Without pomp or ceremony, the powers that be at team owners Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment quietly re-engaged the services of head coach John Carver for a second year.
A results-oriented business
They didn’t have to – his winning ratio during 2008 was mediocre at best – and he didn’t have to come back (there were tempting offers for Carver to return to the UK during his first 12 months at the helm).
The lot of a soccer manager is precarious at best – an occupational hazard most accept as part and parcel of the profession. None need reminding they are in a results-orientated business where the line between success and failure can be subjective and where a vote of confidence from the board of directors is rarely welcome news.
Carver is neither the most experienced nor the most successful coach and, at a time when the average managerial life-expectancy is apparently getting shorter by the season, he can be thankful he’s gainfully employed in North America and not back in Europe – just ask Luiz Felipe Scolari, Paul Ince or Tony Adams.
In his first year, Carver led Toronto FC to just nine regular-season wins and only three after the all-star break – hardly the sort of numbers which will endear a coach to his paymasters. It’s unlikely Carver would have been retained back in the old country, but here it’s different. The players respect him, the fans trust him and the suits have faith in him – for now.
Carver’s no fool – he’s been in the game his entire adult life and knows it can all change very quickly. A shaky start can undo all the good work carried out in pre-season, players get nervous and edgy and the all-important confidence and self-belief can drain away as the coach tries to steady the ship before it flounders.
Above all, I believe, Carver is a fighter – passionate, direct, sincere and demanding. What he lacks in knowledge, and he’s learned an awful lot about Major League Soccer in his first year, he more than makes up for in commitment. He’s desperate to deliver a winning team for the fans - Carver knows their support is essential if the ambitions for the coming season are to be realized.
Carver, staff bring stability
His return also signifies much-needed continuity. The players know where they stand with Carver who, in turn, trusts them to conduct themselves properly both on and off the field. Carver’s backroom staff has also remained constant with the addition of goalkeeping coach Mike Toshack – another sign of stability within the camp, which should help produce more consistent performances.
Carver is setting the bar high for 2009. He wants his team to gain 10 more points than it did last year – a total which would comfortably see Toronto FC qualify for the post-season. Getting there is much easier said than done – the road form will have to improve for a start – but it should be an attainable goal for a third-year club.
So even though I shall not be putting my money where my mouth is, if Toronto FC can combine a mixture of flair, discipline, luck and sheer hard work under the guidance of a grafting Geordie, the 2009 season will just be getting interesting in late October.
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