Toronto FC has shown small signs of improvement over the summer, but its honchos' constant big talk is sinking an otherwise slowly steadying ship.An objective look at Toronto FC at its current point versus a year ago shows a club that is steadily improving from back-to-front.
Defensively, it's not even a contest. TFC sits firmly in the middle of the pack in terms of goals allowed -- playoff-bound Vancouver and Montreal have both been scored on more than the Reds this year -- a huge contrast from the sieve-like Reds defence that broke futility records over the past couple of years.
That renewed stinginess has kept Toronto competitive in nearly every game in 2013, which was one of the main goals laid out by TFC bosses Kevin Payne and Ryan Nelsen ahead of their inaugural campaign in charge.
In addition, the progress and emergence of exciting young stars like Matias Laba, Jonathan Osorio and Doneil Henry points to a future in which Toronto at least promises to be a playoff contender for a sustained period of time. With the history saddling this club, such modest dreams are all fans can really hope to enjoy.
At the very least, TFC finally feels like a team with a plan, which is a huge departure from the rudderless franchise that has been disappointing local crowds since 2007.
So with that in mind, why does it feel like this summer, one in which TFC has played some of its most promising football in years and put together the results befitting of an average MLS side, has been a big letdown?
The answer, simply, is that the team's honchos don't know when to stop talking.
The worst thing a club can do is sell its fans false hope, and Toronto FC has been as guilty of this as any other team in world soccer over the past six years. This summer's transfer window was no different, with TFC foolishly promising big while delivering small, a statement that would be sad if it wasn't already the norm.
Reported transfer target Diego Forlan wasn't explicitly mentioned by anyone directly employed by the team, but he was alluded to when Payne and Nelsen made statements referring to the pursuit of the a player that would be tops in MLS, with the coach piling on when he said that opposing teams will be "scared" of Toronto's attack when all was said and done.
Well the transfer window is said and done, and you'll forgive the rest of the league's teams if they're not trembling in their boots over an attack that is third-worst in MLS and didn't see a single upgrade come in during the month-long foreign shopping period.
By any other measure, TFC having added depth in defence (Jonas Elmer, Michael Thomas and Mark Bloom) and in the midfield (Alvaro Rey and homegrown teenager Manny Aparicio) would have been considered a decent summer haul for a side that isn't ready to challenge for the postseason and continues to try to exorcise the demons of failures past.
But grandiose proclamations of top attacking talent coming in from outside the league ramped up expectations among Toronto's downtrodden fanbase, and it was obvious to everyone that TFC's biggest needs lie in the attacking third.
To be fair, if reports are true, Forlan was much closer to making the move to BMO Field than his current Brazilian club would have you believe. Sometimes deals fall apart in the 11th hour, especially ones involving millions of dollars. It happens.
A similar fate befell a deal for Argentine midfield maestro Maximiliano Moralez, who reportedly refused to move to MLS even after a transfer fee had been agreed upon by TFC and Atalanta.
Again, these things happen all the time in professional soccer, and TFC won't be the last team to think it had a deal done only to watch it slip away in the final stages.
The lesson to be learned in all of this is to not promise a deal (or multiple deals, in this case) until all the 'I's are dotted and the 'Ts' crossed. Sadly, it's a lesson that seems to have bypassed Toronto's front office, even in the face of these transfer window misfirings.
On Friday, Payne was again telling reporters that deals for 'major' attacking players were imminent, despite the window having already slammed shut.
"We had a couple of targets for the window, and one in particular that we pursued until very late, and it didn’t come together," he told Sportsnet.ca on Friday. "However, I want people to know that we are still working on two big signings that are not affected by the transfer window."
One of the players Payne is referring to is Argentine forward Maximiliano Urruti, a 22-year-old currently embroiled in a legal tug-of-war with Newell's Old Boys over the validity of his contract. By all accounts, Urruti is ready to board a plane for Canada as soon as his legally can, which has led to Payne's confidence in landing the player.
The TFC president may be correct in his surety of eventually getting Urruti and the mystery player into a red jersey, but perhaps waiting for ink to meet paper before making any more promises is the real way forward for Toronto.