Frustrated after failing to qualify for the MLS Cup Playoffs in each of the franchise's first six seasons of existence, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment decided it was time to shake things up at Toronto FC this offseason. MLSE brought in longtime D.C. United President Kevin Payne to oversee the team's operation. Payne then tapped former United defender and Premier League veteran Ryan Nelsen to mange the Reds. More recently, MLSE hired former Anschutz Entertainment Group CEO and President Tim Leiweke, the man behind the LA Galaxy's recent dominance, to guide the future of the organization.
The effort has been in hope that Toronto FC will not only compete to re-claim the Trillium Cup from the Crew, but to also guide the Reds to its first-ever playoff appearance.
"Everybody knows Kevin's track record," Crew Technical Director Brian Bliss said. "Obviously with Tim Leiweke joining them, these guys are competitive. They always have been. They're always looking to do whatever is necessary to put a competitive product on the field and they've proven it in the past. I think they'll take the MLS championships, as well as the Trillium Cup, seriously. Ryan is also a competitive person and I think they're aiming to win as many things as possible."
LATE GAME LETDOWNS
Don't let Toronto FC's 1-5-4 record fool you: the Reds have been able to hang tough with some of MLS's top teams this season. Welsh forward Robert Earnshaw has been a key offseason acquistion and is among the League leaders with five goals to his name in 2013. However, conceding late goals has been the team's Achilles' heel so far in Nelsen's inaugural campaign. Of the nine matches Toronto FC has drawn or lost, six of those letdowns have come past the 80th minute.
"[Toronto FC's] record is not good, ours is mediocre," Bliss said frankly. "But one thing about Toronto is that they've been in every game up to the 80th minute or so. I've said it before: They're the best team in the League, if the League was played over 80 minutes. They're going to be a difficult task for anybody. It'll be a good game."
Transversely, the Crew has only scored two goals in the final ten minutes this season. Both tallies came in the Black & Gold's 3-0 season opening win at Chivas USA.
Crew legend Duncan Oughton isn't the only one to join the Reds recently. In the past few weeks, Toronto FC has added Argentine Designated Player Matías Laba from Argentinos Juniors as well as defender Steven Caldwell on loan from English Championship side Birmingham City and forward Jeremy Brockie on loan from New Zealand's Wellington Phoenix of the Australian A-League. A loan deal for Israeli Queens Park Rangers defender Tal Ben Haim could also still be in the works.
Laba debuted on May 4 against the Colorado Rapids, while the others could debut against the Crew on Saturday. Unsure of what players Ryan Nelsen may put on the field on Saturday makes for a difficult week of preparation for the Crew.
"It's very difficult to prepare for," Bliss explained. "It's very difficult in terms of the preparation, however you've got to prepare as if they're not going to be there based on what they have."