So the old jalopy sat up on blocks in your driveway, needing an engine, paint, doors – you name it. All your friends said “cool car, that’s a great hobby,” but went away knowing that car was never going anywhere ever again.
Wouldn’t it be great to rocket past them, in happy command of the hottest ride on the road?
*** Straining metaphor alert!! Abandon lead!! ***
Well, thanks to the multiple miracles of allocation money that lets MLS teams exceed the salary cap, “Generation Adidas” player who don’t count against the cap or take up roster spaces, some shrewd dealing and what must have been some pretty nervy contract negotiations, Toronto FC is suddenly all souped up, with nowhere to go but blazing down the playoff road.
How did we get here? Is this the same general manager Mo Johnston so many have given up on, given two consecutive last-place finishes and the fact it’s all but impossible to get a clean read on the man?
Folks, I don’t know how far TFC ’09 is going to go, but in a league where talent is thin and roster depth all but unattainable, these rebuilt Reds are looking quite deliciously dangerous with the new season on the rapid approach.
Whatever was good about last year’s team is still pretty much intact. The new parts – in every segment of the lineup – look more than equal to the task.
Strikers: Chad Barrett is back, with a new four-year deal. Veteran Danny Dichio, injury-prone but still a wonderful passer quite adept at holding up the ball, is ready for whatever role awaits him. Newcomer Pablo Vitti, the on-loan kid from Independiente, is showing brilliant pre-season flashes, looking like an all-out mover who can unlock opposing offside traps – if the MLS linesmen are up to getting razor-tight calls right.
Midfield: Dwayne DeRosario, still one of the most dangerous attacking midfielders in the league, is home and happy. His dangerous presence should pull that pesky extra defender off of wingman Rohan Ricketts, who has – finally! – been crossing the ball effectively in exhibition games. Amado Guevara is just the man to spring Vitti on those darting runs, and veteran holding middie Carl Robinson loves Toronto and its ravenous fans so much he actually took a pay cut to stay here.
Defence: Adrian Serioux’s arrival doesn’t necessarily seal the radioactive crater of doom that destroyed TFC’s playoff hopes a year ago. But he is a strong and seasoned pro – still only 29 – who will also bolster the attack with his dangerous brand of long, strong throw-ins. Apparently Mo is still hustling after another centre back, which would allow the overmatched Marco Velez to try his luck with another MLS side, or return to the relative safety of USL-1, where he has proven he can play effectively. On the wings, Jim Brennan (left) and Marvell Wynne (right) have pace, dribbling and a real desire to push the ball forward. This is going to be an attacking team – including the defenders. Kevin Harmse could also get a look in the middle, if a second centre back isn’t signed.
Goalies: Greg Sutton is still the man, but rookie Stefan Frei is getting rave reviews. That opens the possibility of dealing back-up Brian Edwards, who to my eye has proven he should have a long and useful MLS career.
Bench: My goodness, this is a young bunch! Mo dealt a draft pick for Serioux because he’s got all the prospects his limited roster can handle. Abdus Ibrahim has changed his first name to Fuad (who didn’t have an identity crisis at 17?) and remains ridiculously talented for one so young. Acclaimed draft pick O’Brian White may yet prove great, if he comes all the way back from serious knee surgery. Then there’s Sam Cronin, a young middie thought by many to be the best overall young talent in the NCAA. He’s already getting occasional looks in the defense, and will need to be patient off the top. His time will come, though, as the long, long season takes its toll. Then there’s Johann Smith and top Canadian prospects Nana Attakora-Gyan and Gabe Gala, who have all showed considerable promise.
Okay, I ripped Mo when he couldn’t turn three first-round draft picks into Adrian Serioux. But I’m starting to believe that the rest of the league just wouldn’t give him the deal he wanted. So he turned around and drafted three great kids, knowing that would leave him free to deal a future draft pick for – well – Adrian Serioux.
On paper, this team … makes sense. Better, stronger – and significantly more Canadian. Mo appears to have played MLS’s strange roster and money rules like a master – and it’s all a straight-line continuation of the job he started when the team was born two seasons ago.
The field is not paper, of course. But if all this potential translates into points, this is going to be a very exciting season at BMO Field.
Just more the moment, I’m biting on the hype – and it certainly is tasty.