With the messianic return of Torsten Frings going wrong within 25 seconds and ultimately proving unsuccessful, and with Toronto FC just one more defeat away from tying the all time record for worst start in MLS, all piled on top of 5 frustrating seasons that have drained the patience of almost everyone, there's debate all over the place now about exactly where TFC go from here.
Opinions vary from stick with the plan to blow it all up, and whether it's a straight forward firing, or a shuffle upstairs with someone else taking over the day to day first team duties, Aron Winter now seems to be on very thin ice. Whether a coaching change is needed or not, (I'm still on the 'not' side of things for now) and whether the long term vision of Winter and Jurgen Klinsmann before him is stuck to or not, almost everyone agrees something needs to change in the short term to get some results on the board and not jeopardise the admirable long term plans that are in place for the future of the club.
An argument made many times is that Winter needs to compromise and play a formation and style more suited to the league he's playing in and the players at his disposal. It's one I've made many times and that's really what's been the downfall of Winter's teams, lacking the players to be able to play his preffered style. Right now though, I think TFC are in the best shape ever to play what is presumably still his plan A, the 4-3-3.
Early last season, the midfield was never settled and never really good enough, but more often than not, despite the lack of stability in front of them, the central defensive pairing of Adrian Cann and Ty Harden or later Dicoy Williams were able to keep things relatively tight at the back. Injuries to Cann and Williams put paid to that and saw an ever changing cast of partners for Harden, including Doneil Henry and Richard Eckersley, and the results were predictably poor. The midfield was revamped with the arrival of Torsten Frings, but the best they could do for the defence was Andy Iro, so things still didn't improve. We finally got formational pragmatism when Frings was moved back to help out and from then on, the team as a whole looked fairly solid.
It was a necessary decision that paid off, and was rightly kept going at the start of the season when Frings was fit. Oddly enough, when deprived of Frings, and still without a Centre Back good enough to carry the defence, that's when Winter went back to the 4-3-3, albeit one with a very defensive midfield with Terry Dunfield and Julian de Guzman. Adrian Cann came back and the defence looked much improved in the game against Chivas USA, though by now, most teams knew they really didn't have to put too much attacking pressure on, what with TFC's proclivity for gifting goals away through individual errors. With Cann already looking like an improvement in defence, surely Frings could now return to the midfield and we could finally see how the 4-3-3 would look with enough good players to make it work.
Bafflingly, on Saturday Frings was back in his old role between the Centre Backs, a dubious decision given the speed of Chicago's forwards, that he never looked comfortable against. Adrian Cann now being forced out to the left of the 3 Centre Backs was another negative from that decision, it's no surprise that with that many players out of position, mistakes were once again rampant, and Chicago had little problem getting the goals they needed.
Hopefully that mistake won't be made again, and the change in formation and style that everyone is howling for will actually be back to what we started with under Winter. Now's the time, it's always been defensively that things have looked weak, and now we've finally got the best players in the squad available. The 4-3-3 can clearly work in MLS, just look at Kansas City, though they're a lot more hard working and defensively responsible than TFC's version has ever been.
Put everyone in their right positions, have Cann paired with Ty Harden, maybe even Doneil Henry or the left footed Logan Emory, whoever, just play 2 Centre Backs in the middle. Put Eckersley at Right Back and Morgan at Left Back where their ability to get down the flanks and support the attack, when properly harnessed is very valuable. Have Frings in midfield, and if Julian de Guzman's still on the naughty spot then have Dunfield alongside him, too many times the central midfielders have been outnumbered which has factored into plenty of goals already. At the top of the midfield triangle, let Eric Avila keep going after a couple of decent performances. If Danny Koevermans is fit to take up his Centre Forward role, don't move Ryan Johnson back to attacking midfield, yes he provides more of a secondary goal threat than Avila, but he's nowhere near as creative and imaginative, which are important things for that position.
The injury to Danny Koevermans aside, this is the best squad available to play this formation. The 4-3-3 is obviously Winter's preferred choice, so now let's play it. It's no time to be cautious, don't get yourself fired wondering if it could have worked, give it a go. Go with plan A, with your best team, with everyone in their right position and see what happens, then stick with it. With the Voyageurs Cup starting next week, there's 4 games in the next 2 weeks. If things go badly in those games and TFC are out of the cup and still winless, then I'd be on board with saying Winter as a first team coach has failed. It'd be a shame to say that without him ever having tried his favourite formation with a good team.