Since 2007, Toronto FC have tried to do things differently. They have signed players that few other MLS sides would consider, hired coaches that would never get an opportunity elsewhere, and tried to play systems—most famously Aron Winter’s Dutch 4-3-3—rarely used in the league.
It hasn’t worked. MLS rarely rewards those clubs that think outside the box. It’s more of a copycat league, where a lot of what worked in 1996 still works in 2013.
Based on today’s MLS SuperDraft, it appears that the Reds are still trying to forge their own path.
Holding the No 1 and No 3 picks in the draft—normally a position that fans and teams dream of—the Reds spent all day playing hot potato with the slots. First they moved No 1 to No 4. Then No 4 to No 10 and finally No 10 to No 16.
So, what did they receive for all those swaps? A star player?
No. They got money—allocation money, that odd asset unique to quirky MLS. It’s hardly the type of thing that inspires fans.
And it’s not what most MLS teams have typically sought after in pas SuperDrafts. TFC essentially told MLS to take its draft and, well, put it somewhere where the sun don’t shine. They chose to take the opportunity to nab proven college players and flip it for more risk. The allocation can be used to sign players from overseas, or to pay down the salary cap. Regardless of how they use it, they have yet to do so. The pressure is now on Kevin Payne to use the money to make Toronto better.
The Reds’ history however is not promising in that regard.
It would have been far less risky for Payne to go down the conventional route. In North America, fans will give teams a lot of leeway in the player drafts—the promise of youth is more alluring than the reality of the present. Walker Zimmerman, the highly-rated defender that went No 7 overall but who was ranked No 1 by many teams, may never work out. However, TFC fans would have likely given him lots of time—they would have talked him up and believed in his potential. They would have ignored his mistakes in 2013 and argued for patience.
Now, Payne must deliver immediately. Very few fans in Toronto will be satisfied with promises of saving allocation money for a rainy day. They are going to want to see a warm body in TFC red and they are going to want to see him yesterday.
Even with the two selections TFC did make in the draft, they are taking a risk. On the surface it would seem like a nice PR move by TFC to select two Canadians in Kyle Bekker at Mo 3 and Emery Welshman at No 16, but Canadian fans are notorious for being less patient with Canadian players.
It’s as if the fans don’t trust that the Canadians are good enough to go that high in the draft and therefore view the selections cynically; it’s about pandering, not team building, in some people’s minds.
In fairness to Toronto, the draft today isn’t what it was even five years ago (and, for that matter, Kevin Payne should not bear the sins of Mo Johnston/Aron Winter/Paul Mariner). The MLS academies are gaining a greater influence on the MLS player pool, which has made the draft class weaker. Prior to being fired, Mariner was on record as having said that this was the worst draft class that he could remember. Although he wasn’t directly involved in the draft today, he would have based that opinion on the staff that Payne utilized. So, it stands to reason the Reds were less than enthusiastic about the draft.
Still, the moves today were a risk—the type of risk TFC has made in the past and that has never worked out.
Reds’ fans are hoping this time will be different.