MLS Features: Toronto FC makes a bold statement
By Brian Wright, Soccer Editor
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - After a whirlwind offseason in Major League Soccer which saw several players come to the league from European clubs, no team made a bigger splash than Toronto FC.
Since coming to MLS as an expansion franchise in 2007, Toronto FC has been simply awful. It hasn't made the postseason in its history and has gone through numerous rebuilds attempting to find a winning formula.
But all that losing may come to an end this season.
With former Los Angeles Galaxy executive Tim Leiweke at the helm and a committed ownership group in place in Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, Toronto FC appears ready -- at least on paper -- to crash the postseason party.
TFC lured England international forward Jermain Defoe away from Premier League side Tottenham-Houtspur and broke the bank to bring U.S. international Michael Bradley over from AS Roma.
MLS is generally reluctant to report on salary figures, but various reports indicated Bradley will make $6.5 million this season.
In addition to Bradley and Defoe, the club also inked Brazilian forward Gilberto from Portuguesa. In four seasons in the Brazilian Serie A, he made a combined 109 appearances, scoring 38 goals and adding 10 assists.
Despite bringing in such high-priced talent, the question remained whether the club had done enough to earn a first-ever playoff appearance.
Last Saturday against Seattle Sounders FC, we may have received an answer.
It took just 16 minutes for the former Spurs man to open his MLS account as he found a gap in the Seattle back line and was put through by a nice feed from Jonathan Osorio before side-footing it past former TFC goalkeeper Stefan Frei.
Not a bad way to start your first game in a new league, but it got better for Defoe in the 24th minute when he collected a poor back pass from Marco Pappa and went in alone before placing it past Frei again.
Seattle recovered from the shock of being two goals down at home and pulled one back in the 67th minute when Obafemi Martins found Clint Dempsey at the top of the box and the U.S. captain smashed it home for his first tally of the new campaign.
But the Toronto defense held out to claim three points and make some history in the process. The win marked the first time in the club's seven-year history that it won on opening day.
There was considerable talk surrounding this Toronto team following the acquisitions of Bradley and Defoe, but the team handled the hype and pressure of opening the season in the cauldron that is CenturyLink Field just fine.
Toronto coach Ryan Nelsen said Saturday's performance by Defoe was exactly what he had in mind:
"That was Jermain Defoe," Nelsen told the league's official website. "Let's just say I'm not surprised. When the ball falls in those situations, he puts them away. That's why we brought him in. I was hoping he'd get in those scenarios and he got in them."
Nelsen also was pleased with the performance of his midfield general in his TFC debut.
"What Michael brings is an absolute energy," the manager said. "His character, his confidence, is infectious on people. He made Seattle turn over the ball a lot of times. He got into very nice positions.
"You need character and strength to battle what the opposition throw at you and Michael was right in the middle of everything."
Bradley has a habit of popping up in the middle of everything, whether it be for TFC or the U.S. men's national team, while Defoe has made a career out of taking his opportunities and finishing them.
But is it enough to lead TFC to the postseason?
With a young and improving back line, Osorio carving out space in the midfield along with Bradley, and Defoe giving opposing defenses fits in the final third, it's difficult to envision this club not making the postseason.
You have to think Nelsen's club is only going to get better as the season wears on, but after one game, it surely made a massive statement to the rest of the league.
A Red November could be on the horizon for MLS this season.
03/19 12:29:04 ET