Thursday, April 14, 2011
Honeymoon Over for Winter?
Well it seems the patience of Toronto FC "observers" and particular the media that cover the team on a regular basis has finally worn out.
Last night's 0-0 tie against the Los Angeles Galaxy, admittedly a poorly played affair, appears to have been the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back with fan sites, podcasts and regular media all coming to the conclusion that the Aron Winter chapter of Toronto FC development is the same or worse than all that has preceded it.
I guess the "best buy" date for the reconstruction project known as Toronto FC is about five games and being unbeaten in the last four counts for nothing for those who that want it all and want it now. Perhaps it is the odorous corpses of Toronto sporting franchises in other sports that have folks ready to write off a franchise started from scratch just five years ago.
The problem is the facts for those willing to look at them don't support their abandon all hope who enter here mentality.
For your consideration:
At the same point in the season (after five games) previously only once has Toronto had more goals for, seven in 2008 as compared to six this year and they have never allowed fewer goals ever in the first five games of the season (six) then they have this year. The six points they have this year is second only to the nine earned in the first five games of 2008 so despite what people seem to think progress is being made.
Most people would admit that solid soccer teams are built from the back and despite injuries, down right poor play and adjustment to a new system this team is off to their best start ever defensively and are only likely to get better. Four of the six goals against came in a wide open season opener in Vancouver which means in the four games since that blip the team has given up two goals in four games... those are pretty good numbers.
Yes Stefan Frei is a large part of the reason for this but you know what? That's his job and he does it well. When the rest of the team in front of him starts to get it this could be the best defensive team Toronto has ever fielded. That would be a major step towards the goal of post season play.
Now this does not mean there is not massive room for improvement - obviously there is and that is no more obvious to anyone than Aron Winter and his management team. What's needed now however instead of rushing in another airlift of players is a bit of a settling period. A chance for players, coaches and management to gel play and train together a bit and see what exactly they've got moving into the summer transfer season in Europe.
If at that time needs can be identified and filled do you really think people like Paul Mariner and Aron Winter will hesitate to do so? Seems unlikely having seen what we have from them so far.
One question often asked is where are the goals going to come from? The answer I suspect will be variety of sources - as Mariner himself has said " someone will step up, they always do." That is exactly what a successful "team" needs. Nothing easier to shut down than a "one trick pony" and that is what Toronto FC has been for the past couple of seasons.
People are also questioning the no nonsense, team first management style of Winter that has seen him publicly dress down players, sit them when they are not playing well and most noticeably move people on when they did not put team before self.
All that can be said to that is - it's about bloody time. The inmates have been running the asylum in Toronto since the beginning and look what it has brought us. Not much. Finally there is someone who is calling the shots who knows that as much as it is the easy way out to be a "player's coach" at some point someone has to make the tough decisions, be responsible and hold the players accountable for the product on the field.
The team we are seeing now, I suspect, is not the same team we will be seeing in August but unlike the past revolving door policy - the door has been replaced with a more constrained portal and approach to moving players in and out of the roster and their will be no changes simply for the sake of change. The youngest team in MLS needs time to grow and mature as a unit and for once the right kind of people are in charge of the program.
I'm much more confident in giving this management team a dozen games minimum before we start saying same old shite different coach. To me the changes are both obvious and subtle and slowly but surely are beginning to show maybe not in style of play so much but in approach and as mentioned in results as well.
It may not be obvious on the results side but if you told me before the game last night Winter once again would have to significantly change his starting lineup with Alan Gordon injured and Maicon Santos ill, Julian de Guzman making his first start of the season and Dan Gargan returned to the lineup in place of Nana Attakora I don't think I honestly would have said we're taking a point from this.
To me that's the most obvious change in the team. Despite the newness and unfamiliarity of the back line the team has managed to luck into and steal points that would have escaped them in the past and instead of having four losses in the opening five they've managed to pick up three ties they would have found a way to lose in the past.
The progress is there for those willing to look for it - for those not willing well their attitude is hardly worth catching.