Thirteen points and two wins from 17 games certainly isn’t good, but it doesn’t tell the whole story as rookie coach Ryan Nelsen has tried to rebuild Toronto FC on the fly in 2013.
How have Nelsen and the wide variety of players he’s used done so far?
It’s time for a mid-season report card.
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Ryan Nelsen (B): Taking charge of TFC this year would be a tough task for any man, never mind a rookie with no coaching experience. Overall, Nelsen has done a good job. The team started out competitive before a lot of changes – some voluntary, some created by injuries — forced what was effectively a second pre-season. Nelsen’s shown toughness by benching and even trading popular players, but it’s somewhat belied by publically making excuses for poor results, such as bad luck and poor refereeing. Tactically, he’s focused on the defence, a good idea and not surprising from a former centre back. Generally that’s worked, though it’ll be interesting to see how he manages to open things up a little to create some more offence. Set-piece defending and conceding late goals remain issues to be solved, but overall it’s a promising start.
Steven Caldwell (A): Nelsen has talked a lot about building a foundation and Caldwell has quickly become a part of that. Rock solid at the back, strong and dominating, while improving the defence as a whole and providing a set piece threat going forward.
Matias Laba (A): Has done very well in the defensive midfield role – good at winning balls, very tidy in possession and linking well with the attacking players. Could be an important part of the team for years to come. You can question whether DP money needed to be spent on him, but you can’t question his effectiveness
Joe Bendik (A-): Has looked very good overall and deservedly kept his place, but has to take some of the responsibility for the overall defensive woes. His distribution, though improved recently, has been poor. A pleasant surprise, though.
Richard Eckersley (B+): Looked much improved compared to last season, as he returned to his usual right back position. Switched to the left, but then injured himself celebrating a goal. TFC have missed him.
Jonathan Osorio (B+): The one big surprise, Osorio has scored some goals and earned a place in the starting lineup, looking like he belongs. He’s linked well with Laba and Silva from the right wing. Looks to be a great prospect.
Darren O’Dea (B): His salary is clearly still too high, and he wasn’t able to bring calm to the chaos in the middle of TFC’s defence. Has looked good, though, since switching to left back, getting more and more comfortable, especially going forward.
Gale Agbossoumonde (B): Has been so calm and composed that you often don’t notice him, which can be a good thing for a defender.
Jeremy Brockie (B): Has been a good loan addition. Brings a lot of energy and pressure to the forward line, though doesn’t look like he’d ever be a big scorer.
Robert Earnshaw (B): Had a great start, looking opportunistic and lethal when given chances, and masked how poor of a team Toronto was early on. But perhaps due to a lack of reliable service, that hot streak ended and he struggled in the last couple of months before his recent injury.
Jeremy Hall (B): Returned to midfield after last season’s adventures at right back and has not looked out of place at all. A welcomed surprise.
Doneil Henry (B-): Some impressive challenges can make Henry stand out and he seems to have the physical tools to be a dominant defender. But makes too many mental errors, as seen by two unnecessary red cards already this season.
Logan Emory (B-): Looked okay in a small sample size of games before his injury took him out of the lineup. A bit of a surprise he was released given his cheap contract and versatility.
Terry Dunfield (B-): Looked decent before his injury, but Hall and Laba supplanted him when he was out injured. Still, his release came as a surprise, though perhaps necessary due to salary cap issues.
Luis Silva (B-): A bit of a disappointment after a good rookie season, Silva just hasn’t got it going so far this year. Might benefit from moving back to the midfield.
Justin Braun (C+): He puts himself about and causes problems for the defence, but doesn’t really have the class or the finishing to justify more than the odd appearance. He brings a different look coming off the bench, though.
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Danny Califf (C+): I actually thought he looked good in the first few games he played, but obviously Nelsen didn’t. This was a high profile signing that really didn’t work out.
Bobby Convey (C+): Has been decent and looks like he’s close to a breakout game, but hasn’t really stood out on the wing in the few matches he’s played in since he arrived.
Darel Russell (C+): Not much playing time. He had one memorable blunder and a great goal from his time at right back, and recently played in midfield where he didn’t look out of place at all.
Danny Koevermans (C): Just working his way back in the team and shaking off the rust after a lengthy injury. Will be interesting to see if he can fully get his match sharpness back after almost a year on the sidelines.
Andrew Wiedeman (C): Hasn’t played much, and when he has you can see why he’s been on the bench. Nothing more than a depth guy.
Kyle Bekker (C-): The highly touted draft pick quickly found his way out of the starting lineup. Doesn’t really seem to have an obvious place in the current midfield set-up.
Ashton Bennett (C-): Not much playing time given, and didn’t look likely to earn more, so no surprise when he was released.
Stefan Frei (C-): Only played in the Amway Canadian Championship games, which obviously includes that 6-0 loss in Montreal. Hard to blame him for that one, but you can’t ignore that result. Seemingly not part of Nelsen’s plans.
Reggie Lambe (C-): Has had occasional moments and does track back defensively, but is nowhere near consistent enough. Given he uses an international spot, I’m genuinely surprised he hasn’t been released.
Taylor Morgan (C-): Supplemental draft picks rarely make it in MLS and Morgan’s signing was probably more of a surprise than his eventual release.
Ryan Richter (C-) Has been given a lot of playing time to show he can belong in the first team, but hasn’t really done that. Always an adventure going forward and with his passing.
Emory Welshman (C-): Hasn’t played much and seems a long way from the first team. Will be interesting to see if he stays beyond this year. Let’s hope all that allocation money from the draft trades gets put to good use.
Ashtone Morgan (D+): A massively disappointing season for the Canadian who quickly found himself dropped to the bench and didn’t impress on his occasional returns to the lineup.
John Bostock (D+): Showed some skill in his first game but never came close to justifying a contract beyond his initial loan spell.
Hogan Ephraim (D): Never showed the quality that you might expect from someone on loan from an Premiership team. No surprise he was let go.