Record (W-L-T): 6-17-7, 25 GF, 49 GA
Source Material: Schedule/match reports; 2007 Standings
Their record alone makes it pretty hard to draw positives from Toronto FC’s (TFC) inaugural campaign. At the same time, it’s fair to ask why a team built largely around Major League Soccer (MLS) players who had enjoyed a promising year here or there (think Edson Buddle, Alecko Eskandarian) should make a run at the playoffs. And yet a healthy handful of pundits not only made that prediction but stuck with it for a long, long time – even after several of these promising players left.
In general, instability stands tall as the watchword for TFC. Only LA so much attempted to keep pace with coach Mo Johnston’s ad hoc “guest-player” program. Apart from Alecko Eskandarian and Edson Buddle – shipped to Real Salt Lake and the Los Angeles Galaxy respectively – the team acquired and then shipped out Conor Casey (Colorado Rapids), Paulo Nagamura (Chivas USA), Kevin Goldthwaite, plus a few others. In spite of the steady turnover, and with few of these moves truly looking like upgrades, it wasn’t till late in the year when they were so clearly sucking air that people finally wrote ‘em off.
It’s arguably fair to chalk up the reticence to pan this team to the “darling” status they enjoyed thanks to a, frankly, kickass home atmosphere. Not only did they sell out the park frequently, but famous freakouts like the Fiesta del Cushion Seats that greeted their first-ever win got the ball rolling on the notion that Hell was playing TFC at home. But the results petered out before everything went completely, irrevocably south after the All-Star break. The battle-tested veterans who gave the team hope – MLS guys like Jeff Cunningham, Ronnie O’Brien, and, later, Tyrone Marshall, as well as imports like Danny Dichio – kept it alive until an injury visitation of medieval proportions led to TFC breaking all the wrong records in 2007.
– Who can forget the still-standing scoreless streak (long may it reign)? 824 minutes of scoreless soccer that came to an end when Miguel Canizalez scored one against the Crew September 22.
– Not remarkably, that scoreless streak coincided with a winless streak that stretched 12 mighty games. TFC’s record between July 7 and September 29: 0-9-3.
– Badly as things ended, TFC had an entirely respectable 5-3-4 record in league play from May to mid-July. Love it or hate it, that’s playoff pace in MLS.
What Went Right
A lot of this appears above, but to put it in bullet form:
– Yes, the home crowd…with 16,000 season tickets sold for 2008 saying good times will come again next year…if only in the stands.
– I should have mentioned this above, but TFC did best when they defended like barbarians. If you look through their best times, you’ll see frequent references to games that seemed to come from before soccer split from rugby.
– So long as they stayed healthy, O’Brien, Cunningham, and Dichio gave TFC a credible attack. It’s that staying healthy bit that bit ‘em in the end.
– Nothing gets to the shocking, and defining, lack of depth for TFC than a look at a roster drawn at random from their horror-slump, this one from the August 18 loss to Chivas USA (and, for the record, Chivas didn’t play all that well in this one):
Kenny Stamatopoulos, Jim Brennan, Tyrone Marshall, Andrew Boyens, Adam Braz, Todd Dunivant (Jeff Cunningham 70), Maurice Edu, Carl Robinson, Andy Welsh (Marvell Wynne 63), Collin Samuel, Andrea Lombardo (Danny Dichio 46).
Their big guns did come on as subs, but, if I remember the report correctly, they took the field limping. Edu, Marshall, and, arguably, Carl Robinson aside, this is a USL-1 team.
– Injuries. This relates to the above, but these guys ate shit on this score.
– Defensive instability: too many different faces and too many different setups led to too many lopsided losses and the league’s worst defense.
Key Men (as in the Ones You Want Back) (roster)
Maurice Edu: Scrappy, smart midfielder with a great future ahead.
Danny Dichio: If he can stay fit – big if – he does so much for this team. And to avoid starting from scratch, it’s worth the gamble.
Kenny Stamatopoulos: He’s no Brad Guzan, but you keep him around for the same reason you keep Dichio; he’s good enough that it beats starting over.
Jimmy Brennan: I believe he’s a defender converted from midfield, but more happy talk surrounded him than most.
Carl Robinson: I don’t know if you leave him in the same role, but he seemed to do all right for this team.
Tyrone Marshall: He may not have much left on the odometer, but things seemed to improve with his arrival.
Anyone Who Ought to Leave?
Ronnie O’Brien: A little shocking (and I’m surprising myself here, ‘cause I rate O’Brien), but he’s gimpy and doesn’t seem happy in MLS, never mind Toronto. I could be wrong on that, but…
Andrea Lombardo: I don’t even know if he’s good for depth. A trip back through the match reviews shows a forward who didn’t finish a hell of a lot, something that confirmed my impressions of the few times I saw him.
What They’re Needin’
Their ‘keeper situation resembled Columbus’ in 2006, so getting a reliable back-up for Stamatopoulus or someone better should be a priority. Someone for Tyrone Marshall to tutor would be wise. More than anything else, though, a lot of improvement in midfield, healthy forwards…just an offense that works worth a damn…that’s what they need. This comes painfully close to starting over, but….what are you gonna do?
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