Toronto FC is on its last breath in the Champions League and remains in the basement in the MLS’s Eastern Conference.
While fans continue to dwindle in hope, faith and spirit, the team has a lot more potential despite poor on-field performances.
There are positives to look at in the form of acquisitions, or house cleaning as it has been referred to, and in the youth movement. There is also a younger, much stronger generation getting ready to take over BMO Field.
In late June, Toronto FC brought in designated players Danny Koevermans and Torsten Frings. At age 32 and 34, respectively, the two weren’t brought in to lead the team to glory over the next five years, but to provide insight and to mentor a squad fill with 20-somethings. From their first game on July 20 to the disappointing loss to Pumas CONCACAF action on Wednesday, Toronto is 5-3-5. That’s significantly better than the 2-7-9 record the team started with before making the changes.
At the time, Paul Mariner, Toronto’s director of player development, told the Canadian Press the moves were “a massive step” for the team going forward.
The Reds also brought in English defender Andy Iro from the Columbus Crew during that stretch. Only 26 years, Iro has been a part of a two first-place seasons (2008, 2009) and won MLS Cup with the Columbus Crew in 2008.
And earlier Thursday the team traded defenceman Dasan Robinson to the Los Angeles Galaxy for a 22-year-old defender Kyle Davies. He was the captain of the United States Under-20 squad in 2009.
“We are acquiring a young central defender with leadership experience and I feel Kyle will fit into our plans both now and long-term,” said head coach Aron Winter on the team’s website.
The Reds have 20 players on a 34-man roster aged 25 or younger. Another nine players are between the ages of 25 and 30, so the team is clearly one of the youngest MLS clubs.
A bright spot for TFC has been the emergence of Joao Plata. At the tender age of 19 and only five-foot-two, the forward leads the team with eight points (three goals, five assist), shots (52) and shots on goal (17).
After his first start for the Reds, a 2-1 win over the Houston Dynamo, Canadian midfielder Julian De Guzman couldn’t praise the young Ecuadorian enough.
“This is what the team has actually been missing — a player who can light it up like Plata has done,” Julian de Guzman told reporters. “He has to keep it up, stay level-headed and continue the same performance at a consistent rate.”
And he did. Plata racked up four points (one goal, three assists) in three games against Edmonton FC (two points) and the Vancouver Whitecaps (one point) to lead Toronto to the Canadian Championship and a spot in the Champions League draw.
While Plata was helping put the ball in the net, Milos Kocic, a 26-year-old Serbian goaltender replacing the injured Stefan Frei, has done an amicable job keeping the ball out of it.
He first appeared in Toronto FC’s first group stage match against Nicaraguan squad Real Esteli in a 2-1 victory. Since then he has been in the crease for three victories while Frei remained injured.
He has made 17 total saves and has also been awarded the save of the week twice, even with the limited playing time this season.
Kocic appears ready to take the reins from whoever may sit on the depth chart in front of him, and his teammates can see it too.
“He’s been patient, he’s always been the one working hard no matter if he’s playing or not,” de Guzman told the Canadian Press. “He’s a very very good professional. I think he’s a great example to a lot of goalkeepers and even [outfield] players to look up to.”
“Now his chance has come and he doesn’t want to let it slip away.”