'13 Season Preview: Another year, another overhaul for TFC

11:56 AM, Feb 19, 2013   |    comments
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Toronto, ON (Sports Network) - 2012 was supposed to be the year Toronto FC finally rose from the doldrums of MLS to make its first-ever appearance in the postseason.

But, perhaps in classic TFC fashion, the club floundered spectacularly and did not earn a win in league play until a 1-0 victory over Philadelphia Union on May 26.

The Reds finished with season in the basement of the Eastern Conference with just five victories and 23 total points. Coming off such a poor campaign, Toronto went for the overhaul again, making numerous changes to the roster, as well as changes in the manager's office and the front office.

Toronto began its newest attempt to change the losing culture surrounding the club in November 2012 by appointing Kevin Payne as president and general manager.

Payne spent 17 seasons with D.C. United turning them into the most successful club in U.S., professional soccer history.

"I am very proud and excited to be joining Toronto FC," Payne said at his introductory press conference. "Toronto is a great soccer market with passionate fans and world-class facilities. The club has a great ownership team who are committed to winning and providing all the necessary resources to do so."

With Payne on board, then-manager Paul Mariner was relieved of his duties and the club made what is probably the most bizarre coaching hire in soccer history.

On January 8, Toronto FC hired then-current Queens Park Rangers defender and New Zealand international Ryan Nelsen as its next head coach.

Payne and Nelsen have a history, as the 35-year-old played four seasons for Payne at D.C. United, where he captained the side to its fourth MLS Cup title in 2004.

But hiring an active player to be your head coach? Certainly a strange move for a franchise desperately searching for an identity. But in the end, Nelsen's leadership qualities on and off the pitch won him the job.

"Ryan has better leadership qualities than any professional athlete I have ever been around," Payne said of his new man in charge. "I always thought Ryan would end up becoming an outstanding head coach some day when he was done playing."

With the new management pieces in place, the pair turned their attention to the roster. Joao Plata was traded to Real Salt Lake and Eric Hassli was shipped to FC Dallas.

Goalkeeper Milos Kocic and forward Ryan Johnson were traded to the Portland Timbers and then Payne and Nelsen went to work putting together their desired roster.

In return from Portland, the Reds received goalkeeper Joe Bendik to back up Stefan Frei, and then won a weighted lottery among six MLS teams to acquire defender Gale Agbossoumonde.

The club also signed former Sporting Kansas City midfielder Julio Cesar and acquired forward Justin Braun in a trade with Real Salt Lake. Canadian international Kyle Bekker was selected in the SuperDraft and veteran defender Danny Califf was taken in stage 2 of the MLS re-entry draft.

Toronto does have a bit of star power with midfielder Torsten Frings and forward Danny Koevermans returning to the fold. Koevermans, however, will likely not be ready for the start of the season due to a torn ACL he suffered in July, and Frings is coming off hip surgery, but is expected to be ready for the start of the season.

With Koevermans out of commission for a while, the scoring load will fall on the shoulders of Braun, who should relish a fresh start with TFC after recording zero goals in 2012 with Real Salt Lake and the Montreal Impact, and attacking midfielder Luis Silva.

Silva scored five goals and added five assists last season in 30 appearances and could be poised for a breakout campaign in his sophomore season.

The biggest question for Toronto FC this season under the new regime will be how quickly Payne and Nelsen's reconstructed roster can jell and start to create a culture of winning within the club.

The good news for TFC? There's only one way to go from here.

2012 IN REVIEW: Toronto FC stumbled out of the gate, going winless in their first nine league matches and never recovered from the incredibly poor start. The Reds finished at the bottom of the Eastern Conference with just five wins and 23 points, well out of playoff position.

ACQUISITIONS: Justin Braun (F), Joe Bendik (GK), Danny Califf (D), Julio Cesar (M), Gale Agbossoumonde (D), Kyle Bekker (M).

LOSSES: Milos Kocic (GK), Eric Hassli (F), Ryan Johnson (F), Joao Plata (F), Eric Avila (M).

OUTLOOK: Questions linger about whether Nelsen is the right man to guide the rebuilding effort, and Califf and Agbossoumonde should help stabilize a shaky backline that allowed a league-high 62 goals last campaign -- 16 of which came in the final 15 minutes of action. Payne and Nelsen certainly have a difficult task at hand in trying to change the culture of the team and breaking the lengthy postseason drought is highly unlikely in 2013.

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