It's rumoured that Chris Cummins may be leaving Toronto FC, although he denied it yesterday to the CBC. Fine, we'll see. But while I was previously opposed to a managerial shift, I'm starting to change my mind.
Jason de Vos' column puts down TFC's failure to qualify for the playoffs this season to too much individualism in the dressing room, and an unprofessional attitude on the part of the club's lesser lights. "Tactics are meaningless if the players who walk over that white line won’t fight for each other."
I agree, but the best tacticians also tend to be the best man managers. Think Arrigo Sacchi at AC Milan. The problem with the tactical set-up at TFC now is that it doesn't demand enough individually from the players. Key team members get slotted into pre-existing positions, and failure to perform means they don't get first team football. In other words, you're creating a first team and making the players go to it, rather than building players capable of forming a first team.
Right now, Toronto FC has arguably the best midfield in the league, but suffers huge deficiencies at the front and back. Tele Santana's '82 Brazil, while obviously not in the same solar system as our three year-old MLS team, had a similar "problem." They overcame it with intelligent, narrow, possession football.
Toronto FC has two designated players in midfield position, De Rosario and De Guzman. De Rosario is normally afforded a lot of freedom, and rightly so; he's good holding up the ball, moving it into space. De Guzman on the other hand was trained under the Dutch system that prizes ability on the ball above all else, and made his name playing in league where success and failure is determined by ability to hold the ball. His position as holding midfielder meant it was his job at Depo to win the ball back deep and intelligently direct play moving forward.
TFC are still playing under an English system perfectly suited to BMO Field's terrible plastic pitch, with long balls sent up to a big centre forward hoping to take advantage of a bad bounce or two. The problem is, that centre forward has retired, grass is on its way, and Toronto FC has been left with a midfield packed with individual talent. Going for a big central defender and a fox-in-the-box striker may get you into the playoffs, but it's not going to win you an MLS Cup, nor will it produce particularly memorable soccer.
Possession football is difficult. It requires tactical acuity, high fitness level and excellent technique on and off the ball. You need a manager capable of imposing a high individual standard and team spirit, and if de Vos is to be believed, Chris Cummins is not that man. Wouldn't it be cheaper in the long term to invest in a standard of play to reflect TFC's sweet new flat top and Rolls Royce engine? Why doesn't Mo try breaking the bank instead on a manager capable of bringing a show worthy of our Canadian content midfield to Toronto?