By J Hutcherson - WASHINGTON, DC (Oct 30, 2012) US Soccer Players – This morning, Toronto is once again going to remind the rest of Major League Soccer that they're a team in transition. It's a creative way to maneuver around being a team in trouble. Toronto management always seems to have a plan, pulled from the failure of the last plan. It's gotten bad enough that the media is turning on itself and the club, trying to maintain credibility in one of the few MLS markets that gets the kind of blanket coverage normally associated with bigger professional sports.
Toronto has it all in theory. Fan support, ownership that will spend on players, and facilities that are among the best in this League. What they don't have is enough points over the course of the season to qualify for the playoffs. As obvious as that may sound, it's the difference between their management giving a squad enough time to turn that around or resorting to yet another revamp.
Maybe the club's faithful are at the point where they have no choice but to disagree, but the club's management isn't exactly wrong. MLS isn't a circuit where a multi-season revamp makes sense. Youth movements are for other sports. MLS is about transition, and there are enough examples to hold Toronto to a standard. Solutions exist for problems and teams can improve from cupcakes to playoff contenders in the months between the close of one season and the beginning of another. It works in the other direction as well, with good teams one season floundering the next.
So back to this morning, where the club's exit interviews held for public consumption let us know that 2013 has already started for TFC and that there are no quick fixes. Yet, common sense suggests otherwise on both fronts.
Nobody in MLS knows what success means in 2013. The playoffs have to happen first. We need to know, for instance, if making the playoff round is enough to make a run all the way to MLS Cup. We need to know if the power teams from the East and West progress easily through these playoffs. We need to know if the elite regular season players remain so at playoff level.
Without that, it's more guesswork. Toronto might focus simply on making the playoffs, but right now we don't know what that means. For instance, if the Play-In Round means a quick exit against the Conference champions in the next round, what does that say about the Play-In losers. Are one more game and the façade of making the playoffs enough to salvage a season? I would argue not even a little bit. That's especially true if the team that advances offers few problems in the next round.
As for the quick fix, this is a quick fix league for a team to get from mediocre to good. One player can make the difference between mediocre and playoff contender. Again, we're using our terms carefully here. Playoff contender, as in a club contending to make the playoffs. That's where Toronto needs to be. Occupying the spot held by Columbus and perhaps Dallas as the best teams to not make the playoffs is success for a team like Toronto.
The concern is that what we'll get in 2013 is business as usual for this club. That means enough transitions to create instability, questionable player moves, and the overall feeling that this isn't a work in progress. That's the only way to really lose in Major League Soccer.
Updating the Premier League Predictor
With most teams on nine games played in England’s Premier League, let’s take a look at my preseason predictions. Here’s what I had on August 17th:
Winner: Manchester United
European Places (assuming 2nd-5th): Manchester City, Everton, Newcastle , Arsenal
Relegated: QPR, West Ham, Wigan
Promoted: Bolton, Blackburn, Nottingham Forest
Here’s where we are right now:1st: Chelsea
European Places (assuming 2nd – 5th): Manchester United, Manchester City, Spurs, Everton
Relegation places: Reading, Southampton, QPR
Promotion places: Cardiff, Leicester
The first response is I should wait a few more weeks for this update. I’m not all that unhappy with my picks. I wouldn’t change United as champions, but I’d like to have back the opportunity to swap Spurs with Newcastle in my European places. Though it’s frankly insulting to West Ham – currently 9th in the table – I’m not all that concerned with my relegation picks. I don’t believe that the same three teams currently in the drop zone will be there the next time we update.
Where I'm already in significant trouble is the Championship promotion places. Bolton's managerial swap isn't exactly a sign of strength and Forest are, well, Forest.
J Hutcherson has been writing about soccer since 1999 and has worked as the general manager of the US National Soccer Team Players Association since 2002. Contact him at email@example.com.
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