2012 Toronto FC Preview: No More Punchlines

TORONTO, CANADA - OCTOBER 22: Toronto FC celebrates Danny Koevermans #14 goal against New England Revolution during MLS action at BMO Field Oct. 22, 2011 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Abelimages/Getty Images)

This could finally be the year that Toronto FC ceases to be the longest running joke in MLS writes Waking the Red's Duncan Fletcher.

Toronto FC

2011 Record: 6-13-15

Key Additions: No one earth shattering, and probably only four who'll push to get regular first-team minutes, Miguel Aceval, Geovanny Caicedo, Luis Silva, Reggie Lambe. Centre backs Aceval and Caicedo are the most important. If at least one of them can prove themselves reliable, that'd be a key addition right there.

Key Losses: We let a bunch of players go, but I wouldn't call any of them key. Andy Iro and Peri Marosevic are the only ones who were regulars by the end of last season, most of TFC's core players returned, some refreshing stability.

Projected starting XI: 4-3-3, Stefan Frei; Richard Eckersley, Ty Harden, Miguel Aceval, Ashtone Morgan; Torsten Frings, Julian de Guzman, Eric Avila; Nick Soolsma, Danny Koevermans, Joao Plata

Bold prediction: Toronto FC will make the playoffs! Sad when finishing in the top half of a weak conference counts as a bold prediction, but after five years, that's what it comes to. With most of last year's team returning, hopefully, that familiarity, combined with one or two keep improvements will see TFC finally make the leap to a contending MLS team

Biggest fear: Injury to Danny Koevermans. While Torsten Frings was very influential last year, TFC has plenty of depth in midfield, but up front, there's no obvious replacement for Koevermans. If he can carry the goalscoring form he showed last season through the year, that will play a big part in any success TFC have. If they're forced to rely on others up front for any extended period of time, they'll struggle.

Is this the year Toronto FC finally stops being MLS's resident punchline? Their first five seasons were full of fiasco. With numerous changes of direction and philosophy, a revolving door of players and more coaches than seasons so far, they were very easy to not take seriously. Last season seemed to continue that trend as Aron Winter stubbornly stuck to a playing style that really wasn't working and after massive player turnover in the summer, they broke the record for most players used in a single MLS season with 38, 40 in all competitions.

I always thought of last season as preseason 2012, and like any good preseason, by the end of it there was more or less an established first team, that actually played like they knew what they were doing. The good news is that after securing the transfers or Joao Plata and Richard Eckersley, both on loan last year, all the core members of that team are back so for the first time TFC will actually have a settled lineup right from the start of the season.

Player stability as well as coaching stability will help take some of the comedy club feel away from TFC, and the other big thing to fix is the chaotic defense. Despite a late improvement after switching Torsten Frings into a five-man defense, TFC still led the league in goals against in 2011, and actually did worse in that regard than the hilariously inept 2007 team of Mo Johnston. There were no real star signings for the Reds, but two international players, Chilean Miguel Aceval and Ecuadorian Geovanny Caicedo were brought in. Both of them are centerbacks and if even one of them can prove to be a reliable defender, as well as ideally being comfortable bringing the ball out from the back, then that will be a big improvement and take away another reason that TFC have been so easy to dismiss as a serious contender so far.

There's still a long way to go in the quest for respectability despite an improved second half of 2011 being capped with a CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal spot. It could be seen in the reaction to Danleigh Borman being chosen in the Re-Entry Draft. That move was widely praised as if his struggles in 2011 could easily be discounted, after all that was with TFC, you can't hold that against him. It can still be seen in 2012 season previews. Despite a quiet confidence, still hesitant but growing, among TFC supporters and media, experts from throughout the league are once again predicting a poor season, finishing down toward the basement of the Eastern Conference.
It's difficult to blame them given the history, and there's still a lot of things that need to go right on the pitch for this season to be a success, but I'm firmly of the belief that this year is when the rest of MLS is going to have to start taking TFC seriously.

- Duncan Fletcher, Waking the Red

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