Rudi Schuller: TFC facing selection challenges for the first time

Head coach Ryan Nelsen has the relatively good problem of figuring out which players to use, something that hasn't been the case in recent times.
A full squad.

That was one of the top priorities set forth by Toronto FC president and general manager Kevin Payne and head coach Ryan Nelsen when they took over the reins of the club, as part of the duo's mantra of a "cultural shift" throughout the organization.

And finally, nearly a full month into the season, Nelsen has some selection headaches to deal with.

It's a good problem to have.

Now before we go any further, it must be said that TFC is still in massive need of more quality. No one is going to look up and down the club's current roster and see an MLS Cup contender. What they will see, however, is a full squad with some depth in areas that were woefully thin just a few short months ago.

With Luis Silva and Julio Cesar set to return from injuries suffered in the preseason, TFC has two players in the middle of the park who can immediately make a difference. Stalwarts Terry Dunfield and Jeremy Hall have done well in the opening three matches, but Silva brings a different dynamic in midfield, and Cesar's years of experience at the very top levels of world football can never be discounted.

On the back line, Doneil Henry and Logan Emory are fit and have already started to push Gale Agbossoumonde for the first back up center back spot. Out wide, Ashtone Morgan may well cede his starting spot of the past two seasons to newcomer Darel Russell, who has performed admirably in a substitute role so far.

And at the very back, understudy goalkeeper Joe Bendik usurped Stefan Frei's starting job while the latter recovered from a broken nose. Now that Frei is back, there's no guarantee of him walking back into the starting XI, not with Bendik's play deserving of further minutes.

No one is going to mistake TFC for Manchester City, but the depth "problem" is one that is crucial to have for a team that wants to foster a culture of healthy competition. The jockeying for spots only serves to keep everyone sharp, which in turn brings out the best in the entire roster.

And if Toronto is even going to harbor thoughts of competing for a playoff spot this year, it'll have to do so as a team making the most of its entire squad.

The long-term goal for Payne and Nelsen, now that the quantity is taken care of, is to increase the quality of the side. That goal appears to be on the radar, as reports have Argentinian striker Maximiliano Urruti's move to join the Reds ahead of the May 6 closing of the North American transfer window all but completed. Past that, a Honduran duo of midfielders could be in the cards for TFC later this summer as Payne looks to add more Latin flair to what has quickly shapened up to be a sturdy and hard-working team.

In the meantime, internal competition for playing time should continue to breed a renewed sense of hunger among TFC players that has rarely been seen at BMO Field.

There are still many holes to fill and a ton of work to be done, and there will be growing pains, but Toronto has already come a long way from the sad-sack team that either couldn't fill out a subs bench under Paul Mariner or populated the sidelines with players under Aron Winter that -- given where they've ended up since leaving TFC -- were below standard.

It's just another small-yet-obvious step in a long journey toward respectability for the embattled club.