Canada's MLS squads should temper expectations | Soccer | CBC Sports

SoccerCanada's MLS squads should temper expectations

Posted: Monday, January 2, 2012 | 01:18 AM

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Toronto FC head coach Aron Winter hopes he can find the right formula for his squad to make the playoffs this upcoming MLS season. (Abelimages/Getty Images) Toronto FC head coach Aron Winter hopes he can find the right formula for his squad to make the playoffs this upcoming MLS season. (Abelimages/Getty Images)

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Unless an MLS franchise makes the right choice for its head coach, the team is consigned to meander through the regular season without ever making a serious run at the playoffs. And that is where Canada's three MLS squads should be concerned.
New Year's resolutions.

Some embrace them with gusto, while others run for cover. There's something about the turn of the year which drives many to change.
 
There's a reason every commercial break on TV is full of advertisements for the gym and weight loss programs. You overindulged again during the holidays -- but not to worry. A brand new year is here and you're going to be committed.
 
Here we go again.  A new year full of hope and expectation -- but will it be a happy one? That depends on what's important to you. Major League Soccer will be a fixture in Canada's three biggest cities this year. Since 2007, Canada has been responsible for 50 per cent of the league's expansion program.
 
In Montreal they can't wait for the season to kick off. After years in the shadows of second-tier soccer, Quebec's finest finally makes the transition to MLS. Donning a new logo, a new jersey, new players, a new coach and new fans will flock to witness the dawn of a new age in Montreal's soccer landscape.
 
In Vancouver they're hoping for major improvement.

The Whitecaps, who dreamed the same dream as Montreal 12 months ago, crested before the chaos set in on the West coast. Despite the early fanfare, history will show Vancouver's triumphant march into MLS turned into an embarrassing shambles.
 
In Toronto they're growing weary of the grind. Five years of failure has led to the inevitable. Despite the club's best efforts to rekindle the spark, fan fatigue has taken its toll. The loyalists will be back but attending a game at BMO Field is no longer the city's hot sports ticket.
 
These are three very different soccer clubs sharing a common goal. All are resolved that 2012 will be their year. The Impact wants to live up to the bold franchise name. The Whitecaps must own up to and learn from the mistakes of their expansion year. And TFC needs what it has always needed -- stability.
 
Canadian soccer needs a good news story this year. For the sake of the profile of the domestic game, one or more of these teams must step up and grab our attention. They must give us a reason to watch and show their cousins from the South that Canadian teams are not here just to make up the numbers.
 
Parity should make the job easier. In a single entity league where every franchise more or less flips the same burgers as the next, success should be within the reach of all clubs. MLS is a league where a wealthy owner can buy a team but not a title.
 
There is, therefore, no apparent reason why Canada's trio of teams cannot compete on a level playing field with the American squads. The Canadian teams are well supported, in many cases far better than their U.S. rivals, which should make a significant difference, especially when playing with home advantage.

The X-factor
 
But then there is the X-factor. It is what separates the men from the boys; the wheat from the chaff.  

He never kicks a ball but unless a franchise makes the right choice for its head coach, the team is consigned to meander through the regular season without ever making a serious run at the playoffs.
 
Here is where Canada's MLS contingent should be concerned. Entering 2012, Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto have chosen their respective leaders.

They are three head coaches who have precisely one year of MLS coaching experience between them; three men for whom coaching a senior professional team is a relative novelty.
 
Aron Winter spent most of 2011 trying to find the right pieces to fit into his TFC jigsaw puzzle. He made some progress which should help his team be more of a force to be reckoned with this year. But there are still major holes in the roster to be filled and the jury is still very much out on whether average players can make a fluid 4-3-3 formation work in North America.
 
Martin Rennie must be wondering what he's gotten himself into. The amiable Scotsman has been building an enviable reputation in Carolina in recent years. His resume is very impressive but no one knows how he will handle the promotion to MLS. And if the Whitecaps struggle early on, will Rennie be treated like his predecessor and fired after a handful of games?
 
Jesse Marsch knows the league but only from a player's perspective. The three-time MLS Cup winner was part of Bob Bradley's U.S. backroom staff at the World Cup but he's never coached a senior team. Suddenly Marsch is expected to hit the ground running in a foreign country where plenty of folk prefer to speak a foreign language. Talk about stepping out of your comfort zone!
 
The fact is the best men are not available. Bruce Arena and Sigi Schmid are under lock and key in L.A. and Seattle respectively. Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho will only be making fleeting appearances on pre-season tours. So Winter, Rennie and Marsch will attempt to plot successful paths with the odds stacked against them.
 
New Year resolutions are all fine and dandy until those who make them, break them. In three Canadian cities the resolutions have been made -- but keeping them will, I suspect, be the real challenge.

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