TORONTO – Playoffs or bust.
That’s been the stance of long-suffering Toronto FC fans this year after watching the Reds stumble and bumble through seven Major League Soccer campaigns without a single playoff berth to show for it.
Now after an amazing off-season that saw the team add three designated players—Michael Bradley, Jermain Defoe and Gilberto—TFC currently sits in third place in the Eastern Conference with a little more than half of the regular season to go.
With games in hand, the Reds are in a solid position to finally end their post-season drought. But even if a playoff spot isn’t secured this year, it wouldn’t necessarily mean the end of coach Ryan Nelsen’s tenure.
General manager Tim Bezbatchenko spoke with a small group of local reporters on Wednesday ahead of TFC’s home game against the Vancouver Whitecaps. It was a forum where media members who regularly cover the team were given the chance to ask Bezbatchenko questions on a number of wide-ranging topics.
Towards the end of the two-hour Q&A came THE question: What happens if Toronto FC doesn’t make the playoffs in 2014? Would that automatically lead to Nelsen getting fired?
“Not necessarily. We’d have to look at the circumstances and the reasons why we didn’t make the playoffs. Maybe it was injuries or bad luck,” Bezbatchenko said.
“But to categorically say Ryan would automatically get fired if we didn’t make the playoffs, that’s not the case. Like anything we’d have to look at it first and make an assessment.”
Bezbatchenko also said that he’s pleased with the job Nelsen has done this year, and sees the former New Zealand international as the team’s long-term coach.
“Ryan has been terrific,” Bezbatchenko said.
Among the other topics discussed:
• Bezbatchenko revealed that Toronto FC is working with the Vancouver Whitecaps, Montreal Impact and the Canadian Soccer Association to lobby MLS and the United States Soccer Federation about changing the rules regarding Canadian players on American teams in the league.
Right now, Americans playing for Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal are classified as “domestic,” but Canadians on American teams are considered “international.” Each team in MLS has eight international spots (although you can trade them), and the rest of the roster must be made of domestic players.
• Because Canadians are considered internationals when playing in the U.S., a lot of American teams are leery about using one of their international roster spots on a player from Canada. It also hurts TFC, the Whitecaps and Impact, as it sometimes makes it harder for them to trade Canadian players to American clubs.
• “There’s an inequity there that has to be addressed,” Bezbatchenko offered.
• TFC’s general manager called the club’s relationship with the Wilmington Hammerheads of the third-tier USL-Pro Division. He also said the two sides are having talks about possibly extending their affiliation beyond this season.
• Bezbatchenko also didn’t rule out Toronto FC launching its own USL-Pro team, and that Hamilton is one several possible destinations.
• He admitted on-loan goalkeeper Julio Cesar will likely return to Queens Park Rangers sometime this week.
• He also confirmed that a number of clubs have expressed an interest in Brazilian forward Gilberto.
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