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Toronto FC 2011 Season review. Part one, Preseason to June.

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How did you like the first half of the season Stefan?
How did you like the first half of the season Stefan?

Well there it is, the 2011 season is over for Toronto FC, 33 points, 16th overall in MLS, but Concacaf Champions League quarter finallists.  That's the basic facts, but how did we get there?  Join me as I go over the whole season, the drama, the debacles, the big signings, the debacles and the surprising wins.  It was a struggle at times, but we've made it through, now, let's go through it again.

Pre-season

After an excrutiatingly long wait, and with the Earl and Jimmy braintrust left in charge of getting ripped off to pick up Nathan Sturgis and confusing everyone with the whole De Ro at Celtic thing, TFC fans finally got the big names they were hoping for with Aron Winter, Bob de Klerk and Paul Mariner brought on board to manage and coach and lead the club out of the chasing it's own tail wilderness of the Mo Johnston era.  Their first action was the Superdraft, where they broke my heart by trading Chad Barrett, and also picked up some tiny Ecuadorian guy called Joao Plata.  There was talk of a winning culture, but the drama just wouldn't go away, with De Ro unhappy, and Adrian Cann having his own dispute that only ended with a public humiliation.

They went to Turkey, then Orlando and Charleston, but worryingly the squad still wasn't really built.  Alan Gordon came along in a swap for Nick Labrocca, and a few unknown Europeans showed up, but the squad was still very threadbare both qualitatively and quantatively going into the start of the season.  I was already calling this year #preseason 2012, and my pre season review was definitely on the glum side.  My major goal, never mind playoffs,  was just for the season to be good enough that we wouldn't have to fire Winter and co and start all over again.

March

The season kicked off in Vancouver, for their first ever MLS game, and the home fans definitely had a good time as the Whitecaps ran riot, Eric Hassli in particular taking advantage of the curious decision to play Adrian Cann at Left Back.  Nick Soolsma had a very poor game, subbed off at half time and not seen again for a long time.  I made two predictions after the game.  1- The Vancouver Whitecaps won't look that good again all season.  2- Toronto FC won't look that bad again all season. and I'm very happy that I got at least the first one right.

The home opener the following week was against another expansion side, the Portland Timbers, and with Cann back in the middle, the defence was a lot more solid. Javier Martina announced himself as a real star with two goals, firstly finishing off a great team move, before a spectacular volley directly from a Frei clearance sealed the 2-0 win.  Some signs of hope from the performance and also from the signing of Alen Stevanovic.  A Jose Mourinho signing at Inter Milan, coming over to MLS to gain experience, this was going to be great, and a good sign of the type of name Aron Winter would be able to attract.

April

April started off with quite the bang, club captain, star player, all time leading scorer Dwayne de Rosario traded to New York for Tony Tchani and Danleigh Borman.  Though the drama and debates would continue throughout the year, De Ro being traded was for the best really, though it really shouldn't have ended like that.  

Borman and Tchani jumped straight into the team as Chivas USA continued TFC's easy schedule to start the season.  Alan Gordon scored against his old team, jumped into the crowd and didn't get a yellow card, Maicon Santos rounded the goalie before missing the empty net and it ended 1-1.

Next up was away at San Jose, Alen Stevanovic and Danleigh Borman played well down the left, Alan Gordon scored again and TFC came away with a creditable 1-1 tie.

In a sign of things to come, Alan Gordon missed the next game with an injury, as David Beckham came to town for the first time in 5 years, and Chad Barrett returned.  Both hit the woodwork and TFC escaped with a 0-0 tie.  A creditable result that left TFC with a 4 games unbeaten streak.

Next up was D.C United, the last place team in 2010 and a good chance to get another result before the easy opening schedule ended.  Instead TFC went 2-0 down within 10 minutes, Harden got sent off and we ended up with a 3-0 defeat in which the only saving grace was the supporters, Aron Winter was very complimentary, though the powers that be were less impressed as flares and smoke bombs led to crackdowns at future games.

Columbus came to town next, Tony Tchani scored, jumped into the crowd and did get a yellow card, his second, leading to a red and TFC had to grimly hold on for another tie, once again unable to beat Columbus.

The Voyageurs Cup started with the semi final against Edmonton, and a thoroughly professsional 3-0 win, Richard Eckersley made his debut, Joao Plata got his first start and impressed, and Maicon Santos scored twice and Alan Gordon got the other as TFC wrapped up the semi final before the second leg.

April ended with another 3-0 hammering, this time in Seattle as TFC were never in the game, Maicon Santos once again showing an inability to play the Attacking Midfield spot with any success.

