’s keeping an eye on. Should things continue to go sideways at the club, TFC could look to make similar deals during the summer months.
2 Playoffs plausible?
Absolutely not. Possible? Yes. With 24 regular-season matches to go, of the 72 available points remaining on TFC’s schedule, the Reds will need at least 36 (1.7 points per game) to be somewhere around the picture. Although the Reds restart their season with a pair of difficult away fixtures and Houston and Kansas City in two-weeks’ time, what follows isn’t anywhere close to as daunting. After a big test in Houston, just two (New York and Vancouver) of Toronto’s next eight opponents have winning records. Better, the Reds host both those matches and will have a fighting chance against a pair of clubs that are in the top portion of their respective conference tables. Although they will travel to Houston and Kansas City twice, the league’s unbalanced schedule sets up rather nicely for the Reds the rest of the way. After watching Kansas City’s worst to first mid-season run a season ago, anything is possible — just not plausible.
3 De Guzman’s future
Set to complete the final season of the three year deal he signed in September of 2009, Julian de Guzman’s future at the club remains a mystery. Despite recently completing arguably his best month with the club since arriving from Deportivo La Coruna, Toronto’s front office won’t be interested in resigning the Canadian international for anything close to the roughly $2 million-a-year deal he signed under Mo Johnston. While all things point to his exit from the club, the situation will be highly discussed as the summer months pass.
4 Impactful matches
After dropping its first three (eventually nine straight) league games, the Montreal Impact pressed and pushed the Reds into their fourth straight defeat in embarrassing fashion at the beginning of April. Sure, Toronto would get its revenge in the Canadian Championship, but Toronto’s players will be first to admit TFC’s 2-1 league loss earlier this season inside a boisterous Olympic Stadium knocked the wind out of them — and the more than 1,000 TFC supporters that made the trip. Set to travel to the newly renovated Saputo Stadium at the end of next month, in addition to having a chance to even the league series at a game apiece, Toronto will have an opportunity to put a big dent in its biggest rival’s playoff hopes. The Reds then host the Impact on the second to last Match Day of the year in October. Who says playing an unbalanced schedule isn’t fun?
5 Second CCL run
With CONCACAF’s 10-month long continental Cup set to kick off at the end of July, the confederation announced Wednesday it will stage its 2012-13 Champions League draw in New York on June 5. Much like last season, after navigating through his first 44 MLS contests with just seven wins, head coach Aron Winter will once again have no choice but to chase a place in CONCACAF’s last eight in order to save face. With the region moving to a new Champions League format — three groups of eight teams without a preliminary round — TFC’s fate will likely hinge on the draw it receives next week. Due to tournament seeding, the Reds already know they’ll get one of Mexico’s Tigres, Santos Laguna, the L.A. Galaxy or the Seattle Sounders in the opening group round. However the draw turns out, if Toronto fails to string together three of four league wins by the end of July, competitive Champions League matches will be all that remain.