[MLS SPOTLIGHT]To say Toronto FC has upgraded in the offseason would be a massive understatement. In 2013, TFC failed to make the playoffs for the seventh year in a row -- an MLS record -- and won just six of 34 games. The acquisition of Michael Bradley and Jermaine Defoe, who were introduced to Toronto fans on Monday, gives Coach Ryan Nelsensix new players he'll slot into the TFC starting lineup and puts massive pressure on him to get things right quickly.
It's all transpired very quickly since Tim Leiweke, the man who brought David Beckham to Los Angeles, was installed as president of MSLE, the Toronto FC parent company that also owns the NHL Maple Leafs and NBA Raptors, and young general manager Tim Bezbatchenko arrived from the MLS league office.
Leiweke shelled Beckham-like money to convince Defoe (reported to be at $8 million a year) and Bradley ($6 million per) to move from big European clubs to the hapless Reds, joining young Brazilian Gilberto (acquired from SC Internacional in December) as the three Designated Player signings. (There is still the matter of trading Matias Laba, the team's returning DP, or rewriting his contract, but heck, when you're shelling out tens of millions that's a small detail.)
“To do one [DP deal] is a smart move," Leiweke told the Toronto Star. "To do two DPs is not the smartest thing we’ve ever done. To do three is financial suicide."
Defoe and Gilberto instantly give Coach Ryan Nelsen one of the best attacking duos in MLS, and they'll be supported by Bradley, easily the best box-to-box player in MLS. Nelsen has so much attacking power that he said Monday fans could see Toronto attacking in a 2-4-4 a lot of the time.
That will be possible because Toronto also picked up three MLS veterans Jackson and Justin Morrow (via trades from FC Dallas and San Jose) and former MLS MVP and local hero Dwayne De Rosario (taken in the Re-Entry Draft and signed to a new contract last week).
That attacking posture will put enormous pressure on returning captain Steven Caldwell in the middle of the backline besides a pair of young Canadians, Doneil Henry and Ashtone Morgan, and Morrow and in front of second-year starter Joe Bendikin goal. But that's nothing like the pressure that will be on their coach.
At the Galaxy, Leiweke went through two coaches -- Frank Yallop and Ruud Gullit -- in Beckham's first year in Los Angeles before bringing in Bruce Arena to rebuild the Galaxy. This is no rebuilding job in Toronto like at the Galaxy, the MLS champion only two years before Beckham's arrival. There's been nothing that's ever worked in Toronto to begin with.
Nelsen has been given plenty of resources to turn the Reds around, though he insisted Monday he has a lot of work ahead of him. “Are we the finished product?" he said. "Of course, not."
He knows just as well as anyone he won't have a lot of time to get things right -- and quickly.