As we reach the mid-season point in Major League Soccer, it is time to take an objective look back over the first 15 games and assess how Toronto FC has done in all departments thus far.Goalkeeping
Stefan Frei has a big future in the game, and if he carries on playing the way he has in the first half of this season, it might not be on these shores. I wouldn't be at all surprised if Frei is sold to a European club at the end of the campaign, because he has been excellent for Toronto again this year.
Like all young players, he makes his fair share of mistakes - that is not a surprise. He is not yet the finished article and he still has a lot to learn. But what I like about Frei is his mental toughness. He doesn't let mistakes linger and become insecurities, causing doubt to creep into his game. He just shrugs them off and gets on with it, a sign of a player destined for bigger things in the game.
There is no doubt that Frei is the No. 1 for Toronto, and Jon Conway has seen very little action as a result. He did, however, put in a good performance against Vancouver in the Nutrilite Canadian Championship, and he provides the experienced cover that all teams need from their number two 'keeper. Preki knows that he can rely on Conway to step in if something happens to Frei, which is exactly what is required from a back-up 'keeper.Defence
The addition of Adrian Cann to Toronto's back line has made a big difference, as the team now has a no-nonsense central defender who brings experience and an aerial presence to the side. Along with Frei, Cann has been one of the team's most consistent performers over the first half of the season.
Nana Attakora has also been impressive and he has settled into a regular partnership with Cann in the middle of the back four. Attakora is still prone to long, aimless passes up the park when he is put under pressure, but his pace and power allows him to be very effective defensively. I think he has tremendous potential and has a bright future ahead of him if he can continue his development and improve his distribution and positional awareness.
The fullback positions are problem areas for the team, though. Both Maxim Usanov and Raivis Hscanovics are defensive liabilities who pick up yellow cards too easily by mistiming tackles. Both would benefit from an experienced organizer at the back - someone who could talk them through the game - but neither Cann nor Attakora is that type of player. As a result, both Usanov and Hscanovics have found themselves out of the team recently.
Dan Gargan has settled into the right back position of late and offers a steady, effective option. He is tenacious and aggressive in his tackling, and looks to be Preki's best option in that position. Nick Garcia made some costly errors early in the season as a central defender, and found himself on the outside looking in as a result. To his credit, he has worked hard to get himself back into contention, but as a left fullback he doesn't inspire confidence. He has played some good games for the team in that position, but opposing teams will focus most of their attacks down Toronto's left side as they recognize that Garcia is the weak link. Midfield
Toronto's midfield is a bit of a conundrum. With Dwayne De Rosario, Julian de Guzman and Nick Labrocca in the team, one would think that TFC would dominate possession of the ball and create plenty of chances. But more often than not, the team is reliant on the individualism of De Rosario, rather than the collective contributions of the four, or sometimes five, midfielders.
De Guzman has yet to live up to expectations - which, I might add, was always going to be impossible. Just because he was the team's first Designated Player, did not mean that he was going to re-invent himself as a goal-scoring midfielder. De Guzman is a very good defensive midfielder, and I think he will eventually rediscover his best form, but he is not going to be the offensive force that some perhaps had hoped for.
Nick LaBrocca has been a solid addition to the team. I love his work rate, and he has the ability to be a very good midfielder in MLS. Amadou Sanyang has plenty of potential, and I think that he too will develop into a solid MLS player. He is not the finished article, though, so there will be days when he is off-form. Fans will need to be patient as he develops.
De Rosario is having a fantastic season, and if that continues into the second half of the season, he will be short-listed for league MVP. Unfortunately for TFC, when he is not at his best, the team looks unlikely to find a route to goal.Forwards
If one judges strikers simply by goals scored, then this position will cause sleepless nights. Toronto's front men have contributed just eight goals in 15 games - the same total that De Rosario has notched himself. Now, if one includes De Rosario in the mix as a forward, then the total becomes a little more respectable. But Toronto's recognized front men - Chad Barrett, O'Brian White and Fuad Ibrahim - do not exactly strike fear into the hearts of opposing defenders.
Barrett works hard for the team, and there is no question that his work rate is an asset. Some do not feel that he is suited to be a striker, and that his work ethic would be better utilized in a wide midfield position. However, I am not prepared to write him off as a striker - yet.
I have seen a marked improvement in Barrett's movement this season, and he is learning how and when to make runs to get himself into good positions. It isn't something that many people spot, because often his teammates do not notice his runs when they are in possession. As a result, he doesn't receive the ball as often as he should, and his good movement goes unnoticed.
That being said, when he does receive the ball, it is often given back to the opposition through a poor first touch. His link play is improving, but it still has a ways to go, especially if Preki decides to play him as a lone striker. Keeping the team in possession is the only way that such a system can be effective offensively.
It will be interesting to see what kind of impact that Mista and Maicon Santos can have up front for Toronto. I would like to see them both play five or six games before coming to any conclusions about their abilities to contribute to the team, and I hope the fans will give them the same amount of time, rather than expecting them to be saviours with their first kicks of the ball in a TFC jersey. Coaching and management
When it comes to Preki and Mo Johnston, they will, like all coaches and general managers, be judged by results.
Mo Johnston said that if the team fails to make the playoffs this season, he doesn't expect to be here next year - and I agree with that. While this team is in it's fourth year, it has not improved from one year to the next because there has been so much upheaval every season.
That is starting to change under Preki, because he has been given the scope to build a team that is to his liking. With additions like LaBrocca and Cann this season and a shift in the team's mentality, I think that TFC is finally moving in the right direction. I urge caution though, because if De Rosario dries up in front of goal, there isn't much of a supporting cast to take up the slack offensively.
For what it's worth, I like Preki. He can be blunt at times, and he isn't as willing to talk about his ideas as some of his predecessors were. But the players are left in no doubt about where they stand with him. He has brought a work ethic to the team that was not previously there, and the team is better organized now than ever before. That mentality bodes well for the future, and like all TFC fans, I hope it is enough to see them reach the playoffs this season.
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