Toronto FC are set to announce the capture of two well known faces this coming Monday that will kick start the clubs revival. The Canadian club has agreed bumper deals with Tottenham striker Jermaine Defoe and Roma midfielder Michael Bradley. At a combined transfer fee of $15.5million, the pair are an expensive addition to the squad but something that was very much needed to progress. Both arrive knowing that they need to perform quickly if they are to impress their respective national coaches and secure a place within their country’s squad for the forthcoming World Cup.
Bradley’s arrival is more of an indication of Toronto’s intent and vision than that of Defoe’s. Whilst the England international brings the flair factor to Toronto’s pre season, Bradley brings with him the direction that the club wants to go in. The US international turned down other offers across Europe including at rumoured move back to the English Premiership, to join Toronto. Granted the wages on offer were far more appealing than others on the table, but Bradley has indicated it was more the vision of where TFC are going and the important role he could play that enticed him. It’s a fair indication given that a club the size and stature of Toronto have managed to persuade a player in his prime to join them in the MLS ahead of going to play in one of the better quality leagues in Europe.
Ambition has not been something that TFC has demonstrated greatly in the past five years with only talk of success touted in pre season but little to show for it. Failed strategies, lack of investment and overall interest has hindered progression but now a new dawn is rising over the club, backed with significant investment from its owners, MLSE. The change can be sourced to the arrival of three wise men, less in the biblical sense but more in the footballing sense. With a wealth of knowledge of the game between them and strong reputations to boot, Tim Leiweke, Ryan Nelsen and new GM Tim Bezbatchenko have restarted the faltering heart of the Canadian franchise. Last season was the bedding in period for Nielsen and Leiweke with the final piece in Bezbatchenko arriving late last year. They have wasted little time in identifying and correcting Toronto’s problem areas, the results of which are now being showcased with the arrival of a collection of quality players like Bradley and Defoe. Their collective ambitions is to create a franchise and a team that can challenge the likes of Leiweke’s old club L.A. Galaxy, or last year’s winners Sporting Kansas City for honours. It starts with the building of a spine for the team, with Defoe leading the line supported by Bradley and with Caldwell patrolling the back. A strong reliable goalkeeper is needed to complete the set with questions still lingering over the qualities of current number one, Joe Bendik. Support has been arriving all winter in the form of Brazilian duo Jackson and Gilberto; the latter viewed as something of a coup for the club given his growing reputation back home in Brazil. Adding local boy Dwayne De Rosario gives Nelsen options and the hometown passion his team lacked on several occasions last year. And with Justin Morrow arriving to strengthen the defence, Toronto is starting to look like a squad capable of living up to expectations.
Those expectations are heavy ones given the significant outlay of cash in this pre season. Between Bradley and Defoe, the pair will reportedly split close to $100m in wages over the next four years. They will need to prove their worth and quickly to keep the fans and the three wise men happy. Mid table mediocrity will not do with expectations on competing for a Champions league spot more in line with the managements thinking. Toronto needs to continue to invest with an established goalkeeper and creative midfielder a top priority. Investment in the future of the academy, not just in securing 1st round draft picks is also needed if Toronto is to protect its long term future. With world class facilities already in place, Toronto need to develop more Canadian youngsters who will eventually step into the shoes of Defoe and Bradley, keeping the franchise going. This year’s mission though starts in earnest in March when the judges will be out in force to see what this new era has in store. Will the new look Toronto FC impress or will it be an expensive mistake by a club full of ambitious dreams.