Written by Jay:
Those unfamiliar with MLS typically believe overseas talent can cure all ills. They think the talents of English and other European players will out shine homegrown players and MLS lifers. Perhaps that could be true with top-flight talent, but North American style roster regulations prevent managers from throwing money at their problems. Moreover, much to the surprise of some Euro Snobs, adding middling and aging EPL players doesn’t lead to instant success. It appears Ryan Nelsen, GM Keven Payne, and Toronto FC haven’t received the memo.
This dreadful season for Toronto FC should bring sweet satisfaction for those against any European invasion. Toronto’s rebuilding project based around English players, that never arrived, has so far proved a total failure as we sit about 60% through the season. In no way is TFC the Chivas of the north, but a lack of a serious blueprint or even a back up plan is apparent.
Toronto FC reeks of flop, sweat, and desperation. TFC waived eight players since the beginning of the season including the recent departure of their captain Darren O’Dea. Since the start of the season, the team linked itself with aging EPL players, mostly from the recently relegated Queens Park Rangers. The squad has seen 14 new arrivals, only two were previously on MLS rosters.
The bright side to this mess is the play of their backline, which contains two TFC developmental players and two International veterans. The rest of the squad is in shambles. They appear rudderless in the attacking third; mostly trying to create as individuals rather than a collective. Their lack of creativity and organization has manufactured the second worst goal production, assist total, shots, and shots on goal in the league.
Ryan Nelsen is not new to the MLS, the four years spent at DC United in the early 2000s propelled him into England. The former Defender of the Year, captain of MLS Cup champion, and two-time Best XI player, however, appears to have a poor opinion of the league’s talent, or at least failed in scouting it.
Both the Portland Timbers and Montreal Impact ended the 2012 season with losing records. Both subsequently hired a manager from outside MLS. Both these first year MLS managers’ strong tactical knowledge, sense of identity, and ability to find talent to fit their philosophies deserve credit for their teams’ current success.
Caleb Porter’s high-pressing 10-man commitment to defense guided the Timbers past a slow start to a spot near the top of the Western Conference. The system requires young legs and a high-level of fitness; out of the 8 outfield players that logged in more than 1,000 minutes only one is older than 30. His first half success at Timbers provides at least an ounce of proof that his system can be viable outside of college. After failing to qualify for the 2012 Olympics, Porter was labeled damaged goods by US fans. Despite his argument against the notion, the Porterball system is driving the team’s success over the arch of this season. At this point in his career, he might simply be a club, not a country coach.
The Impact’s Marco Schällibaum brought Swiss football to the MLS. His seemly out of control sideline behavior is the exact opposite from the Impact’s hallmark well organized 4-4-2 or 4-1-4-1 systems. Despite the formation and focus on negative play, the team has produced a top five offensive attack primarily off the counter. The veteran heavy roster (five players 33 or older accumulated 800 plus minutes) stormed out of the gate with 1.2 goals against average in the first 14 games. The previous five matches failed to live up to the high standards by allowing double goals per, and only earning the Impact 3 points our of a possible 15. Some may point to the problems in the backline, but they performed poorly overall, only scoring once in the last three matches.
The recent addition of Designated Player (DP) Hernan Bernardello may provide a jolt to the squad without forcing a vast change in philosophy. The 26-year old Argentine is a defensive-minded player, in his physical prime, and possesses quality passing skills. He will fill the deep-lying central midfielder role well. The contract length and price has yet to be revealed, but for now this move should ensure the Impact remain atop of the Eastern standings.
Porter and Schällibaum can rely on tactical knowledge and the application of systems found to be successful on other levels to quill supporters’ anxiety during rough patches. Those with no proven system, poor roster management, and even poorer scouting are finding the promise of reinforcements from across the pond is starting to wearing thin. This is a pleasurable reminder to some MLS is not merely a DP league.
A bit about the author:
Jay’s first memory of professional soccer was watching a flaming haired pirate in a blue shirt with white stars menace a golden shirt lion on the field of roses. Since then, he has followed the game from the cradle of US soccer, Northern Jersey. Tracking the progress of the sport in the states through the international team and Major League Soccer he has become a student of tactical football, the business of sports and the cultural impact of the game. Jay enjoys the view from the ivory tower but is not afraid to be in arm’s length of the ultras in the South Ward. You can follow Jay on Twitter @rescindedred.