By Evan Ream
When Vancouver Whitecaps FC acquired Sebastien Le Toux for allocation money this morning, a lot of eyebrows were raised in MLS circles in the United States and Canada. Despite finishing last in goals in 2011 with just 35, the Whitecaps already have two double-digit goal-scorers on their roster in Camilo (12 goals) and Eric Hassli (10). They also spent their last two first-round draft picks on forwards: Omar Salgado (no. 1 overall) and Darren Mattocks (no. 2). Their roster is rounded out with passable reserve forwards Atiba Harris and Long Tan.
I understand that the 4-3-3 is becoming popular in MLS, but will a front line of Camilo, Hassli and Le Toux be enough to make up for a defense that finished third-to-last in goals allowed with 55? Vancouver is starting to remind me of another certain Canadian team when it comes to their team building. Though they are trying to right the ship by signing veteran defenders, their approach doesn’t really make sense when their two marquee signings – Jay DeMerit and Lee Young-Pyo – are both on the wrong side of 30. Vancouver may have a decent team, but they are following in the footsteps of Toronto FC.
Toronto FC is in its sixth year in the league, and management still hasn’t figured out how MLS works. The way to win in MLS hasn’t changed in the entirety of the league. Bruce Arena won MLS titles in 1996, 1997 and 2011 using the same strategy. Each Arena team has had a big, strong, athletic center back capable of scoring goals (Eddie Pope and Omar Gonzalez). His teams also featured good attacking outside backs (Jeff Agoos, Todd Dunivant and Sean Franklin), good role players (David Vaudreuil, Shawn Medved, A.J. DeLaGarza and Chad Barrett) and dynamic attackers (Jaime Moreno, Marco Etcheverry, Raul Diaz Arce, David Beckham, Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane).
With a frontline of Ryan Johnson, Danny Kouvermans and Joao Plata, TFC seems to have gotten the dynamic attack down. Their midfield seems to be locked down with Torsten Frings, Julian de Guzman and Terry Dunfield, but apparently, they still haven’t figured out how to sign a quality defender.
Last year, their best defender was Adrian Cann. Cann went down mid-season with an injury. So what did TFC do? They traded their second best defender, Nana Attakora, for Ryan Johnson and an international player slot. The deal also sent away solid role-players in Alan Gordan and Jacob Peterson. This goes in line with a number of dubious moves that TFC has made over the years that includes, but isn’t limited to:
April 19, 2007: TFC trades Conor Casey to the Colorado Rapids for Riley O’Neill and an undisclosed amount of allocations. Casey goes on to score 48 goals in 101 games for the Rapids. O’Neill never plays for Toronto FC.
June 13, 2007: TFC trades Edson Buddle for Tyrone Marshall. In 87 appearances with the Galaxy, Buddle scores 42 goals. Tyrone Marshall, who was already 34, makes just 40 appearances for TFC.
August 16, 2008: TFC sells Maurice Edu to Glasgow Rangers for ₤2.6 million. Edu had absolutely no leverage because he was only in the second year of his four year deal. As far as I can tell, this money was mostly used to pay for Julian De Guzman. If you’re keeping track, that’s not an upgrade at the center midfield position at about 15-20 times the amount of money.
March 25, 2010: TFC trades Marvell Wynne, their best defender, to the Colorado Rapids for Nick LaBrocca and a third-round pick. Wynne converts to a central defender and wins MLS Cup with the Rapids. LaBrocca lasts one season as a solid role player before being traded to Chivas USA for Alan Gordan. LaBrocca has a career year with eight goals in 2011. Alan Gordan gets traded away after four goals in eight appearances. The draft pick is used on Joao Plata (their only solid move so far).
April 1, 2011: TFC trades their all-time leading goalscorer, Dwayne De Rosario for Tony Tchani, Danleigh Borman and a 2012 first-round draft pick which is used on defender Aaron Maund. Tony Tchani makes 13 appearances for TFC including a notable outing where he scored a goal and then received a second yellow card for celebrating in the stands. Tchani was then traded to the Columbus Crew for Andy Iro and Leandre Griffit. Iro is so bad that at the Crew; Julius James started over him. James was also traded away from Toronto FC. After the season TFC, didn’t resign Borman and waived Griffit. So, for those who kept track, they turned Dwayne De Rosario into Andy Iro who was also subsequently waived.
I could probably go on in on about these moves, but instead I will just put out a lineup of traded and/or sold TFC players:
Conor Casey Edson Buddle
Dwayne De Rosario
Nick LaBrocca Ronnie O’Brien
Todd Dunivant Tyrone Marshall Nana Attakora Marvell Wynne
I’ve gotten this far and I haven’t even mentioned TFC’s failure to sign solid defenders. This year, unless they sign someone else, their starting backline projects to be: Jeremy Hall, Adrian Cann, Ty Harden and Richard Eckersley. This is pretty much the same defense that allowed a league-worst 59 goals last season. Sporting KC probably pays their decent backline (40 goals allowed) of Seth Sinovic, Matt Besler, Aurelien Collin and Chance Myers less than TFC’s overrated poor excuse for a defense. Other than Myers, none of those players was highly rated when they were signed.
No matter how many goals TFC scores (which was actually second-to-last in 2011 with 36) they won’t make up for how terrible their defense is. Stephan Frei can only stand on his head so many times each game. You have to feel for the passionate TFC fans as they are watching their neighbor Montreal build from the back rather than throw all their money at the attack. I don’t think anyone will be surprised if Montreal finishes as the best Canadian team in 2012. Sorry, TFC: You may be able to sell tickets (46,000+ for the CONCACAF Champions League game vs. LA already), but there is no chance that Adrian Cann is going to stand a chance when he has David Beckham dishing passes to Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane and now possibly Edson Buddle come March. Have fun watching another playoff-less year.