Another year brings another new coach and philosophy for the beleaguered club. Success may be measured in stability rather than wins in 2013.The more things change, the more they stay the same.
That seems to have been Toronto FC's motto since its inception six seasons ago, and it looks no different heading into the 2013 Major League Soccer campaign.
Gone is Paul Mariner -- after barely six months on the job as the main architect of the troubled club -- and taking his place are Kevin Payne and neophyte head coach Ryan Nelsen. The two newcomers are tasked with taking over the worst team in 2012 and giving its restless fanbase any glimmer of hope for improvement.
To that end, Payne has gleefully laid the axe to many players in an attempt to shrink a bloated salary cap situation and give the club some leeway on the transfer market. Among the key departed are Eric Hassli, Ryan Johnson, Milos Kocic and former captain Torsten Frings, who announced his retirement earlier this week.
The incoming side of the ledger hasn't been nearly as full over the course of Payne's first offseason in charge, causing some grief and worry in TFC land that the team will once again head into a season undermanned and unprepared.
It's hard to argue with such an assessment, as it's tough to see how Toronto can expect to start out on better terms than the infamous 0-9 run that spelled the end of Aron Winter's underwhelming tenure as bench boss at the beginning of last season.
But while things don't look particularly good for the Reds ahead of the season opener versus Vancouver, it shouldn't be as horrible as that nine-game losing streak to kick off 2012.
The main reason for that is because the defence looks much improved, which will at least give the team a chance to keep things close on most nights. Incoming central defender Danny Califf will partner Darren O'Dea in the middle of a back four that instantly benefits not only from the former Chivas USA stopper's presence, but also because third-year Red Richard Eckersley will be allowed to move back to his natural right back spot.
Eckersley did yeoman's work at centre back for most of 2012, but for all his athleticism and grit, he was prone to defensive lapses that are much more apparent when they happen in the middle of a defensive line rather than out wide. Plus, Eckersley's aggresiveness and his willingness to make forward runs -- two of his best traits -- can once again be taken advantage of by a team that will be thirsty for offensive ideas.
In the midfield, TFC will lean heavily on former Sporting Kansas City man Julio Cesar to step into Frings' vacated role, and Canadians Terry Dunfield, Kyle Bekker, and Matt Stinson will vie to partner with the Brazilian veteran. Luis Silva, one of the few truly creative players the team has on hand, will shoulder a lot of the attacking responsibility, either from an advanced midfield position or sitting just under the forwards.
That's where things get really iffy for Toronto. On the attacking end, including the wide players, the club suffers from a real dearth of options. Reggie Lambe will have to show a lot more consistency than he did in 2012, and Hogan Ephraim -- who joined the team on loan from QPR just days prior to First Kick -- will be looked upon to instantly gel with, and provide width to, a team that is dying for a spark from the flanks.
Up top, the continued absence of injured designated player Danny Koevermans and the departure of team-leading scorer Johnson leaves Toronto with arguably its least impressive stable of strikers in the club's history.
Justin Braun, who scored zero goals with Montreal and Salt Lake last season, joins two-goal man Andrew Wiedeman and local rookie Emery Welshman as the only under-contract TFC forwards with a full preseason under the belts.
In addition, supplemental draft picks Taylor Morgan and Ashton Bennett are expected to sign on with the club, and 31-year-old Welsh international Robert Earnshaw -- who is far from match fit -- is set to be officially introduced.
Payne and Nelsen have repeatedly offered that more reinforcements will be streaming in over the course of the season -- the word "cavalry" has been thrown around of late -- and there's reason to believe them.
Players are starting to trickle in, and an experienced executive like Payne doesn't hoard the amount of allocation money and open cap space as he did over the offseason without an eye on the bigger picture.
Unfortunately for the team, the season starts with or without the reinforcements, and it looks like TFC will kick off the 2013 campaign well behind the 8-ball.