Thursday, March 6, 2008

Internal Improvement Key to TFC

In the 18th minute, on a cold October night, with a thick fog hanging over BMO Field, Marvell Wynne sent a beautiful ball into Maurice Edu's path. The rookie midfielder had made a smart run into the box where he met the ball almost instantly with his right foot. Wasting no time, he coolly slotted the ball past Red Bulls 'keeper Ronald Waterreus, giving Toronto the 1-0 lead. On this night, the success of Toronto FC had a lot to do with Edu and Wynne, but could the success of Toronto FC's second season in the MLS ride on these two players, both of whom have yet to reach their 22nd birthday?

It seems ridiculous to some, but they are two players who are currently with the team that could make the difference between a successful season and an unsuccessful one. With so much emphasis being placed on improvements from the outside, fans have neglected the fact that internal improvements can also occur, and lead to a more successful season than the last. The improvement of 21-year old midfielder Maurice Edu, and 21-year old right-back Marvell Wynne, could make an enormous impact on Toronto FC this season. With both entering their second season with the club, they may have to step up and become integral parts of the team on the field, even more so than they both were in their first year north of the border.

If you watched Maurice Edu last year, from the start of the season straight through to its conclusion, you would have seen the American vastly improve his all around game as the season wore on. A player that sometimes looked lost during the initial stages slowly emerged as one of the clubs best players and his role continued to grow in importance as the campaign dragged on into the summer months. He was often featured as a central midfielder, sometimes dropping back with or in the absence of Carl Robinson, other times pushing forward into a more attacking role. His box-to-box ability as a player became evidently clear, along with his versatility as a player. The Maurice Edu of early 2007, a still impressive rookie trying to find his game, had truly evolved as a player. Toronto FC started to rely on him more and more as the injuries stacked up, and European clubs took notice of the midfielder’s solid play. Aston Villa manager Martin O'Neill took obvious notice in their friendly against the Canadian club, as an invitation was later delivered to Edu asking him to come on trial during the MLS offseason. Edu politely pushed away this invitation, another indicator of his growth as a player.

Why is this a indicator you ask? Well, he had good reason to not fly overseas; he had been called up to the United States men's national team. The rarely capped American at lower levels had jumped onto the radar screens of the national team’s management with his solid play and rookie of the year honours. He would play in many of the national teams key matchups over the offseason, giving the young midfielder and the fans the confidence that Edu had arrived on the North American soccer scene. The Maurice Edu that TFC fans will see in 2008 will surely be a much improved version; he has apparently looked great in training and has worked consistently over the winter months on his finishing ability. This new and improved Edu should have an immediate impact on the on field play of the team, he should step into the role of midfield general. He will be the centre of Toronto FC's starting XI and will be relied on heavily.

The improvements made in such a short span of time when it comes to Edu's career should give you the confidence that he will be able to shoulder the load and step up in his sophomore season. A sophomore jinx, common in many sports, shouldn't follow Edu in 2008. Fellow American Sacha Kljestan stepped up in his sophomore season to become one of the better midfielders in the league, after receiving high praise, much like Edu, coming out of his rookie season, and I see no reason why Edu should not do the same. In fact Edu, even at the age of 21, could step up and become one of the top midfielders in the league if his progression as a player continues along the same line. He is a strong defensive player who can easily score 6+ goals in a season, and with what seems to be a solid backline and a healthy Carl Robinson, Edu should be free to make his impact felt up front. Is he an attacking midfielder? Not really, but he could easily be one of the best all around midfielders this season, and Toronto FC will benefit thanks to a much improved Maurice Edu.

Marvell Wynne, on the other hand, flew under the radar while with New York. The initial reaction of many new Toronto fans when the right-back was acquired was simply, who? However Wynne's dynamic pace combined with solid play at the back quickly drew praise from Toronto fans. He established himself as a strong, reliable defender who could easily step forward with his wicked pace. His ability as an attacking player was displayed against the Colorado Rapids, when Wynne made a beautiful run forward before dancing around two Rapids defenders, and jabbing the ball to Danny Dichio who tapped it in. This ability to quickly go on the attack was obviously influenced when Wynne was pushed forward in the absence of the now departed Ronnie O'Brien, but it was clear that the young back could easily push up if need be.

However you will be hard pressed to find him there again, as John Carver and Mo Johnston have both stated that they would like to see him back in his natural position at right-back, which may be good as Wynne's crossing ability was less than impressive. He will join an already solid backline that should include the likes of MVP Jim Brennan, the underappreciated Todd Dunivant, bone breaker Tyrone Marshall and impressive rookie (or so we've heard) Julius James.

Wynne has received numerous looks from the national team, and was called up for the Copa American tournament; he should be a constant member of the team in the years to come. He is now moving into his 3rd season in the league, and he could easily become one of the better full-backs in the league. He is a strong tackler who will only improve again this season, giving Toronto a dynamic and versatile option at the back; he is a player who can easily stay with any player in the league. Defenders may often be overlooked when it comes to a team’s success, but an improved Marvell Wynne, who by all accounts has been fantastic in camp, should do wonders for the Reds. And although you may not see Wynne on the right side of midfield at the start of the game, a solid backline should allow Wynne to move up. John Carver has made it clear that the use of full-backs in England, where they are relied on heavily by many clubs, will carry over to Toronto. Expect Wynne to step up in 2008.

You've just read about two young players who are set to improve this coming season, and become key members of the 2008 version of Toronto FC. Gabe Gala and Joey Melo are also two players who could make the jump this season, with Gala being my pick of the two. The Nigerian born youngster, a natural defender, can move up and play on the left side of midfield if needed. He did not look out of place with the senior team last season in limited time, and could step up and play a more important role this season. Melo, who did not overly impress this season according to some fans, has looked like a new player in camp. According to journalists and Carver, Melo was the best player in many training sessions. Improvements in both players’ games would be great for the club.

However, what about some older players who can improve this season? In other articles I touched on the fact that I expect huge improvements in both Jeff Cunningham and Danny Dichio's game. Both were injured for the majority of last season, and a healthy version of the Fast and Furious striker pairing should give TFC the two impact players they need up front. This is just another example of two players who should add to the internal improvement of the club. We can all pray that our two flanks will be ready to go come March 29th, because Dichio should thrive with two points of consistent delivery.

Internal improvement will be key to Toronto FC's success in 2008, and Marvell Wynne along with Maurice Edu should lead the way. Both are fantastic young players who will sadly leave us very soon during their time with the American U23 team in the summer, and may be gone for Europe by as soon as 2009. However we will be able to benefit from both players improvements for the majority of the season, and both will hopefully be leading the Reds into the 2008 playoffs.

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