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Toronto FC has only been in existence for two seasons, but already the pressure is on the club to achieve. Goal.com's Talha Zaheer explains why playoffs are a necessity for the young club in 2009.

By Talha Zaheer

2008 Recap: A great run at the end of last season almost saw Toronto FC sneak into the playoffs. Such is the competitive nature of the Eastern Conference that despite ending the season 4 points from a playoff spot, Toronto FC suffered the ignominy of ending bottom of their conference. However, in spite of some of the team's dreary performances over the course of the season and disheartening placement, it continued to receive vociferous support from its colorful fans.

Fans: Any mention of Toronto FC would be amiss without a mention of the exuberant fans that flock to BMO field on any given match day. Such is the enthusiasm for the sport that there are more than 6,000 fans on the season ticket waiting list alone. Some quarters have even proposed the idea of a second MLS franchise from the city. Soccer’s identity as the world’s premier sport can be verified at BMO field where fans of all backgrounds and nationalities converge to support the Reds. This unflinching home support plays a role in TFC’s on-field success as the numbers reflect: TFC lost only twice at home in 2008. Of course, that record was also assisted by the brutal turf field that battered the knees of so many visiting opponents.

Departures: Laurent Robert was released in the middle of the season. Having impressed in the initial stages of his short stint at TFC, the Frenchman’s performances soon dwindled and he eventually ran out of gas. His lack of stamina and pace debilitated him in what was a familiar role as a left sided midfielder/winger.

The departure of Jeff Cunningham was expected. He had failed to settle at BMO field. He has flourished since his move to FC Dallas; TFC just wasn’t the right fit for him.

Maurice Edu’s transfer to Rangers deprived TFC of an outstanding prospect and a powerhouse in midfield. The aging Carl Robinson will have to cover extra ground over the course of the coming season to provide the kind of platform with which the TFC defense had grown accustomed to during Edu’s tenure.

Seattle Sounders FC took New Zealand attacker Jarrod Smith in the expansion draft. In the back line, Jamaican Tyrone Marshall was dealt to Seattle for allocation money, and promising Julius James was traded away to the Houston Dynamo.

Arrivals: There is a distinct Canadian feel to TFC for the upcoming season. The highly touted acquisition of Dwayne De Rosario from Houston Dynamo has been complimented by the addition of Adrian Serioux from FC Dallas. These two Canadian stalwarts look set to form the spine of the new look TFC. In Pablo Vitti, Toronto has acquired a wildcard that could pay huge dividends. He is a compatriot of Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero from the Argentine U20 world cup winning team. Vitti is young, vibrant, and looking to reawaken his once burgeoning potential. Together with D-Ro and Chad Barrett, he could form a fearsome triumvirate. TFC also recruited some outstanding talent in the MLS superdraft; picking up Sam Cronin, Stefan Frei, and another Canadian in O’Brian White as first round picks.

Likely Starting XI:

Greg Sutton (GK): has to keep his performance levels high to maintain his place as the premier keeper at the club with stiff competition from Frei.
Marvell Wynne (D): his pace and power not only solidifies the backline, but also gives an extra dimension to the attack.
Marco Velez (D): must improve his concentration and focus, as he tends to get sloppy at times. With Attakora-Gyan and Gabe Gala embarking on international U-20 careers, his place in the starting lineup is not assured.
Adrian Serioux (D): as an accomplished defender, he will hope to shore up the defense.
Jim Brennan (D): the club captain remains a fan favorite and will hope to remain injury-free this season.
Amado Guevara (M): the Honduran international, has added quality and inventiveness to the side.
Carl Robinson (M): the Welshman’s industry in midfield will be essential if TFC is to do well this season.
Rohan Ricketts (M): arguably the most enigmatic figure on the roster, he is beginning to find his feet in the league. This could be ominous for MLS defenses.
Dwayne De Rosario (M/F): he will provide the cutting edge that the team has lacked in its formative seasons.
Chad Barrett (F): his displays improved steadily as he gained match fitness last season. He is likely to play the role of target man ahead of the aging Dichio.
Pablo Vitti (F): the Argentine is looking to revitalize his career and if he lives up to his potential, he could provide the spark and goals that TFC has been missing.

Notable others:

Goalkeepers: Stefan Frei and Brian Edwards.
Defenders: Nana Attakora-Gyan, Gabe Gala, and Kevin Harmse.
Midfielders: Sam Cronin and Johan Smith.
Forwards: Danny Dichio, O’Brian White, Fuad Ibrahim, and Kyle Hall.

Season Outlook: Acquisitions over the off-season clearly indicate a reinvigorated attack that should yield plenty of goals. Pre-season games so far also attest to proficiency in front of goal. With a profligacy of attacking talent, TFC is sure to provide great entertainment in the upcoming season.

Head Coach John Carver will be pleased with the talent at his disposal. Competition for places should prove to be a catalyst for strong performances all over the pitch. Carver is banking on Serioux to marshal the defense, making for a reliable defensive unit. The coach will look to kick on from the strong finish to last season. The addition of the experienced Canadian duo should ensure more consistency from the team and more assured displays away from home. This team has the potential to go all the way this year, provided key players stay fit. The squad, while blessed with talent, is short of numbers. This lack of depth may be TFC’s undoing this season. Conversely, if the team can stay clear of injuries, there is no reason why this team cannot make the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. They will also be looking to win the second rendition of the Canada Cup, which they surrendered to Impact de Montreal last season. Montreal’s subsequent success in the CONCACAF Champions League should spur TFC to take this tournament more seriously than they did in its inaugural edition.

TFC’s third season promises to be its most entertaining to date. Their boisterous fans will have even more to cheer about with a surfeit of goals almost guaranteed. The additional maple flavor that will define the team with the presence of Canada’s finest in De Rosario and Serioux should also go down well with the fans. Their unflinching support promises to turn BMO field into a citadel. All that remains to be seen is whether the team can address its misgivings on the road. Expectations are high and rightly so. If pre-season form is anything to go by, there will be goals galore at BMO field this season. Anything short of a playoff spot and a place in next years’ CONCACAF Champions League will be deemed a failure.

Did you know? Lionel Messi once heralded Vitti as the one closest to him and Aguero in potential, foreseeing a future for him in Europe.

Talha Zaheer is a contributor to Goal.com

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