TFC manager says team will improve after salary cap is sorted
Toronto is 16 points out of the playoffs
Twenty-five players have excited Toronto FC since the end of last season and it's been a year since the underachieving MLS franchise has won a league game at BMO Field.
At 2-10-7, Toronto is 16 points out of the playoffs. The team can't score — it ranks 18th in the 19-team league in goals — and has been punished repeatedly in the defensive end.
And yet, the troubled team exudes positivity going into Saturday's home game against the New York Red Bulls (9-7-4).
In fact, manager Ryan Nelsen sees a day where Toronto FC will boss opponents on the field.
"Once the (salary) cap gets kind of sorted, there's going to be a few frightened people out there, a few frightened teams around the MLS that are going to go 'Oh no, it could be interesting,"' Nelsen said after training Friday.
"Everybody knows, everybody sees it. It's just releasing those handcuffs and then everybody can see the potential. Great city, great fans, great facilities. Our ownership is fantastic. Just a pretty awful salary cap at the moment. But we're remedying that."
Toronto has freed up more than US$800,000 in salary recently by parting ways with captain Darren O'Dea, Danny Califf and Luis Silva.
Expect some big names to comes through the doors in the coming weeks as Tim Leiweke, newly appointed CEO of Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment, digs deep into his pocket to show his commitment to winning.
Nelsen also has to rebuild his squad to develop the kind of supporting cast needed to let the stars shine. In recent times, a salary cap consumed by a few players has made for an out-of-balance squad.
The Toronto roster needs quality and depth.
"There is an urgency obviously," Nelsen said of the need for reinforcements.
Nobody wants new talent more than Nelsen. "Trust me," he said with a wry smile.
But he wants to bring in the right people, at the right price.
"We have relieved ourselves of a bit of (salary) restrictions. ... (But) we don't want to be in a situation in a year's time from now where we're in the same place."
Like his manager, newly appointed captain Steven Caldwell sees the light at the end of the Toronto FC tunnel.
"I'm completely confident that we have a bright future," said the no-nonsense Scottish centre back, who previously played for Newcastle United, Blackpool, Bradford City, Leeds United, Burnley, Wigan Athletic and Birmingham City. "It's very exciting for me to be here.
"It's rather frustrating just now because we're not getting results. We're bitterly disappointed by that but we're building something. And when you build something, it always starts in a low ebb. We feel that we're through the worst of it. We just have to keep progressing and keep looking forward, obviously hopefully make a few more signings — add a bit of quality and a bit of strength and depth. If we do that, we're only going to go upwards.
"The most important thing for me is that I feel it's a football club and a franchise that is not going to stop until it gets the best people, the best players and the right players for success. That's why I came here. I'm not here because it's a beautiful city and it's a holiday, I'm here to win. First and foremost that's to get into playoffs and then it's to win the whole thing. If I go home and I haven't achieved that, It'll be a big disappointment for me."
Big dreams for a team that has finished seventh, seventh, fifth, fifth, eighth and 10th in the Eastern Conference in its history. Toronto has only witnessed the playoffs from afar.
But under the new regime, there is absolute confidence that the team is on the right road.
In the meantime, Nelsen's roster is thin especially with strikers Danny Koevermans and Robert Earnshaw unavailable this weekend through injury.
Saturday marks Toronto's fifth game in three weeks, so there has been little time to take a breath.
Something positive would be welcome. Toronto is winless in its last five outings, lost 1-0 to 10-men Chivas last time out and gave up three goals in each of the two games before that.