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article imageOp-Ed: TFC must continue building squad despite Giovinco/Altidore move

By Tyrrell Meertins     Jan 23, 2015 in Sports
Some things never change. Broccoli will always remain unappealing, society will never be fully satisfied with the weather, and major Toronto sports franchises will continue to break the hearts of millions, nationwide.
While the latter statement may not be entirely true — at some point in the past Toronto teams were successful — Toronto FC is slowly living up to the bill, failing to make the playoffs since their inaugural season in 2007. Equally, like other Toronto sports teams, TFC’s failure hasn’t gone unnoticed, nor have the Reds provided any hope of progression.
Last year, what was expected to be a "Bloody Big Deal," quickly transpired into a Bloody Big Mess. The promise that TFC would make the playoffs backfired, while Jermain Defoe packed his bags and flew back to England within a 12-month span.
The panic button was repeatedly pushed, and there was fear that TFC would never recover from last year’s shortcomings. What many tipped as a fairytale start to the season quickly became a stomach-churning nightmare. Yet, here we are nearly 12 months later, and a city filled with diehard soccer fans has received another lifeline; the opportunity to support and grow an unconditional bond with a successful team.
The announcement of Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco’s arrival shook the soccer spectrum worldwide — mainly in North America — with the latter’s move creating plenty of optimism throughout the city. While the duo has never played for the same club in the past, they come to Toronto with a few similarities. Neither man played key roles for their previous club in Europe (Sunderland and Juventus) yet they come to Toronto in their peak years.
That’s what’s key to Toronto FC general manager Tim Bezbatchenko. Defoe’s brief stint at the club highlighted the club’s ambition, and although the England international has returned to his homeland, he equally cemented Toronto as an attractive Major League Soccer destination. Without Defoe, Giovinco’s arrival may have never surfaced. And similar to last year’s major move for the Englishman, expectations are currently overlooking the CN Tower following the Italian’s transfer.
“We learned what to do and what not do,” Bezbatchenko said. “Giovinco was willing to meet us halfway. Last time (with Defoe), we went out, picked our player and threw everything at him. This time, we made sure and said, ‘This is an important project. You have to want to do this, too.’ ”
But although Bezbatchenko has taken a different approach in luring exciting talent to North America, has anything really changed from a year ago?
Do these two hungry players place TFC in a better position to make the playoffs this time around?
Altidore’s poor spell at Sunderland — a poor Premier League side offering minimal service — shouldn’t discredit the fact that the American scored 39 goals in 67 appearances in Holland, and is a proven MLS goalscorer. Likewise, while Giovinco encountered difficulties consistently securing a spot in Juventus’ starting XI, based on talent alone, the Italian is likely to be one of the most devastating attacking players in the league.
Similarly, from a tactical perspective the move appears calculated. Giovinco and Altidore form the ideal attacking partnership if TFC were to persist with the 4-4-2. While the latter can play with his back to goal and bring his teammates into the attack, the former can sprint into the space behind or play directly off the American.
But with three Designated Players in Giovinco, Altidore, and Michael Bradley, TFC may be forced to sell Gilberto, unless Major League Soccer and the players’ union agree to increase the DP limit to four per team — or, according to Sportsnet chief soccer reporter, John Molinaro, the club could use allocation money to decrease the Brazilian’s contract to a non-DP level. This could mean Greg Vanney would lose arguably the most complete striker in MLS, and another key puzzle to their playoff pursuit.
That’s the issue that arises in Toronto at the moment. While Bezbatchenko’s decision to compile three DP’s entering their peak is logical — considering they will develop chemistry as a unit in their best moments as a soccer player — patience is running thin throughout the Greater Toronto Area. Along with replacing Defoe, the club had three areas to address over the off season: TFC required a no.10, additional midfielders, and a centre back.
Giovinco, however, is more of a second striker than a natural play-maker. And while the Italian's physical stature prevents the 27-year-old from playing with his back to goal, his ability to play in various positions offers Vanney tactical flexibility. What’s worrying is that the Italian has never addressed his issues against physical defenders – MLS remains a demanding league for diminutive players – and despite Giovinco showcasing quick acceleration from a standing start, he lacks the pace and dribbling to evade defenders.
Although uncertainty in reliable creative outlets remains in the final third, TFC still require an adequate partner for Bradley in midfield. Most recently in an interview with TSN’s Kristian Jack, Vanney has confessed that he prefers Bradley as a number eight (the player ahead of the deepest midfielder) or the number six (a deep-lying play-maker), but without sufficient personnel, the American remains limited in his comfort zone. There’s no doubt that Bradley can operate in either position, last season the American was forced to cover too much space in central areas, thus negating his overall influence.
On the other hand, only the Montreal Impact — the worst team in the Eastern Conference last year — conceded more goals (58) than TFC last season. With Doneil Henry’s move to the Premier League, and Bradley Orr returning to Blackburn Rovers, TFC only possess two centre-backs on their roster. Depth and further quality at centre-back is undoubtedly vital, as the Reds are feeble in defensive areas, and could be repeatedly exposed if injuries occur. The shortage of centre-backs is quite worrying considering last year’s defensive woes, but as a unit, multiple errors were made on a weekly basis. Quality defending relies heavily on cohesion, familiarity and togetherness, but improved quality in these positions is also required.
This is not to say that TFC’s goal of clinching the club's first playoff berth is unattainable. In theory, this is an ambitious club that is currently aspiring for trophies and making Toronto an ideal destination for top players to ply their trade. However, while the club is showing gradual signs of progression, failure to address the aforementioned issues throughout the squad would deem their splurge on two overpaid DP’s futile.
Clearly, both stylistically and philosophically, Vanney has an agenda for the club, but due to failure under previous management, the manager and Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment need to get it right this year. Perhaps big money signings is beneficial to league, and improves attendance figures at BMO Field, but that’s only half the battle.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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