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Toronto FC initiates Scorched Earth Policy

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Before you sow the crops, you must clear the land.

In their first MLS draft, TFC’s brain trust of Aron Winter and Paul Mariner arrived with chainsaws in their hands. The trades of the previous regimes had left the Reds with nothing better than a 26th-overall draft pick; they knew that by then, there would be no obvious gems — read: University of Akron’s starting lineup — for the taking.

And, on draft day, the prices placed on first-round draft picks is ridiculous. Last year, when then-Toronto FC Mo Johnston inquired about getting a first-round pick, keeper Stefan Frei was the asking price. Too much.

So, with the task of remaking what has been a failed franchise on their hands — and knowing that the attention of Canadian soccer fans outside the GTA would be focused on Vancouver, who had the sexy no. 1 pick — Mariner and Winter set to hacking salary out of the club.

Chad Barrett, scheduled to make more than US$212,500 he earned in 2010, was sent to the Galaxy, which is trying to cope with the very real possibility that Juan Pablo Angel, selected in the re-entry draft, won’t agree to become the team’s replacement for the departed Edson Buddle.

And the team found a way to shake itself of the US$70,000 it would have spent on back-up keeper and team videographer Jon Conway. When the pair arrived in Baltimore, the goal wasn’t to find a young player who could be catapulted right into the starting XI, it was to free up dollars and cents for the reboot.

For Toronto, today was about the Scorched Earth Policy. And it’s hard to gauge exactly who will emerge from these ashes to play in Vancouver for the March 19 season opener. In terms of talent on hand — even if all-time leading scorer Dwayne De Rosario plays for the Reds again — TFC looks more like an expansion team than do the Vancouver Whitecaps or Portland Timbers. But, for this team, March 19 is not the important date. Winter and Mariner are going through the team’s books like Tea Party members sifting through a Democrat’s budget.

On draft day, teams will always prop up their selections, no matter how high or low. But picks from the second-round and down are always longshots in MLS. From the lower rounds last year, Joseph Nane was able to get into a few games, but didn’t make it to season two with TFC. So, if any of U Cal’s Demitrius Omphroy (26th overall), Ohio’s Matt Gold (43rd), Cal Poly’s Junior Burgos (44th) or Ecuadorean Joao Plata (49th) eventually make it to MLS, it’s a bonus. Sure, TFC can post some video highlights of each, but all four are project players.

But TFC is a project team. We don’t know who is going to provide goals, who will play in the cornerback spots, but we do know that there is more money in the bank today than there was yesterday. The trees are coming down. The soil is burning. Once the process is done, then the rebuilding can begin.

“We are very pleased with what we got today,” said Mariner after the draft in a release sent out by the club. “We’ve done background checks on the character of the players and we’re hopeful they will respond very well.”

Background checks? Hopeful? The language says it all.

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