It’s been a pretty depressing offseason for the reporters, bloggers and other members of the media following Toronto FC.
What do you write or say? The Reds were the best team in the MLS playoffs last season, but lost the final on penalties. They are back as much the same team this year and primed to compete again. Two major signings have been made, and while they are both certainly good enough to be impactful in theory we won’t really know what they will add until we see them on the field. The end.
We can talk about Victor Vazquez, I suppose. Are Toronto adding one of the best attacking midfielders in MLS or a luxury player for certain situations? Was his disappointing spell at Cruz Azul really a consequence of the personal problems he has described in Mexico or a sign of the beginning of his decline as a footballer?
Then there is Chris Mavinga. Is he truly motivated to turn his once-promising career around, or looking to put his feet up on a comfortable wage in a nice city? When can we actually expect him to be in the lineup, having seen limited action during preseason?
The only way to get a definite answer to any of those questions is to wait and see. That goes, too, when it comes to finding out whether what this team showed in the 2016 postseason was real or just a golden run, never to be repeated. We can be more than a little hopeful it was the former - though expecting them hit to those heights for an entire season, of course, is unrealistic - but the only way we will know for sure is to watch and find out.
The crux of the problem, I suppose, is that Toronto ended the year about as close to a perfect team as you can find in MLS. They locked down quality opponents at the back. The captain of the United States scored, created, tackled, intercepted and generally did it all in midfield. Even the strikers, who had already made a case for being the best pairing in the league, turned it up a notch. The coach struck upon the perfect formation.
They couldn’t score despite their utter dominance in the biggest game of them all, and the acquisition of Vazquez - along with the potential involvement of a couple of talented youngsters like Raheem Edwards and Sergio Camargo every now and then - seems a decent attempt to address that. Otherwise, there was not really anything to find fault in. So what now?
Exacerbating our impatience is the elation of that run to the final. The pain of the loss to Seattle continues to sting, but the insanity of that second leg against Montreal still makes us a little dizzy, too. The 7-0 aggregate win over New York City was a dream filled with more unforgettable moments than seemed possible over an entire season with this club; the derby took every emotion felt in that tie and multiplied it a few hundred times over.
This team’s appetite to feel that way again will not be satisfied until it is back in the biggest game of all, and therein lies one of the two biggest threats to their season, along with their health. Any premature thoughts of the playoffs or lack of focus on the task at hand between now and then will be punished by the slog of the regular season, starting with Real Salt Lake this Saturday.
Toronto are better than both, but they will have taken note of the demise of the Columbus Crew and Portland Timbers after being MLS Cup finalists in 2015. Both started badly and while Portland recovered temporarily only to fall away again, neither really ever got going and both missed last season’s playoffs.
The year after is always harder. Expectations do not pick up during the course of a playoff run, but exist from day one. There is a certain mental fortitude required to cope with that, and - finally - we’re about to start finding out whether our Reds possess it.