Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Now the MLS season is finally over where now for Toronto FC?

After some of the negativity on fan group messageboards about the inclusion of MLS Cup into the season ticket package it was refreshing to see a near capacity crowd show up for a Sunday evening kickoff in late November to watch FC Dallas vs Colorado Rapids. That suggests that even a relatively lacklustre MLS game lacking the appeal of big name DPs such as Thierry Henry and David Beckham is still of sufficient interest to the core TFC fanbase that they will make the effort to attend when the championship of the league is at stake. If the stadium had been only half full serious questions would have to be asked about TFC's continuing ability to draw 20,000 fans in the years ahead, now that the novelty factor has worn off. Now that the MLS season is finally over the focus turns to the rebuilding process that is now underway at BMO Field as TFC prepares for the 2011.

With news that the protected list for the expansion draft is going to be Frei, Conway, Gargan, Cann, Attakora, Harden, Gomez, LaBrocca, Peterson, DeRosario and Santos the emphasis with the exception of DeRosario appears to have been placed on keeping relatively inexpensive players who can be relied upon to do a solid job if called upon. It will interesting to see if Julian DeGuzman takes the hint and tries to negotiate an exit from MLS and a return to Europe after being left unprotected (assuming of course that both Vancouver and Portland decide against selecting him) and whether Chad Barrett's will be a candidate for the league's new reentry draft process next month if the key issue is that TFC management see him as being overpaid. 

Assuming Mo Johnston hasn't left any nasty surprises in terms of guaranteed contracts where Hscanovics, Usanov and Saric are concerned, chances are there will be a massive clearout of the import players given Nane and Mista are also highly likely to be headed for the exit. It is now imperative, therefore, that Jurgen Klinsmann and Tom Anselmi identify and appoint the new GM as soon as possible. For 2011 to be a successful season rather than an exercise in rebuilding the new regime will need to start filling out the roster again with players suited to their preferred style of play from early January onwards based on the Superdraft, free agent signings and the international transfer market.

Now that Klinsmann's presence has helped to boost season ticket sales back over 16,000 again and the key issue at hand for MLSE will once again be the playing and coaching side of TFC's operations, hopefully the powers that be at BMO Field will have noticed that the success of both the Colorado Rapids and FC Dallas was achieved by relative no names in coaching terms who had been involved in North American soccer to some degree prior to being appointed. A month ago Eric Soler and Hans Backe would probably have been mentioned as the management team to emulate but since then NYRB have made a hasty exit from the playoffs after Backe appeared to be outcoached by the Earthquakes' Frank Yallop. Hopefully TFC will now look closer to home for their new management team rather than trying to find a big name like those mentioned by Gerry Dobson a few weeks ago (i.e. Roberto Donadoni, Franco Baresi, Carlos Queiroz, Iain Dowie), who are probably only making themselves available because their careers are very much on a downward trajectory right now. The scale of the rebuild that is required at TFC this offseason is not something that should be attempted by a newcomer to the league.

Colin Clarke of the Puerto Rico Islanders would be the ideal choice, in my opinion. Many thought he was unlucky to be sacked by FC Dallas back in 2006 after impressive regular season performances and his subsequent record with the Puerto Rico Islanders at both the USL-D1/USSF-D2  level and in the CONCACAF Champions league suggests that he has now learned how to achieve success in a playoff type format as well. The Islanders won the USSF-D2 title this season after all. A key stumbling block could be whether MLSE would be prepared to pay the Islanders the compensation that would probably be required but it is worth bearing in mind that the best possible candidates for a job will usually not be found amongst the ranks of the unemployed because their services will already be very much in demand. If I were calling the shots at TFC I would appoint Colin Clarke to a shared coach and GM role similar to that of the manager at a British club. Bruce Arena does this in LA as does Sigi Schmid in Seattle so there are precedents for it working well in an MLS context. The key then would be to find a high quality assistant coach to take a larger share of the workload on the training field than would be normal under a GM and head coach model of operations with Clarke being the one to make that appointment and also being allowed to decide who to retain and who to discard where the current coaching staff is concerned.

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