LONDON – The 2011 season has been a season of transformation for Toronto FC. With new head coach Aron Winter and a change in front office leadership, TFC has had to endure a rough transition. Now, they could be on the verge of turning things around.
Toronto announced the signings of German midfielder Torsten Frings and Dutch striker Danny Koevermans on Wednesday, a pair of Designated Player signings the team will be hoping can help TFC climb out of last place in Major League Soccer's Eastern Conference.
Frings, 34, is a solid defensive midfielder who enjoyed a stellar career in the German Bundesliga. American soccer fans will remember him as the player who's handball of a goal-bound Gregg Berhalter shot helped Germany defeat the United States in the 2002 World Cup quarterfinals. Toronto will be hoping he provides the stability in midfield and leadership on the field (and in the locker room) that the club so desperately needs.
In Koeverman, 32, Toronto adds an established goal-scorer, the type of striker who can lead an attack, something TFC has never had. Yes, Maicon Santos has managed to score six goals, but he can hardly be called reliable.
From a tactical standpoint, the two newcomers should fill glaring voids in Winter's preferred 4-3-3 system. Frings can be the anchor in the middle who helps provide the counterbalance for two more offensive minded midfielders in the three-man set-up. Frings' strength and bite will help a somewhat soft TFC lineup.
Koevermans is the kind of center forward who fits in perfectly at the top of Winter's 4-3-3. The 6-foot-3 striker can hold up the ball, turn and run at defenders and finish with aplomb. Though he had fallen out of favor at PSV Eindhoven recently, he's just a year removed from scoring double-digit goals for PSV. His physical presence up top could do wonders for TFC's other attacking options, such as Javier Martina, Joao Plata and Nick Soolsma.
The moves are definitely aimed at helping TFC in the short-term, and while Toronto is in last place in the East, the 2011 season isn't exactly a lost cause. With the new MLS postseason format qualifying 10 teams, Toronto FC is only four points out of the playoffs, meaning a strong finish could help TFC earn the first playoff berth in club history.
The signings should also help Toronto appease a fan base that has begun losing patience with the club's losing ways. What used to be regular sell-out crowds at BMO Field are now half-empty stands at recent matches. In Frings and Koevermans, Toronto FC has made it clear that it is serious about turning things around. After years of waiting to see their front office do something with the considerable revenue that has been generated by BMO Field, Toronto FC fans are now fully aware that their team is serious about making the team a contender.
From a long-term standpoint, Koevermans should have a few productive years left in him, while Frings looks more like a player who could struggle to make an impact beyond next season.
Toronto FC can't really think that far ahead. While teams like DC United, Sporting Kansas City and Houston prepare for their stretch runs with moves already made (and moves in the works), TFC couldn't afford to stand pat much longer.
Today, they became the first MLS team to sign multiple Designated Players at the same time.
Will it be enough? Toronto still has defensive issues to address and now has a glut of central midfielders, with Frings, Julian de Guzman and Tony Tchani. TFC could deal from its midfield to try and shore of the defense, but we shouldn't rule out the possibility of Toronto parting ways with de Guzman, which would clear up considerable cap space.
De Guzman hasn't really settled in with the new leadership in Toronto and seems like the most likely candidate leave, though a stay in MLS seems unlikely since there aren't exactly teams lining up to pay a seven-figure salary for someone who doesn't score goals or really generate many assists.
With more than half a season to go, Toronto still has a chance to salvage something from 2011, but with other playoff aspirants like D.C. United and Sporting Kansas City looking poised for strong second halves, TFC will need more than just two high-priced signings to climb into playoff contention.
Ives Galarcep is a senior writer for FOXSoccer.com covering Major League Soccer and the U.S. national team.