Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/USA TODAY Sports
By RYAN TOLMICH
For the eighth time in as many seasons, Toronto FC are on the precipice of missing out on postseason soccer.
Since their inception in 2007, TFC have been inconsistent at best, and plain dreadful at worse, having never experienced an MLS Cup playoff run. This season though, after an infusion of money and talent last December and January, many had TFC pegged as a potential contender for the 2014 MLS season.
It wasn’t meant to be.
After a season of frustrating defeats, long absences from key players, and a coaching change, TFC are likely to miss out on November soccer yet again as a result of Saturday’s 3-1 loss to the New York Red Bulls. The loss left TFC six points back of the final available playoff spot with only two games remaining. In order for TFC to qualify for the playoffs, they’ll need to win their last two games, home against the Montreal Impact and at the New England Revolution, while needing the fifth-place Columbus Crew to drop their final two games.
Despite the frustration that comes with another late-season defeat, head coach Greg Vanney sees positives in his side as it stands and hopes that the powers at be keep the current group together as the club heads into 2015.
“I think it’s probably a message they’ve all heard one too many times, but I think the message is to stay positive with this group of players,” Vanney said after the loss. “I think this group of players has the ability to do good things in this league. I think (we should) give this group some opportunity to gain some experience and become a collective group and for our young guys to understand what it takes to get results in this league and for our veteran guys to develop leadership among the group and for the group to really come together.
“To get success in this league, you need a core group of players who stick together for a little bit of an extended period of time. You can’t keep starting over year after year. They have to have an identity and philosophy that they buy into and stick to.”
One of the players brought in for TFC’s 2014 start-over was midfielder Michael Bradley, who missed a chunk of the MLS season due to this summer’s World Cup. Although Bradley believes in the current group, the U.S. Men’s National Team midfielder was quick to point out that there were changes to be made.
“It’s important that the right balance is found between keeping a good part of the group together and making sure that the guys who have the right mentality, who have the right commitment, who really bring something every day in a footballing sense, that those guys are here and given every chance to continue to grow together and improve,” Bradley said. “It’s important that then we’re able to find the right ways to improve the team by bringing in new players.”
Unlike Bradley, TFC’s other additions were unfamiliar with the MLS landscape. In a league full of salary cap rules, odd acquisition mechanisms, and seemingly endless travel, imports such as Jermain Defoe and Gilberto needed time to acclimate themselves to the league’s structure.
“I don’t think there’s any real need for this team to be blown up,” Vanney said. “There’s a lot there to be worked with. I think this team has a ton of potential. We had some young guys who got a lot of minutes this year that will become more hardened veterans as they move into a second year. That’s what you need: guys who have experience in this league.
“We also brought in a lot of guys that hadn’t played in this league. Even though they had played in big leagues around the world, they still hadn’t played in this league and this league is very different. I think a one-year experience, at least, for the group is really important.”
Overall, notwithstanding the frustration that comes with missing the playoffs, both Vanney and Bradley took positives away from the 2014 season. Unfortunately, as Bradley pointed out, only one team is able to end the season on a high note and, once again, that team won’t be TFC.
“At the end of the year, there’s only one team that will be happy: the team that wins,” Bradley said. “For everyone else it’s about trying to take what you have that you feel good about and take that and let that continue to grow, while still finding ways to add to it to make sure the whole thing can improve.”
“You see around this league that the teams that are successful: the teams that have a core group of players that have been together for at least a few years,” Vanney added. “They gel and they learn how to win together and they learn the nuances of each other and they learn about the league and how to scrap for every little action. I think this team just needs a little bit of maturity as a group, and they’ll get it.”