By Dario Camacho - MIAMI, FL (July 20, 2012) US Soccer Players -- In three short games, the truth about Toronto suddenly changes. That's three wins in two weeks. A month ago, that wouldn't have been in the same conversation when Toronto looked like a lost cause. Hope now looms, or at least the promise of something better down the road. Then again, with how Toronto started the season anything that isn't another loss becomes an improvement.
Like every club in Major League Soccer, the playoffs are the proof of a regular season. Though some clubs lean too much on making the postseason, for Toronto it really is the goal. A dozen points currently separates them from something they've never done. No easy task, yet manageable. Looking at their schedule for the next four games, Toronto also has a relative easy route to get into the thick of things. With games against Portland, Houston, Columbus and most importantly against Chicago, by the middle of August we could be looking at a new definition for an MLS comeback.
That success has come under new direction via interim coach Paul Mariner and the re-emergence of designated player Danny Koevermans. With Mariner in charge, the Reds have managed to gain 16 points out of a possible 30. In this League, over the course of the season getting a team just above .500 can be enough. His mission to "simplify" the tactics used by Aron Winter seems to have given new life to the team, while Koevermans (nine goals) has been the threat up top that Toronto desperately needed.
With the firing of Winter, the shock to the system seems to have jolted Toronto out of its misery. Things looked livelier, but once again circumstances Toronto couldn't predict have shaken up the squad. In the 37th minute of last week's 1-0 win against New England, Koevermans injured his left knee and was stretchered off. It turns out he tore his ACL and is expected to miss the rest of the season.
With the talisman for the team now missing, the question arises: How can Toronto overcome a potential devastating setback, one that could send them spiraling in the wrong direction?
Koevermans equals production, meaning the workload he shouldered now falls onto fellow forwards Ryan Johnson and Reggie Lambe, both which have struggled to make an impact. Johnson especially has a true knack to disappoint, often ruining clear scoring chances. Lambe has only scored twice, and both those goals came in a losing effort against Chicago. Although the two can be dynamic players, running at opposition and creating chances, their finishing isn't legendary.
Toronto's recent moves now seem suspect with a hole in their lineup. That means talking about Joao Plata, a player Toronto loaned to his original club LDU Quito earlier this month. It's clear that both Plata and the Toronto organization, and most importantly Mariner, don't seem to be on the same page. The way Plata handled his “departure” irked Mariner to no end, especially since it all seemed to be broadcast over Plata’s Twitter account. Now, it's no surprise that fans and pundits alike are wondering if there might've been a better solution than loaning him out for the rest of the season.
For his part, Mariner and his bosses at Toronto are focusing on the obvious. Formerly in the market for a top rate defender, they're now shopping for a striker. Mariner told the Canadian Press's Neil Davidson earlier this week: “we’re trying to do some things but decent strikers don’t grow on trees in world football, never mind in MLS. Let’s see what happens.”
What no one in Toronto wants to see is another scenario where a highly touted player doesn't work out. Too often over their history, Toronto has been guilty of adding parts that don't mesh. Toronto doesn't need a project. They need an immediate answer. That adds even more pressure to a club that has to be a little surprised at their turnaround. Mariner has done an admirable job here already, creating a sense of self in a club that had been knocked around by the rest of the League.
Still, it’s not all gloom. Even with Koevermans out, Toronto managed a come-from-behind victory against Colorado. The goals as well have come from five different players, two by rookie Luis Silva. What Toronto does in the remainder of the transfer window and with the money removed from the salary cap by Plata’s loan deal will determine their strength down the final months of the season. With seven days left before the window’s deadline, Toronto will try to cover the hole left by Koevermans as well as they can. It might not be a perfect fit, but they face a situation where something is a better idea than pushing ahead as is. They simply don't have a choice, and everyone else in MLS knows it.
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