Photo by Nick Turchiaro/ISIphotos.com
In many ways, the 2012 MLS season will be manager Aron Winter's first to be able to show what he can do to mold Toronto FC into a winner.
Sure, the Dutch coach took over at the helm last season and came under fire for failing to bring TFC close to its first postseason berth in franchise history, but the 2011 campaign was more about evaluating the roster he was dealt when he took over a couple of months before the season started, seeing who fit in and cutting out who did not.
After a massive, year-long overhaul, one that included bringing in Designated Players Torsten Frings and Danny Koevermans, Winter believes that TFC is ready to take a step forward.
"We started last year in the half of the season bringing in players that we are thinking that are good in the system and are good players," Winter said. "Until now, I'm satisfied with the roster that we have. We're prepared."
Here is a closer look at Toronto FC ahead of the 2012 MLS season:
TORONTO FC 2012 MLS SEASON PREVIEW
2011 FINISH: 6-13-15, 33 points (eighth in Eastern Conference)
KEY ACQUISTIONS: D Geovanny Caicedo, D Aaron Maund, D/M Jeremy Hall, D/M Miguel Aceval, M Reggie Lambe, M Luis Silva
KEY LOSSES: D Andy Iro, D Danleigh Borman, D Eddy Viator, M Gianluca Zavarise, M Mikael Yourassowsky, M Nathan Sturgis, F Javier Martina, F Peri Marosevic
Koevermans and Frings enter their first complete seasons in the league after joining the club midseason in 2011. Despite having to adjust to the new league, both were able to make an immediate impact, with Frings stabilizing the possession game and even pitching in as a sweeper in a 3-4-3 and Koevermans handling the scoring load.
"It wasn't easy for them in the beginning coming into a new league. They didn't know what to expect," Winter said. "(Now) they know the level of the league, they know everything and they've had better preparation than last year.
"We know the quality from Torsten. And Danny, he needs one chance to score. In those games he played last season he showed it, and this season you can expect more."
Koevermans is a Golden Boot candidate after scoring eight goals in 10 MLS games upon his arrival last season. With Jamaican international Ryan Johnson making for a nice complement to Koevermans and diminutive sparkplug Joao Plata signed to a full deal, the front three in Winter's formation figure to form a dynamic group.
Add the fact that rookie attacking midfielder Luis Silva looks like a perfect fit for Winter's system, and TFC could put forth a pretty potent attack.
"We were looking for certain type of players, and the moment that we saw Luis Silva … we think he's going to a sensation this year," Winter said. "He's a very good player."
The club's most vulnerable spot a year ago was in defense, where it conceded a league-worst 59 goals. TFC addressed that area by locking up formerly on-loan right back Richard Eckersley on a full deal, drafting Notre Dame centerback Aaron Maund and adding Chilean defender Miguel Aceval and Ecuadorian centerback Geovanny Caicedo.
"Last season was a little bit unlucky also," Winter said. "We had two season-ending injuries with Adrian Cann and Dicoy Williams. We knew that last season we had a lot of goals against us, and we've taken care of that to make it better in the back line."
TFC will start its season earlier than most, hosting the Los Angeles Galaxy Wednesday night in the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal tie after surprisingly navigating their way through the group stage.
With the expectations rising this season, there's no better way for the Reds to make a statement than to show up with a positive performance against the defending MLS Cup champions and Supporters' Shield holders in a match being deemed as the most important in club history.
"We all know that we are playing against a good opponent," Winter said. "It's huge that everybody is ready for the game, everybody realizes the importance of the game. It's important for us after the preseason and training camp that we should be ready not only tomorrow but for the upcoming games.
"This season we started preseason very good. You're never satsified, but with this team we can go further."