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Friday 18 January 2013

Toronto FC Draft Day - Allocation, Allocation, Allocation

    While watching the draft unfold yesterday, one could be forgiven for getting agitated at the peculiar – if brilliant – moves made by the TFC front office.

    Allowing the more high-profile potential to pass on by while collecting nebulous amounts of allocation money and grabbing the top two Canadian talents can be viewed as a missed opportunity, a waste of such a vaulted starting position – having initially held the first and third-overall picks, or as a small victory in the uphill battle that will see the club finally become relevant in the league.

    The pre-draft indications that Toronto would do something different began to come to fruition the day before the draft, when the club let the first-overall selection go to New England in exchange for allocation (lot number one) and the fourth pick.

    That move evidenced that TFC did not have deep-seated interest in any of those top-rated talents and were willing to engage in another plan, letting another club have the player they rated while settling for lower picks.

    Chivas’ declaration that they would be picking Carlos Alvarez may have made the decision to move down easier, as one can assume that discussions between New England and Toronto included a glimpse at who the Revolution would be after with their first choice, thus clearing a path for TFC to choose who they wanted with their remaining picks and begin a rainy day fund.

    When the time came for Toronto to make their selection, it may have been a reach to select midfielder Kyle Bekker from Boston College at the lofty height of third-overall, even considering how he sparkled in the muddiness of an imperfect exhibition that is the Combine, but their only concern was what Vancouver, who would be selecting fifth would do if the player was still on the board come their time to choose.

    With so many of the top ten picks in the hands of Canadian clubs it was a necessary risk to forgo the game of drafting-chicken and simply take what they want straight up.

    Both of the other Canadian clubs had indicated they thought highly of Bekker, if reports are to be believed, and Toronto, having secured the player they were after, were now free to entertain offers from clubs interested in moving up in the draft.

    If Emery Welshman, the other impressive Canadian, was indeed their intended target, this was a calculated risk, with Montreal and Vancouver still to make selections.

    Vancouver bit at the chance, offering a package of allocation (lot number two) and the tenth-overall selection for Toronto’s fourth-overall pick.

    Vancouver selected their two; Montreal made theirs - soon enough - and when both had passed on the chance to grab Welshman, Toronto, confident that the player they desired would not go to an American club with so many other options – be they Generation Adidas or prized assets – left available, could afford another calculated gamble, formulate another draft-day trade and drop further down the table sending their tenth pick to Seattle in exchange for further allocation (lot number three) and the sixteenth-overall selection from.

    Come time for their selection, Toronto neatly collected Welshman, ended their draft-day, and could quietly herald it as quite the success.

    Two young Canadians, projected by many experts to go in the first round, and a tidy, if unknown to the public, amount of allocation money – in three lots; not bad for a day’s work.

    Critics – and there will be many - will decry the result as again having dropped the ball by leaving potential stars on the table; perhaps they may even recall the Sam Cronin-Omar Gonzalez draft day that has since been held over the club as an abysmal symbol of their repeated failings.

    Never mind the possibility that had a young Gonzalez come to a dysfunctional club with a constant stream of coaches – not to mention the waves of attackers making fools of the back-line – passing through, he may never have developed into the superstar he is today.

    TFC has already seen more than its fair share of young players come in and flounder due to lack of playing time and the absence of a stable environment within which to grow.

    It would come as no surprise if the club, having finally realized that they have a problem – step one - didn’t think it was worth the risk this time around, instead taking the money that will help immediately and lament the choice in the future from a better position, if need be.

    An unstable situation is the wrong place to develop raw talent.

    Cronin has since turned himself into a very serviceable midfielder in MLS with San Jose, but only found his feet after leaving Toronto. Would the Gonzo draft-pass have been acceptable were Cronin now bossing the TFC midfield? Would he be capable without leaving the demented reality that existed there?

    These questions will never be answered and hindsight is what it is.

    This is a new expression of TFC. It cannot be judged with the failings of the past.

    Leaving aside, for a moment, that they are under new management, the club has developed one thing rather well over its torrid reign – a reputation for being an administrative and, often, on-field disaster.

    How much desire could these young potential stars have to go and play for a club with such serious image problems echoing around the corridors of the league?

    The thought of crossing the boarder into the unknown wiles of Canada can be daunting to a seasoned pro, let alone a rookie.

    By drafting local lads, the new players will at least have some natural affinity with the club and the area, plus the added motivation of playing in front of family and friends, not to mention the convenience of the locale for future National Team roles – Bekker was immediately called up for the camp that begins at the end of the month.

    And their familiarity with the situation - club, teammates, and city - that they are joining will ensure their development is not as affected as others may have been.

    This safe step will assist TFC in its effort to rebuild itself against the backdrop of failure that tinges every conversation about the club; not to mention the public relations bump that drafting locally will have earned them amongst the local soccer community and the embittered fan base.

    It will not silence all doubters, but it was a valid move.

    At the end of last season when TFC dropped several of the initial Academy Graduates and refrained from promoting any new ones, it was a glimpse into the problems that currently haunt the club.

    As mentioned, development in a broken home, despite the success of Ashtone Morgan, Doneil Henry and Matt Stinson – the last two, to a lesser extent - is perilous, and the financial reward of leaving spots open (thirty-five thousand dollars each for up to two spots at the bottom of the roster is converted to allocation money) was too good to pass up.

    Mismanagement has left the club very little wiggle-room when it comes to salary constraints and by acquiring these additional allocation funds at the draft, they can begin to get out of the ties that bind.

    The club has decided to address those structural flaws before stifling further raw individuals, while easing the financial burden of past regimes.

    For each club, especially those with high selections, the draft creates a dilemma: take the best available talent or make selections with an eye towards what filling needs of the side.

    Toronto made a statement, foregoing the potential to focus on the actual.

    Bekker and Welshman were the selections that made the most sense for the club at the moment: address the financial concerns while stocking young talent that will be comfortable and, hopefully, therefore more likely to excel in the current situation.

    They best fit the club’s needs at this particular time.

    It is time to get the house in order and to re-energize the fan base; it is time to move on.

    2013 is a new start; the draft signals the beginning of the season. True, transactions may have been taking place throughout the offseason, but now training camps have begun and the first preseason matches are only weeks away.

    There is always the possibility for passers-remorse, but if this is the beginning of something better, few will shed a tear when they look back at this decision after a few successful seasons.

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