Sunday, January 20, 2008

Toronto FC adds 5 new players

It took long enough, but Toronto FC finally acquired five new players this week through the MLS Superdraft, after months of absolutely nothing. The selection of Julius James came as the biggest surprise to fans and Mo Johnston, as the three time Big East defender of the year was projected to be a top 3 pick throughout the months leading up to the draft. James, who was born in Trinidad and Tobago, is known to be an athletic freak, with the jumping ability of a basketball player, and is also known as a leader at the back. The impact of James should be felt immediately, as he may have been the most polished player in the draft, with the ability to step into the first team right away. However teams seemed to pass over James in favour of Generation Adidas players, who don't count against the salary cap. When teams look back on this day, they may wish they had chosen James, who now has something to prove to the eight teams that passed over him.

Patrick Phelan, who was Toronto's 10th pick in the Superdraft, comes to Toronto with less hype, but that doesn't mean that his impact will not be felt. The first team All American, who is blessed with a great soccer mind, could end up being another steal for the Reds. Throughout his NCAA career, Phelan was considered one of the top defenders in the country, with his solid play game after game for Wake Forest. Many scouts praised him for his work rate and ability to read the game like no other player in the draft. If you believe what some scouts say, Phelan could end up being better than James, and that is some pretty high praise for the 23 year old defender.

With their next selection, Toronto selected Brian Edwards, a GK from Wake Forest. Edwards, who made first-team All-ACC, came into the draft as one of the better goalkeepers on offer, after posting 13 shutouts, and a solid 0.50 GAA with the Deamon Deacons. Johnston went into the draft knowing that their depth at the GK position was thin, with Kenny Stamatopoulos back in Norway. In an interview before the draft, Johnston stated that the Reds were close to adding one more goalkeeper, with Josh Wagaaner being the rumoured addition. However with the addition of Edwards, one has to wonder what will become of Toronto's GK situation next year, as many scouts felt that Edwards would have the ability to see action this year.

Joseph Lapira and Mike Zaher were Johnston's final two selections on draft day, with Lapira catching the most attention. The 2006 Hermann Trophy winner came into the draft as one of the most highly touted players, but after showing an interest in Europe, teams were scared away. Johnston has taken a chance that he can lure Lapira back to Toronto, where his ability to find the back of the net would be welcomed. The Notre Dame star finished 2006 with 22 goals, and was considered one of the most dangerous players in the country. Standing at 5'8, there were scouts who say he doesn't have the physical ability to become a force up front, but you will be hard pressed to find anyone complaining in Toronto if Johnston can use his connections, and bring in Lapira for the 2008 season. Zaher, who was UCLA's second leading scorer last season, plays right back and was a two time first-team All-Pac 10 player. Roster restrictions could push him out of the picture, but he could also be deemed valuable by Johnston, who may keep him for depth when players like Marvell Wynne are away on international duty.

Now that the draft is over, Johnston will turn his focus to adding more players to his roster via trades and signings. It is hard to know what Ginger-Mo will actually add to this team, but after the draft it is clear that the Reds defensive depth has improved significantly. An attacking midfielder will probably be high on Johnston's list, along with players to play on either flank. However the hole that was open on the left, may now have been filled by Jim Brennan. James and Phelan are two players who can step in and play CB next season, which could mean that Brennan will move to add some respectability to a side of BMO that was tarnished last season by Andy Welsh. Brennan was a left sided midfielder throughout his career, and has a wicked left foot. This would give Toronto two points of delivery into the box, where the ever dangerous target man Danny Dichio would be waiting to pounce on any opportunity.

The team is slowly coming together, and as March 29th approaches the excitement is starting to build. With the additions of James and Phelan, Toronto has added two players who will most likely receive chants within a couple games, because their impact will be noticed almost immediately. However if Mo Johnston wants Toronto fans to be signing into the playoffs, Toronto will need to add more quality to this team, especially up front. It's been a long winter, and we are still waiting Mo.

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