Questions: The Process in Toronto and Optimism in Columbus

Portland forward Bright Dike.  Credit: Howard C. Smith -

By Tony Edwards – San Jose, CA (Feb 12, 2013) US Soccer Players – In Tuesday’s column, Tony looks at different approaches in Toronto and Columbus, jerseys in Major League Soccer, and the North American Soccer League in Northern Virginia.

Is Toronto President and General Manager Kevin Payne promising the playoffs to Toronto fans?

Not exactly. Payne told SportsNet that his focus is making the team better, not guaranteeing anything.

“…I’m not really interested in talking about the playoffs right now,” Payne said. Then Payne moved to the type of business speak that’s come to be expected in sports management. “I’ll talk about the process that we’re trying to put in place to make our team better all day long. If we’re successful in establishing that process then we will have success on the field. But we have to stop worrying about the end result before we get the process right.”

What’s an open question is how Toronto fans will respond to ‘the process.’ This is not a team in isolation. It’s a team in Major League Soccer, where clubs go from hopeless to playoffs in a season. It’s a safe assumption that the fans are very interested in talking about the playoffs in 2013, just like they were for the last six seasons.  That safety net is success in Toronto, but the club enters 2013 with an inexperienced coaching staff and a roster that, on paper, might not be as good as last season’s. Remember, it’s a process.

Taking the opposite approach from Payne, how bullish are the Crew’s leadership about this season’s squad?

Team President Mark McCullers and Coach Robert Warzycha seem to think quite highly of the team they are putting together. “I definitely believe we are going to make the playoffs and I believe we are a team that can win the Eastern Conference championship,” McCullers told even before the team signed Argentinian defensive midfielder Matias Sanchez.

Now with the 25-year old Copa Libertadores winner’s signature, Warzycha is optimistic about his team.  “This team can be that good [as the 2008 and 2009 teams] because we have good players,” he said.

After a winter of teams being cautious in their pronouncements, it’s good to see a franchise being publicly positive about their players and not whining about the salary cap. Again, in MLS it’s a league of contrasts and what teams say publicly certainly counts.

Continuing an unwelcome trend in the Western Conference during preseason, which key player suffered a long-term injury for Portland last week?

Bright Dike tore his anterior cruciate ligament and he’s out until August. If you’re scoring at home, that’s two San Jose forwards (Gordon and Lenhart), Salt Lake’s playmaker (Morales), Seattle’s key central defender (Ianni), and now Dike that are likely to miss at least some of the season. Dike scored five goals in the Timbers last 11 games and seems like a good fit for new coach Caleb Porter’s system.

Starting next season, how many teams in MLS will have at least one new jersey each season?

All of them, according to this article in the New York Times. In 2013, a mere 12 out of 19 will unveil some form of new jersey (home, road, or third). This is no surprise for soccer, with adidas going with the same seasonal turnover as we see in other leagues. How that works here is a good question, especially with the top jersey mover in MLS history no longer with the League. Yes, we’re talking about David Beckham. Just like those other leagues, we should probably expect liberal interpretations of color schemes.

So the NASL’s Virginia team has a name, but do they have a place to play?

The Virginia franchise scheduled to start play in 2014 announced late last week that they would be known as the Cavalry, which seems a little too similar to Cavaliers, the name of the University of Virginia’s sports teams, but then again, appending ‘FC’ to ‘Virginia Cavalry’ makes all the difference, right?

The club had former US National Team players John Harkes and Eddie Pope at their opening ceremony. Former DC United goalkeeper Mark Simpson is the team’s Director of Soccer Operations, giving the team a nice local base of knowledge.

It all sounds great, you think they are doing their necessary preparation work, and they have a year to be ready. Well, there’s a slight problem. The stadium is still in the approval process with a meeting on the proposed stadium in mid-February). Though it’s obviously soccer friendly with the team in place before construction starts, it’s primarily an independent minor league baseball team. That team has also yet to play a game, waiting on the stadium to start life in the Atlantic League.

Tony Edwards is a soccer writer from the Bay Area.

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