Wholesale changes highlight the offseason for a Toronto club that finished dead last in MLS.
The franchise started in the front office, bringing in long time D.C. United executive Kevin Payne to become the team's new president and general manager. It didn't take long for Payne to sack stand-in manager Paul Mariner and hire Ryan Nelsen, the 35-year-old New Zealander who played for United from 2001 to 2005.
This is Nelsen's first head coaching job. The veteran defender only joined the team in February, because he was still playing for Queens Park Rangers in the English Premiere League. He inherits a jumbled mess, becoming the eighth coach in Toronto's seven-year history.
The first priority was shoring up a backline that conceded a league-worst 62 goals in 2012. The club released Adrian Cann, Dicoy Williams, and Ty Harden, bringing in former Union center back Danny Califf and former United States U-20 starlet, Gale Agbossoumonde.
Questions remain in the midfield, where an aging Torsten Frings paired Terry Dunfield for much of 2012. Toronto acquired veteran defensive mid Julio Cesar, then took local product Kyle Bekker with the third overall pick in the SuperDraft. Academy product Jonathan Osorio scored in a 3-0 preseason win over Orlando City.
Trialists Nicolas Cabrera and Darel Russell are also in camp. Cabrera is a 28-year-old winger from Argentina. Russell is a 32-year-old veteran of the English Championship, with significant stints at both Norwich City and Stoke City.
Offensively, the club parted ways with forwards Eric Hassli, Ryan Johnson, and Joao Plata. Star striker Danny Koevermans remains sidelined following ACL surgery, so the Toronto attacking corps is incredibly thin at the moment.
Rookie Luis Silva was arguably one of the best players for TFC in 2012. He operates as an attacking midfielder or a second striker and finished with five goals and five assists. The club traded for experienced forward Justin Braun and drafted youngster Emery Welshman. Andrew Wiedeman also remains on the roster. Reggie Lambe is a speedy guy on the right side of the field.
F – Joao Plata (Real Salt Lake)
F – Ryan Johnson (Portland)
F – Eric Hassli (FC Dallas)
F – Nicholas Lindsay (unattached)
F – Keith Makubuya (unattached)
M – Oscar Cordon (unattached)
M – Aaron Maund (Real Salt Lake)
M – Eric Avila (Chivas USA)
D – Adrian Cann (unattached)
D – Ty Harden (San Jose)
D – Dicoy Williams (unattached)
GK – Milos Kocic (Portland)
Justin Braun, F – Still young at 25, Braun has bounced around a lot recently. His most successful run came with Chivas USA from 2008 to 2011, where he scored 24 goals. He was traded to Montreal in 2012, then traded to RSL for the second half of the season, then traded to Toronto for Aaron Maund.
Kyle Bekker, M – The third overall pick in the 2013 SuperDraft, Bekker is an Ontario native and a promising young midfield player. You might have seen him play recently for Canada in friendlies against Denmark and the United States. Those were his first two caps for the senior national team.
Julio Cesar, M – Cesar's option was declined after he won the U.S. Open Cup with Sporting Kansas City last year. The journeyman defensive midfielder is 34 and plays a very simple and conservative game in front of the backline. That's not a bad thing, considering Toronto's defensive struggles over the years.
Gale Agbossoumonde, D – Togo-born, he ended up in the United States at the age of 8. Agbossoumonde was a stud at the U-20 level, but he's spent the last couple of years bouncing around on loan from parent club Estoril Praia in Portugal. He played the 2012 season with the Carolina Railhawks and he makes his MLS move at the ripe young age of 21.
Danny Califf, D – No introduction needed.
Luis Silva, M/F – A playmaker with good technical ability sitting behind the main striker. Silva is one of the few TFC players who really stood out in 2012, following his 4th overall selection in the SuperDraft. Only Richard Eckersley and Ryan Johnson played more games than Silva.
Darren O'Dea, D – O'Dea came over in the Summer transfer window, but the Toronto season was pretty much kaput at that point. The Ireland international is only 26 years old and looks to be at the top of the CB depth chart going into opening day. He had successful loans to Ipswich Town and Leeds United from parent club Celtic.
Ashtone Morgan, D – At 22 years old, Morgan is a speedy left back with very good crossing ability. Some of Toronto's best attacking play in 2012 came from flank movement on his side of the field. A former U-20 player of the year, he's broken into the ranks of the Canadian senior side.
Torsten Frings, MF – It'll be interesting to see what Nelsen does with Frings, now that Julio Cesar is in camp. The German veteran is 36 years old now, so he's certainly lost a step over the years. But he's been a positive contributor for Toronto, influencing the flow of the game from his deeper-lying central midfield position. He even played sweeper for former coach Aron Winter.
Danny Koevermans, F – Koevermans had a terrible 2012, enduring numerous losses before tearing his ACL in mid-July. He scored boatloads of goals for Toronto in 2011, but now he'll miss several months of the 2013 season while he recovers from surgery.
Contact Union writer Kevin Kinkead at email@example.com