Published February 28, 2014
Toronto, ON – Toronto, ON (SportsNetwork.com) - Here's an unfamiliar narrative heading into the MLS season: There is reason for optimism for all Toronto FC supporters.
Toronto has been something of a doormat since its debut season in MLS in 2007, failing to make the playoffs or even manage a winning record in any of its first seven campaigns.
There has been constant turnover to the roster from year to year, but the club has not been able to get it right.
But the moves made by TFC this offseason represent the greatest reason for optimism in the club's seven-year history.
Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, TFC's ownership group, made major splashes in the transfer market ahead of the new season, bringing in the likes of Michael Bradley, Jermain Defoe and Dwayne De Rosario.
Adding such talented players in key positions is sure to have a major boost on the rest of the team, and Doneil Henry, who has been with TFC since 2010, is keen to take advantage of a rare feeling of confidence around the club heading into the new campaign.
"I have been here to see the team struggle and I'm just hungry to help this team go as far as it can," the 20-year-old defender told MLSsoccer.com recently. "We want to hopefully give something back to the fans because they really do deserve it after sticking with us for this long."
While the level of TFC's play should rise with the signings of Bradley, Defoe and De Rosario, so too should the degree of difficulty in each match. Toronto now has a massive target on its back, but Tim Bezbatchenko, the club's General Manager, welcomes the added pressure.
"I think everyone is just motivated to win and do better," Bezbatchenko told reporters at TFC's media day. "Last year and the last few years have been unacceptable to the organization and to our board. You can see the passion of the players with what they have done over the offseason and the way they have come back fit and ready to go. They know it is a new ball game here.
"I'm very comfortable with the high expectations. Everyone is shooting for us and that is one of the reasons that I wanted to come to TFC in the first place, to do something different with the situation, where instead of being at the bottom, we're at the top and everybody else is trying to catch up to us. Now we haven't done anything yet, but in terms of what we have done over the offseason, we have set it up and hopefully we take advantage of all the moves."
Ryan Nelsen, entering his second season in charge of Toronto FC, echoed Bezbatchenko's sentiments, suggesting that it still will take some time to get the newly-assembled pieces to jell as one.
"We're going to lose to teams that we shouldn't lose to," Nelsen told MLSsoccer.com. "That is life when you are growing. What I do know is that there is a vision moving forward and we have a goal and that we have guys that are committed and dedicated to it."
"Are we a finished product? Of course not," he added. "We know where we are. We've got to get a winning culture in the team. We've got so many things to do. But we understand that and everybody at the club understands that."
While the trio of Bradley, Defoe and De Rosario stole the majority of the headlines, TFC did manage to add some depth with the signings of Gilberto, Jackson and Justin Morrow.
Throw experienced Brazilian goalkeeper Julio Cesar, who joined TFC on loan from QPR, into the mix and you have the makings of a club that could make some noise in the MLS postseason.
ADDITIONS: Michael Bradley (M), Dwayne De Rosario (F), Jermain Defoe (F), Julio Cesar (GK), Justin Morrow (D), Gilberto (F), Jackson (M).
LOSSES: Robert Earnshaw (F), Jonas Elmer (D), Stefan Frei (GK), Justin Braun (F), Darren O���Dea (D), Richard Eckersley (D), Bobby Convey (M).
OUTLOOK: You have to crawl before you can walk, so it may be a bit premature to label Toronto FC contenders for MLS Cup just yet. But, this should be the year that the Canadian club finally breaks its postseason duck. There simply is too much talent on the books for TFC to suffer another year without playoff soccer. Still, it will be interesting to see how Toronto fares in matches without Bradley pulling the strings in midfield. The American international should miss some time in preparation for the World Cup, even with the league's break for the group stage. Toronto could also be without Julio Cesar and Jermain Defoe should they make their respective World Cup squads.