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2013 Toronto FC Preview: Missing Pieces Abound

The new MLS season is almost here which means it is time to look at the off season from Toronto FC and where the team stands heading into the new campaign. The consensus is that TFC is still missing several important pieces.

At least most of this starting lineup is still around, well at least the front row
At least most of this starting lineup is still around, well at least the front row
Victor Decolongon

Last season's record (W-L-D)

2012 MLS Record: 5-21-8 -26 GD (Last Place in MLS)

2011-2012 CONCACAF Champions League: Advanced to semi-finals lost 7-3 to Santos Laguna

2012 Voyageurs Cup: 2-0-2 (defended title beating Vancouver Whitecaps 2-1 in final)

2012-2013 CCL: 2-2-0 (second in group, missed quarterfinals)

Key Additions: Kyle Bekker, Emery Welshman, Gale Agbossoumonde, Joe Bendik, Danny Califf, Justin Braun, Julio Cesar

Key Losses: Torsten Frings, Ryan Johnson, Milos Kocic, Adrian Cann, Dicoy Williams, Ty Harden, Joao Plata, Eric Hassli, Eric Avila, Aaron Maund, Freddy Hall

Projected starting XI (4-4-2): Stefan Frei; Ashtone Morgan, Darren O'Dea, Danny Califf, Richard Eckersley; Emery Welshman, Julio Cesar, Terry Dunfield, Reggie Lambe; Luis Silva, Justin Braun (Danny Koevermans once fit)

Bold Prediction: Toronto FC defends their Voyageurs Cup crown and make a serious push for the playoffs for only the second time in franchise history as the team has a strong second half once the roster starts to take shape.

Biggest Fear: It all goes as wrong as fans are starting to worry that it just might. TFC finishes rock bottom of the league once again handing Vancouver the top pick and crashes out of the Vs Cup early, ending the one source of happiness fans could count on in recent seasons. A year with no silverware at all in 2013 as the club doesn't even win the Trillium Cup.

Barring some kind of small miracle the playoff drought looks set to continue in 2013. Looking at the player turnover at TFC one could make a very strong case that the roster going into the new season is actually worse than the one that finished dead last in 2012. There is very little reason for TFC fans to have high hopes for the new season other than clinging to the hope that the club might still make some key additions.

Kevin Payne did suggest that the club is looking at as many as six players that might come in on loan this season that could be contributors in 2013, but for now it seems like the closest reinforcements are not going to be ones that put the club into the playoff mix. Adding any of the supplemental draft picks or trialists currently with the club would be nice in terms of depth, but the club is still in need with starting quality players to replace the ones they lost.

Since the end of 2012 Toronto has lost four players that would be considered regular starters in Johnson, Kocic, Frings and Hassli. The loss of Kocic is softened by still having Stefan Frei around but the other ones are big blows. Adding Justin Braun and drafting Emery Welshman is not enough to fill the void left in the attack by dealing Johnson and Hassli and then Frings is basically irreplaceable. Bringing in Julio Cesar should soften the blow a bit but if he is not fit and the club is forced to rely on Jeremy Hall in the middle of the park it could be an ugly start to the year.

The one area where TFC has managed to improve this off season is the defence. Bringing in Califf and Agbossoumonde gives them quality in the starting lineup and some needed depth at CB. They are still scarily thin on the outside with no real backups in place for Eckersley and Morgan but at least things look better down the middle.

TFC might just have the players in place to make a drastic improvement on their goals against from last season (a league worst 62) but that is not going to matter unless they can find some goal scoring. The attacking options they have are not going to strike fear into any team around the league despite the likes of Silva, Bekker, and Welshman all having the potential to be very good players in the long run. Until Danny Koevermans is back in the lineup it will likely have to be scoring by committee for this squad which might be tough.

Based on what we saw in the preseason Nelsen plans to have this team play a game that is based on defending the entire length of the field and starting to press the opposition in their own end of the field. It is a game plan that should see Toronto improve defensively if the players all buy in and put in the required work but it also sacrifices some of the attack as a trade off.

We may not be in for the return of Prekiball in 2013 but with the current roster at the club being in need of reinforcement in so many areas, a sound defensive game involving the entire XI looks to be the best thing that TFC could do. There is no way they could go out and trade goals with teams this year so trying to prevent them might be the only option.

2013 could well be a long season for TFC fans and it might be wise to start buying into the preseason 2014 approach and just look for signs of progress and development this season. If this is finally the regime that lasts long enough to complete a rebuild than hopefully 2013 will be the year that lays the ground work for the club's future successes, hopefully.

If TFC does manage to find a way to hang around the Eastern Conference playoff race until these alleged reinforcement arrive then who knows, we might actually have something to be hopeful about in the short term as well.