The 2012 season is set to be a make-or-break year for Toronto FC.
The club has not found much success since entering Major League Soccer. Missing the playoffs for five straight seasons, the longest active stretch in the league, has led to a squad overhaul on an annual basis. Last season was very much a rebuilding year for the club, and everything Toronto FC has done over the past 12 months has been in preparation for the upcoming campaign.
Head coach and technical director Aron Winter sacrificed what he knew would be a less-than-stellar 2011 season (which concluded with Toronto finishing eighth in the Eastern Conference) in order to achieve greater success over the next couple of seasons.
"We knew the first year would be very difficult," said Winter, who was hired ahead of last season. "For us, the goal was to build a good team and start adopting the style we want to see. And then in the second year, you aim for the playoffs."
Winter's tenure as head coach has seen Toronto adopt a 4-3-3 formation made famous by the storied Ajax sides of old, an era that Winter himself actually helped shape during his playing career.
Toronto picked up some key pieces mid-season in 2011 with the likes of German holding midfielder Torsten Frings and Dutch target-man Danny Koevermans.
Frings should provide some much-needed stability in the spine of the team, while Koevermans can hold the ball up to bring others into play and produce some moments of clinical finishing. With both players offering a wealth of international experience, Toronto should become much more acclimated with the 4-3-3 system that Winter favors.
Toronto will still have to answer the questions asked of its defense after a poor effort last season.
The Reds had the worst defense in MLS in 2011, conceding a league-high 59 goals in 34 games. The club lost a lot of pieces from its back line in the offseason as Danleigh Borman, Andy Iro, Eddy Viator, and Demitrius Omphroy have all departed the BMO Field outfit. But given Toronto's deficiency in defense last year, that may be blessing in disguise.
Toronto could see a surprising amount of success if its first-round draft pick from the 2012 MLS SuperDraft fulfills his potential. The club selected Luis Silva with the fourth overall pick in the draft, and the midfielder is already being tabbed as the favorite to claim Rookie of the Year honors. If Silva can enjoy a breakout season, then Toronto may be on its way to a postseason berth.
2011 IN REVIEW: Last season was clearly a rebuilding year for TFC. Winter was appointed head coach before the start of the season and the Dutchman made it clear that he wanted to employ a 4-3-3 system, though it did not yield immediate results. The club finished the regular season eighth in the East on 33 points, but much of the year consisted of Toronto making new acquisitions and getting them acclimated to Winter's style of play.
ACQUISITIONS: Miguel Aceval (D), Jeremy Hall (D), Reggie Lambe (M), Luis Silva (M).
LOSSES: Danleigh Borman (D), Elkebay Bouchiba (M), Kyle Davies (D), Matt Gold (M), Leandre Griffit (M), Andy Iro (D), Peri Marosevic (F), Javier Martina (M), Demitrius Omphroy (D), Nathan Sturgis (M), Eddy Viator (D), Mikael Yourassowsky (D), Gianluca Zavarise (M).
OUTLOOK: With more suitable pieces in place and a full preseason to work with them, it is very plausible that Winter could guide Toronto to success in 2012. "I have full confidence that we'll be making the playoffs," Winter said. While a postseason berth would definitely warrant a successful season, missing out yet again would be a disastrous finish that could ultimately cost Winter his job.