Chivas USA are back home, and will be facing Toronto FC Wednesday for their only meeting of 2013. For two teams that have struggled in recent years, there's a shared feeling of taking advantage of a weak opponent, but also a comradeship between two beaten-down fanbases. More on that later, but in the meantime, what's going on with TFC on the field? In order to get a sense of Toronto's season thus far, I spoke with Duncan Fletcher of SB Nation TFC blog Waking the Red. Thanks to Duncan for taking the time to answer my questions!
The Goat Parade asks Waking the Red:
1. Toronto FC vowed once again this season to change the club's fortunes, and in addition to bringing in Ryan Nelsen as the coach, also brought in Kevin Payne from D.C. United as Team President and Tim Leiweke as CEO and President of the ownership group, a similar position to what he formerly held with the LA Galaxy. Although all three men have only been on the job a matter of months, have you noticed changes? Perhaps more specifically, have you noticed any positive changes, on the field or off, so far in 2013?
There have definitely been changes so the easy thing would be to say yes, but so far it's been all the changes that TFC have been making ever since they got started, new coaches (rookie ones at that) and the revolving door of players still very much revolving, so in a way you could easily that's it's no change at all, that it's just the same old TFC. I'd like to hope all the upheaval so far this year is just clearing away the mess left behind last year and eventually we'll settle into a stable and successful period or relative calm, but the jury's definitely still out on that one.
It's convenient you mentioned all three of the new guys as it does seem right now that there's 3 different directions the club's being pulled in, which is probably a tough balancing act to pull off for the best of clubs. Kevin Payne was the first to arrive and was very much preaching the long term, building with young players rather than relying on aging veterans from the U.K as we have done too much in the past. It seems like he personally is very much trying to follow that path, Matias Laba has come in and done very well, and there's talk of other young South Americans being brought in as well, so that seems relatively promising.
Ryan Nelsen, well he seems a lot more focused on the short term, he's talking of building a foundation, and seems to be trying to get a competitive team together as quickly as possible. He's using his connections from England to bring in just the aging players Payne was hoping to move away from, and again, it hasn't gone that badly, Steven Caldwell and Robert Earnshaw have been decent additions.
Tim Leiweke? well he seems to be focused on the business side of things and getting the fanbase interested again, and hype and flash seem to be his goals. He's spent a lot of time since arriving talking up the possibility of bringing in a Beckham-level player, though many would argue TFC aren't really in the position to be getting the best out of that type of player right now, and that's why there's the rumours of Diego Forlan. Hopefully they can figure out how to make this work, but there's definitely potential for it to end in yet another hot mess for TFC.
2. One of the strategies used by TFC this year has been to sign a significant number of players to very short-term loans. Given the club's rationale for signing players for just a few months, what do you think of the strategy?
It wasn't the worst strategy really, serving two purposes. Firstly, TFC's squad was alarmingly thin so this was a way to get the numbers up without having to bring up academy players before their time. Also given a loanee by definition is belonging to another club, it's a good way to get those players in, whether it's at the end of the season or whether their clubs are happy for them to go elsewhere and get playing time, without having to worry about transfer fees or having to offer a longer term deal.
That's the key to the second benefit to it, being able to get a good luck at these guys without having to offer them anything. If they don't work out, as was the case with John Bostock and Hogan Ephraim, then it's easy to release them. Those that have worked out, Steven Caldwell and to a lesser degree Robert Earnshaw, have been given long term deals after passing their 'trial'. It's not an ideal way to build a team of course, but given the circumstances TFC found themselves in, it worked out fairly well for them.
3. With all the player turnover this year, who has impressed you this season (returning player or new), and why?
There has indeed been a lot of player turnover, plenty of old faces have moved on and even some of the new ones brought in this year have already been shown the door, and that process has only speed up in the last week or so, Danny Califf retiring, Luis Silva traded for allocation money and captain Darren O'Dea heading off to Ukraine in a salary cap dump.
Who has impressed throughout all this? Of the new players, midfielder Matias Laba looks very good, a much needed calming influence. He reads the play well so can make plenty of interceptions as well as winning the ball through tackles and is very good at maintaining possession with a simple pass. His Argentine upbringing really shows as he doesn't need an extra touch to bring the ball under control, and is excellent at keeping the ball and finding a teammate when under pressure. He's done well amid a team that is slowly trying to wean itself off too much long ball play, if some of the rumoured additions come true this transfer window, then there should be a significant skill upgrade ahead of him and he seems the ideal player to get the ball to those that can do something good with it. He's the one big high profile long term acquisition Payne has made, his signature move so far and though it's early it's one that looks to have worked out very well.
There's very few returning players who are still in the side at this point, so I'll go with Doneil Henry, a physical young centre back who may or may not be playing in this game as he's just coming back form Gold Cup duty with Canada. His temperament (2 red cards already this season) and decision making and focus can certainly be improved upon, but he's got the build and the skills to become a good defender at this level with a bit more maturity.
4. Prediction for the match?
TFC are pretty much in another pre season right now, and Saturday's game against Kansas City was a bit of a shambles. They'll be better, but not good enough and I can see Chivas getting a 1-0 win, probably Eric Avila with the goal, why not.
To see my answers to Duncan's questions, check them out here.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!