Home MLS Toronto FC TFC’s rebuilding mantra has been proven wrong

TFC’s rebuilding mantra has been proven wrong

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The significance of Toronto FC’s 6-2 home loss to the Philadelphia Union can’t be ignored.

Through five coaches and three GMs/directors of soccer/technical directors, TFC fans have heard of long-term plans, rebuilding processes and the continuing pleas to fans for patience.

Philadelphia was a raw expansion franchise last season. It has played a third of its schedule in year two of its existence, and it’s in first place in the East. You could make the argument that the Union is at a better point now than TFC has been any time in its history. When the Union faced TFC — on TFC’s home turf — it was men vs. boys.

The Seattle Sounders became a league power straight out of USL. The club has never missed the playoffs. The Portland Timbers, despite losing on Sunday at home to D.C. United, is over .500 in year one, and has won five of six matches at JELD-WEN Park.

Yes, it takes time to build a club; an academy, a youth system. And that process is underway at Toronto FC — even though the decisions from three of the club’s best prospects, including U-17 national team catalyst Keven Aleman — to not sign exclusivity deals with TFC and leave the club behind hurts.

But, on field in MLS? In terms of wins and losses? Being a playoff team?

The long-rebuild process is, well, a myth.

Ever since the Chicago Fire won the double (U.S. Open Cup, MLS Cup) in its expansion year (1998), we have known that MLS offers the perfect formula for a team to transform itself into a contender in very short order.

The salary cap is low, which keeps the competitive gap between the clubs very, very tight. And, soccer offers the largest global talent pool of any sport on the planet. Good evaluators of talent can uncover gems. When D.C. United dominated the league in its early days, it was because the club bravely recruited players from Bolivia, a South American country that has long been ignored. Jaime Moreno and Marco Etcheverry made DCU a powerhouse.

Colombia is no longer the competitive South American nation it was during the early ‘90s. But, it has become a hotbed for MLS recruiters.

It isn’t just expansion teams. After Jason Kreis took over as the coach of Real Salt Lake, the team went from doormats to MLS Cup champs in two seasons. Even with David Beckham, the Los Angeles Galaxy were the laughingstocks of MLS for the DP star’s first two seasons. Then, coach Bruce Arena came in and molded the club into a defensive power. Within a year, he turned the worst defensive club in MLS into the stingiest team in the league. A team that hadn’t made the playoffs in three seasons finished with the second-best record in MLS in 2009.

The New York Red Bulls went from being the worst team in MLS in 2009 to one of the powers in the Eastern Conference in 2010. Yes, you can point to the signing of Designated Players Thierry Henry and Rafa Marquez, but the truth is the turnaround came because the club put its trust in two Scandinavian soccer minds, General Manager Erik Soler and Coach Hans Backe, to transform the club. They did.

This weekend, Philadelphia showed Toronto that the rebuilding mantra is nothing but a snake-oil pitch. The Union addressed its biggest problem — goaltending — in the offseason, bringing in the experienced Faryd Mondragon to replace Chris Seitz, who gave up too many soft goals last season. The Union realized it had a problem, and dealt with it. The club realized that its loyalty to Seitz could only go so far — because the bigger covenant was the one it has with its supporters.

In MLS, general managers need to act quickly and proactively. Because they know the rebuilding excuse is not an option. Except, that is, at Toronto FC, where it’s been part of the script in every coach’s post-game press conference, win or lose, for five years.

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