Four Keys To Toronto FC Success
How Canadian Footie Ruled The MLS
The Reds started the 2012 MLS regular season with nine consecutive losses, a stunning level of incompetence for any professional side, but particularly painful for Toronto’s zealous fanbase. Fast forward to December 2017, and the Reds appear unstoppable as they prepare for their second consecutive MLS Cup against the Seattle Sounders.
Toronto traversed the considerable chasm between league laughingstock and model franchise, setting new regular season records on their way to their first Supporters’ Shield. On the west coast, the Vancouver Whitecaps nearly completed a Canadian sweep of the tables, but the example set by Toronto FC reveals how Canadian footie rules Major League Soccer.
A revolving door of executives, captains and other key leaders created a kaleidoscope of losing for Toronto FC. The Reds discovered and executed various types of breathtaking failure between 2007 and 2013.
When Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment hired Tim Leiweke as president, a new philosophy entered into play. Rather than conducting business as usual, Leiweke installed new leaders in key positions for Toronto FC, the Maple Leafs and Raptors. Instead of treating the soccer club as an afterthought, he respected the Reds as much as MLSE’s hockey and basketball franchises.
At the GM level, salary cap genius and talent-spotting wizard Tim Bezbatchenko was installed, along with a cohort of dedicated scouts. Coach Greg Vanney was hired to replace Ryan Nelson. Toronto pursued and landed Michael Bradley, one of the most respected field generals in North America, still in his prime.
Success wasn’t an overnight phenomenon. Coach Vanney and Bradley endured a difficult 2014, missing the playoffs. Instead of bowing to public pressure, Toronto FC stayed the course, continuing their plan of attracting the best designated players possible.
Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore joined the Reds in 2015, replacing Jermaine Defoe as the de facto striking force. The year before, Michael Bradley established a no-nonsense atmosphere in the locker room, travelling coach with his mates instead of riding in first class, a perk offered by contract. This helped the side mesh instead of creating two tiers of players.
Credit Seba and Jozy for following the example set by Bradley.
Some were still critical of Coach Vanney, despite leading the franchise to their first-ever MLS Cup. Again, instead of looking for a quick fix, GM Bezbatchenko stuck with the plan he and Leiweke hatched in 2013. Toronto had the DPs needed to win in the MLS, but there was still room for improvement via additional depth.
Attention To Detail
Setting the new record for points in the most competitive climate in MLS history requires special attention to detail, given the complicated salary structure in North America.
One of the greatest offseason coups pulled off by Bezbatchenko was signing Victor Vazquez with Targeted Allocation Money when the terrific midfielder was nearly recruited as a designated player. For all intents and purposes, this gave the Reds four DPs in their lineup, leading to unprecedented depth for an MLS side.
Plenty of teams passed on Marky Delgado during the dispersal draft; Alex Bono was drafted in the first round; Steven Beitashour was ripped from the Whitecaps; Eriq Zavaleta used to be a Seattle defender; Chris Mavinga left Russia for Toronto and Nicolas Hasler was found in Liechtenstein, of all places.
Surrounding the trinity of Bradley, Altidore and Giovinco with this type of depth required creativity and advanced scouting capable of discovering talent from around the world.
When Jozy and Seba were ruled out of the first leg of the 2017 conference finals, depth was needed to survive a scenario under which most teams would fold.
Plenty of excuses were available during the Reds victory over the red-hot Columbus Crew in the eastern finals. Instead, coach Vanney made vital changes to the lineup, risking his reputation on a 4-4-1-1 formation, replacing Zavaleta with Hasler. When this shield wavered, Alex Bono made a spectacular save against Harrison Afful to preserve the clean sheet.
The second leg witnessed Jozy Altidore nearly rend his ankle in two. He would stay on field long enough to become the hero, driven by adrenaline and a deep desire for victory. After he exited, the extent of the pain he overcame became clear.
Previous editions of Toronto FC would have given up the ghost when their top two strikers were ruled out. A shootout loss last year would have created change where none was needed.
The Reds became the best team in MLS history with a mix of superior personnel, on and off the field. Mental fortitude displayed throughout the rebuild, most recently in the eastern conference finals, suggests that Toronto FC will continue to contend at the highest level of the sport, regardless of the outcome of the 2017 MLS Cup.Toronto FC To Win The 2017 MLS CUP (-126)
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