Since the Sunday announcement that Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment fired Head Coach Ryan Nelsen, TFC fans have been flooding the social media, disgusted that the coach who seemed to get the most out of his players has been shown the door. After seeing the likes of Mo Johnston, John Carver, Chris Cummins, Preki, Nick Dasovic, Aron Winter, Paul Mariner enter the team full of promise only to leave behind a team that could not reach the next level, TFC fans finally felt confident in a coach, who had the vision, knowledge and respect to give the club new life.
After soon to be ex-MLSE President Tim Leiweke orchestrated the Bloody Big Deal, which brought TFC superstars such as Michael Bradley and Jermain Defoe, along with Julio Cesar on loan the future looked very promising. Convincing victories over Seattle Sounders, DC United, and Columbus Crew proved to even their biggest critics that TFC was finally a contender. However as the season wore on, more losses were because of defensive error. Nelsen was once a great defender, and could probably still play if he wanted.
There is no doubt that the majority of the players respected him for his background and knowledge along with good wit. However whether he was truly communicating with his defense is another matter. In an early home match against Colorado, a cumulative group of mishaps cost TFC 3 points.Despite these moments, Cesar did have good communication with the backline. TFC also lost the chance of regaining the CONCACAF glory by losing to Canadian rival, the Montreal Impact. Even then, the feeling was that TFC were more focused on making the MLS playoffs and should not worry.
After the World Cup things have not been the same. The team missed Cesar, and of course felt for him after the thrashing against Germany. He was a great leader for them and his grounded advice was an asset to the team. He taught keeper Joe Bendik a lot about the position ,and throughout the season, Bendik has made strong saves. However it is too early to expect him to fully grasp Cesars way of directing his defenders. At many points one can only wonder if Nelsen defined to him what his role can be in improving chemistry between the keeper and his defense. Michael Bradley truly is a player who loves the game, and gives 100 percent at all times. And there are very few football fans who would question his heart when he played for TFC 4 days after being eliminated by Belgium. However that may have been a decision Ryan Nelsen should have reconsidered. Like in TFC, Bradley played a major leadership role on the US, and there is a time that even the most fit players need a break to regain strength. Nelsen loved his desire, but even rest for 7 or 8 days could have made a world of difference. Bradley continues playing decent ball, but occasional loss of possession and less energy must be expected for a player who has played so much football over the past year. Perhaps the biggest issue facing Nelsen was that his team began lacking the creativity and he was not managing his talent to its potential.
After losing Defoe and the captain, centreback Steven Caldwell to injury, TFC have struggled. Brazilian striker Gilberto has made a great impact after initially struggling to find his MLS form, But with such an ailing defense, Nelsen has failed to get them to close out games. By the time of the New England Revolutions' assault at BMO, the team seemed to lose all focus. Nelsen quickly pointed out the fact that GM Tim Bezbatchenko put added pressures on the team calling it a must win, even though TFC was and still is in a playoff position.
GM Tim Bezbatchenko promptly fired Nelsen and his entire coaching staff, save for Canadian Jason Bent. Tim Leiweke who often refers to Bezbatchenko as Harry Potter claimed it was the GMs decision to to do this. Leiweke stated that "you can't have a team quit on you". The immediate speculation was that Defoe would be heading to QPR or Arsenal. Instead the young GM resisted, and made a statement by not allowing one of his prized assets slip back to the EPL.
Incoming coach Greg Vanney will have many obstacles but still may have the team to accomplish the goal of making the playoffs. He comes in with a strong attitude and excellent playing backgound having found success both in France at Bastia, and in the MLS along with capping 36 times for the US. He was a good assistant coach at Chivas USA, along with being Academy Director for TFC. He stated that the team needs to be more aggressive and less fearful of making mistakes, and having more energy to start matches. Vanney is being smart in that he is not moving from the 4-4-2 formation so late in the season. Changing it so late in the year can truly be the teams undoing. Vanney also stated his belief of analytics "in managing workloads and helping players prepare week in and week out, and help in terms of injury prevention", which Bezbatchenko clearly agrees with.
There are strong vets to lead TFC. Along with Bradley, one can not underestimate the importance of Dwayne DeRosario in rallying the troops in a difficult situation. Younger players can very well benefit as well. Defender Doneil Henry has always had the skill, and quite possibly a fresh start with a new coach can get him to the level that has been expected of him. He has even left the Canadian National Team as they prepare for the upcoming friendly with Jamaica in order to help advance his club team. Having a fully fit Jonathan Osorio will definitely add energy back into the line-up as well. As a reinforcement if Defoe finds his game by late September, TFC may be capable of pulling off what many call a miracle.
Michael Bradley has advised the Toronto FC fans to "Keep the Faith". After 7 years of defeats it is far from an easy task. One can admit that "Harry Potter" has completely put himself in the hot seat, and has shown a determination to get this team to the postseason. The result will determine the ex-Pittsburgh Riverhounds' future as GM of Toronto FC.