Well so far since the season ended, we've given you all a review of how the 2011 season went down, a recap of the end of season press conference, an anlysis of Aron Winter's tactical ideals and compromises and a look back at a busy trading year, as well as looking ahead to the expansion draft. There's still the Waking the Red end of season awards to be handed out on Monday, and over the next few weeks, starting this Monday, we'll be reviewing and ranking every single player to have donned the hallowed red and white jerseys this year. You lucky bastards.
All of that, though giving the bare facts, doesn't really get into the question of what any good season review should ultimately be about. Was it a good year? Can this season be considered a success? I wanted to wait a little bit to answer that question, let the temporary glow from the Dallas win fade and be able to put that undeniable achievement into the proper perspective.
So was this season a success? Well that depends on your expectations and the importance you put on short term and long term success. Short term, looking at this season strictly on it's own, outside of the continuum of seasons past and future, and with expectation that in such a parity filled league as MLS, being one of the 55% that made this year's version of the playoffs should be the minimum benchmark of success, no, no it wasn't.
Spinal Tap introduced the phrase shit sandwich to the world, and that's what this season ultimately was. The mid season revamp, introduction of two DP's and improved results were the slices of bread to make it somewhat palatable, and qualifying for the CCL quarter finals was a delightful cherry on top, but they still aren't enough to distract from the fact you were just forced to consume a turd.
Many people approached the season hoping that while the plans for long term success and culture change that Aron Winter, Paul Mariner and co were talking about were being put into place, the team could still be competitive this year, that it wasn't too much to ask that they go all out to at least secure a first playoff berth in 5 years. If the long wait for the management team to be put in place, and yet another ineffective pre season made such people nervous, well the trading of team captain, star player and only reliable goalscorer Dwayne De Rosario was as if they'd waved a white flag.
Aron Winter's insistence on playing the 4-3-3 and the Dutch style of football, despite clearly not having a squad that was capable of doing that well led to inevitably poor results, and before we knew it, before it had even really got going, the MLS season was to all intents and purposes over. Now fans were left with just a bunch of meaningless games to attend, with nothing really to cheer for, if they even bothered going at all, and looking at the crowds, fewer and fewer of them did. Sure things did improve after Torsten Frings, Danny Koevermans and the rest of the summer additions came along, and the CCL run ended up working out very well, but in reality it was just another wasted season.
But that's only if you're looking at this season all by itself. If instead you take a long term view, and see this is as the beginning of the Aron Winter era, TFC 4.0, whatever you might want to call it, then I'd say there's enough positives to find that you can call this season a success.
All along I referred to the season as pre-season 2012, and it really played out that way. The first half of the season was very experimental, with many different players tried out, and the preferred formation stubbornly stuck to through all the numerous breakdowns that were sure to come as the players figured things out. Eventually decisions were made on the players, some of the new additions had played well and deserved to stay, and as always happens in preseason, some of them had struggled, and were shipped out, and replaced with new triallists. There followed a bit more experimentation, and discovering which of the new players weren't really good enough either. Then, as usually happens towards the end of pre-season, a fairly clear first XI developed, and strict tactical ideals were compromised to enable a bit more of a winning mentality to develop before things start getting serious. There's obviously a lot of tweaking of the squad to be done, but we're on the right track and looking good for when the real stuff starts in 2012, all in all a very productive pre season.
Obviously the above paragraph is a bit on the facetious side, but it's basic message is true. If you looked at this season with the lowered expectations of merely hoping for solid signs of progress and hope for the future (and putting aside the 4 previous years where you already had to do that was definitely tough) then you're probably pretty satisfied.
It looked a bit dodgy in the first half, the squad clearly wasn't good enough, Aron Winter was looking tactically naive and only beating an equally poor Vancouver team for the Voyageurs Cup saved it from being a total disaster. But the reshaping of the squad, though a bit hit and miss, has definitely improved things, to the point where aside from central Defence, we've got a decent first team, and a few good options on the bench as well, with genuine competition for places and positive selection problems.
Tactically as well Aron Winter showed the ability to adapt to the limitations of his squad and the challenges posed by different teams, to be able to change up his formation, sometimes sticking with his preferred 4-3-3, but alternating it with a 3-4-3 or at times even a full on 5 man defence.
For the first time in a long time, and maybe ever in the history of the club, we've got a captain worthy of the armband in Torsten Frings, a truly world class player who can have a positive effect in the dressing room, as well as lead by example with his play and his organisational skills on the field. That he's willing to do what's necessary for the team and move away from his preferred midfield position to help the defence is a very good thing.
We finally have a striker who can consistently score goals, and finish off moves in Danny Koevermans. His ability to create that extra yard of space for himself in the penalty box was really exceptional, and the clinical way he took advantage of that space, and the rate at which he scored was phenomenal, if he can start where he left off next season, then look out.
Something that will help with that is the fact we now have a few good secondary scoring options. In the first half of the season, if it wasn't the Centre Forward, whether Maicon Santos or Alan Gordon, scoring, it was nobody. Now there's Ryan Johnson, Peri Marosevic, and Joao Plata scoring regularly, with Nick Soolsma and Eric Avila, and even Julian de Guzman chipping in as well.
All of these are very good things, add in the fact that for the first time in 3 years we won't be completely changing direction in the off season, and the other fact that there's two huge games right at the start of the season to make sure we're ready right form the start for once, and I'm definitely optimistic.
So yes, as a supporter, this season was tough, challenging, miserable and for some games downright pointless, in and of itself definitely not a successful one. But there was the CCL to provide a point of interest and in the end a tangible achievement to take away, so even on it's own it wasn't all bad.
Mainly though, I think this is the season we'll eventually be able to look back on and say that this was when we started getting it right. Given that's pretty much all I dared to hope for from this season, I'm actually pretty happy.