Waking The Red: The transition from Jason Kreis to Jeff Cassar looked like a smooth one and the team certainly still looks familiar. 3 games in, what are your thoughts on the Cassar era so far? Also, is there a fear that Kreis will be coming back to poach some players when he gets fully going next year?
RSL Soapbox: It's difficult to really say what the Cassar era is like compared to the Kreis era with such a small sample to work with, but there are some observations that I can make. Cassar seems to have a more laid back, positive tone. At least that's what I conclude listening to his interviews and interactions with media. As far as the style of play on the field, it doesn't look to have changed much. The outside backs push forward into the attack a bit more but not to the point that it is really noticeably different. That speaks to the identity that RSL has established that will not likely change any time soon. As for Kreis coming back to poach some players, it is inevitable that he will take at least somebody. RSL has escaped the expansion drafts pretty well unscathed in years past, but Kreis knows the players as well or better than anybody so it might not be so pretty next time. Either way, RSL is in my opinion the deepest team in the league so they will be just fine.
WTR: By the time he left Toronto, many here were writing Joao Plata off as a one trick miniature pony who'd been found out by the league and was set to fade into oblivion. He's injured for this one, but had a decent first year there and a good start to the season. How has his game developed? What's he bringing to the team? Also, while I'm on the ex player theme, how's Aaron Maund working out?
RSLS: Joao Plata has proven to fit into the RSL mold very well. He brings a lot of joviality to the club and interacts well with the players and fans alike. More importantly, he really has shown how good he is on the ball, I think that has been the most pleasant and unexpected surprise. He had a bit of trouble finishing last year but always had an impact on the game in connecting with his teammates. This year, if two games are any indication, it looks like he has figured the finishing thing out which will bode well for us. Aaron Maund has only seen the field a few times, but he is substantially better this year than last year as far as confidence and understanding the system go.
WTR: Luis Gil is in the latest USMNT squad. Is that a deserved calllup? How important is he to this RSL team?
RSLS: There is a fair amount of debate that happens among the RSL faithful about how much potential Luis Gil really has. At the end of the day, he is on a fantastic trajectory for a 20-year-old and is getting better all the time. The key for him will be consistency at home and on the road. He also needs to be a bit more of a leader on the field, but again, he's getting there. He may very well be Javier Morales' replacement at the top of the diamond at some point.
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RSLS: Besides the obvious big changes like bringing in Defoe and Bradley, what other key changes has TFC made in the offseason to improve?
WTR: Aside from those two, there's the gamble on Brazilian forward Gilberto who's no certainty to succeed as he was hardly lighting the Brazilian league on fire. He was injured through most of pre season but made his debut against DC last week and looked quite sharp, setting up Defoe a couple of times. I'm very much on the fence with him, but if he does even half as well as his (presumably tongue in cheek) target of 25 goals, that'd be a good return alongside Defoe.
There's also Dwayne de Rosario, touted as the heart and soul of TFC, with the suggestion that bringing him back into the fold somehow magically erased all the shitstains left behind by previous management. I don't necessarily buy that, but exactly where he fits in the team and if he can regain his pre-2013 form are two big questions that haven't really been answered yet.
After that we get into the mundane but necessary signings, Jackson from Dallas, who's suspended for this game and Justin Morrow, formerly of San Jose who'll be at left back. They've both looked relatively solid if unspectacular.
IF TFC are going to success this year, there'a also improvements required from within and I think there were 2 players in particular that there were question marks over going into the season. Jonathan Osorio had a good first year in MLS but is being asked to play a new role alongside Michael Bradley in midfield. Doneil Henry is a young centre back with a lot of potential but who has been prone to mistakes as he's worked his way into the first team in previous years. Still only 20, he's the first choice alongside Steven Caldwell. So far both of them have done very well, if they can keep that up then this TFC team actually is for real.
RSLS: Two games and three goals in, is Defoe as dangerous in MLS as he has looked so far?
WTR: Short answer yes. The space he's managed to find in dangerous areas so far is remarkable given his high profile. Against DC last week he got 6 shots off from inside the box. That time only one of them went in, but if he can keep getting chances at that rate, he's going to score a lot of goals. It's all going to come down to the service really and that's going quite well so far. His positioning and speed make him an ideal outlet for a quick counter attack, look for Bradley and Osorio to be trying to spring him free as often as possible. Though we only saw 60 minutes of it last week, his partnership with Gilberto looked quite good, there were concerns that their games were very similar, but so far we've seen Gilberto dropping deeper to be a bit more creative with Defoe the unquestioned spearhead of the attack.
RSLS: How has the culture and enthusiasm around TFC changed from one year ago until now experiencing the lowest of the lows and what is apparently a new direction for the club? How much pressure is there for TFC to make the playoffs?
WTR: There's a huge difference among the fanbase, a renewed enthusiasm that saw the home opener be the first sellout we've seen in a long time, with a genuine buzz of expectation around the ground, it's definitely good to have games that feel like they matter again. That of course has trickled down from above as management have talked a good game (and wow can Tim Leiweke talk) about their expectations and their plans for TFC's future. There's a lot of pressure to justify the expense and the hype and to show that things really are different. Also Tim Leiweke has talked openly about the fact that given the money they've put in, if TFC do well this year (make the playoffs is apparently the barometer of doing well) he'll be looking for a raise in ticket prices (the last couple of years, they dropped season ticket prices to 2007 levels, then kept them there), I think he'll be very unhappy if he doesn't get the justification to hike up prices and recoup some of that money, though to be fair he made it clear this off season wasn't a one off thing, he's looking to continue with the speculate to accumulate model. Whatever happens, TFC are relevant again, for now at least.