May

May started off with rumours of Nana Attakora being traded, before a mediocre second leg against Edmonton.  A 1-0 win from a strangely full strength lineup that backfired with the injury suffered by Alan Gordon.

The game against Houston was Richard Eckersley's first MLS start, but the star of the show was Joao Plata.  He scored and set up the second goal for Maicon Santos, and his skill and enthusiasm made him as popular with the crowd as he obviously is amongst his teammates as well.  The best bit for me was seeing him get the man of the match trophy and raise it up to all corners of the stadium as if it was a real honour, rather than the quick photo-op for the sponsor that it really is.  Thoroughly charming.

Aron Winter complained bitterly about the refereeing after the next game, the first of many 1-0 losses to FC Dallas.  Bob de Klerk's in game protesting saw him sent off, leading to what is still one of my favourite photos of the season.  

Back at home, the game against Chicago was once again the Joao Plata show, and once again he and Maicon Santos both scored and did their fun dancing, but after Plata was subbed off, and amid some pretty torrential rain, Chicago came back to tie the game 2-2.

Next up was the Voyageurs Cup final, with the first leg in Vancouver seeing TFC lose Jacob Peterson and Tony Tchani to first half injuries and then somehow escape with a 1-1 tie after the Whitecaps dominated the second half.

Julian de Guzman was suspended for the next game in Colorado, but Nathan Sturgis stepped in and got the job done, and we came away with a very creditable 0-0 draw, amid signs that switching to the point back formation after the Seattle fiasco had led to some much welcomed consistency.

It was back to Bmo Field for the 2nd leg of the Voyageurs Cup final.  TFC didn't look great, Adrian Cann in particular was struggling and an Eric Hassli goal put Vancouver 1-0 up.   Of course it all didn't matter as a big thunderstorm caused a postponement, with the game reset to 0-0, and rescheduled for July 2nd.

May came to an end with a visit from the Philadelphia Union.  After a decent month, we were due for another of our sporadic fiascos, and it arrived with a vengeance.  Adrian Cann was rested, a move I applauded at the time, but  that meant his replacement was Ty Harden, and it all went wrong.  2-0 down within 10 minutes, 3-0 down at half time.  A bit of a fightback to start the second as some reckless attacking saw up get 2 back and it was almost game on, but the reckless attacking left us exposed at the back and Philly eventually took advantage to rebuild their lead and it ended up 6-2, TFC's heaviest ever home defeat.  So much for consistency.

Things got worse after that as Adrian Cann went down with an injury sustained at training, a torn ACL meaning he was out for the season, and leaving TFC's defence suddenly looking very vulnerable.

June

June opened with another home game, this time against Kansas City, who were coming to the end of an 11 game road trip to start their season, and this was by far the dullest game of the season.  A squirrel enlivened proceedings with a mazy run and goal at half time, and it's better than letting in 6 goals I suppose, but seriously dull.

The Gold Cup came along in June, meaning TFC were without Julian de Guzman for a while.  Another surprising draw with league leaders LA Galaxy followed, Alan Gordon scoring twice, including an injury time equaliser.  That was followed by another 0-0, this time away to New England, before Seattle came to town.

It looked like another 0-0, a decent defensive performance from TFC, though they were playing against ten men for almost all the second half, until Fredy Montero scored with a free kick right at the death to give Seattle the 1-0 win.  

Halfway through the season, and I was seriously unimpressed.  Only 15 points from what was a very easy schedule, with 10 out of 17 games played at home, Aron Winter was looking tactically naive, the drama was continuing and the hard line he repeatedly took with players didn't seem to be working out all that well, there was clearly still a long way to go. 

That was illustrated nicely by the next game at Real Salt Lake, as a midfield of Nathan Sturgis, Dan Gargan and Gianluca Zavarise were unsurprisingly dominated by the dirty hippy and co and the 3-1 final was actually flattering to TFC. 

That set up a crucial two games at home with Vancouver, June ending with a Wednesday night MLS game, which TFC actually won, Nick Soolsma scoring from a twice taken penalty and then we held on for the win in a dull game against what was a bit of a B team from the Whitecaps, probably most interesting for the move of Richard Eckersley to an emergency Centre Back spot.  

A good end to the month, results wise at least, but what really gave hope for the future happened earlier that day, TFC announcing at a press conference that we'd signed Dutch striker Danny Koevermans and German midfielder Torsten Frings to multi year DP contracts.  They wouldn't be able to play until July 15th when the transfer window officially opened, and given their age and the past record of DP's in the rest of the league as well as Toronto, there was still a lot of room for doubt, but bloody hell!  that was quite the statement of intent.