It's that time of the week again. This time, I got to trade e-mails with Duncan Fletcher, editor of the Toronto FC blog Waking the Red. His questions to me can be viewed here, and of course, his answers are below.
1. I've watched some of TFC's play this season, and I can't help but be impressed with the changes I've seen from last season. How much forward progress do you think was made over the offseason?
It's not so much about the forward progress as it was the backwards progress, in the sense of taking a step back to be able to take steps forward in the future. Bringing in Kevin Payne is a definite step forward, though there are certainly some who have their doubts about him, but most of the big moves he's made have been ones to undo the damage of previous years. Paul Mariner was released, and a couple of big contracts in Eric Hassli and Torsten Frings are now off the books, with little in return other than cap relief. A lot of the new signings were brought in on loan to maintain flexibility, and allocation money was raked in at the draft. Doing that rather than just using the first overall pick, as well as by hiring a rookie coach with no coaching badges in Ryan Nelsen, were big gambles by Payne, really putting his stamp on the club. Ryan Nelsen talks a lot of building a foundation, mainly in reference to his so far unambitious style of play, and that's where TFC are right now, trying to get things right so they can build further and make some more notable forward progress.
2. In terms of player-coach relations, how much of a difference was made by hiring Ryan Nelson right out of QPR instead of an older man with more coaching experience?
It's an interesting question really, and Nelsen's lack of experience or coaching badges (as well as him still being a QPR player for an unspecified amount of time) were certainly cause for concern at the time of his hiring. Payne has experience with this sort of thing having hired Ben Olsen at DC, and the fact that Nelsen was starring in the EPL just a few months ago has got to have a certain cache in a dressing room. That may be a deliberate choice from Payne, bringing in a freshly retired player to offset the fact that he has no playing experience himself, which may not endear him to some players. Will it work? Who knows really, in a way it's a tough job, but expectations are low which could be a good thing for a rookie coach, he'll get plenty of leeway and time to learn on the job. So far though, you certainly get the impression that the players have a lot of respect for Nelsen and seem very keen to buy into what he's selling.
3. There are a lot of new faces in that roster. Who do you think will end up having the greatest impact on the team this season?
Of the faces currently on the roster, there's two that stand out. Joe Bendik has been a revelation in net, taking advantage of Stefan Frei's broken nose to get the starting spot he's deservedly kept since. He was by far the man of the match last week in Philadelphia and though his kicking could be improved, he's been a very pleasant surprise.
At the other end of the pitch, there's Robert Earnshaw. After he scored twice in the home opener, a post game conversation brought the question 'in a full season, ho many do you think he'd score?' I guessed 9, as I was skeptical he'd keep it going. I was wrong. He's played at a high level and it shows. His ability to read the game and speed to be able to exploit that mean he's opportunistic enough to be able to create chances for himself, a good thing as the midfielders and team as a whole haven't been great at creating much of anything. When he does get a chance, he's a very impressive finisher. Given a full season, I'd now be guessing at 15-20 goals from him.
Hopefully the person who'll have the greatest impact is To Be Announced. There's a lot of flexibility to be bringing in new players and there's been talk of Hondurans and young DP's from Argentina, so ideally someone better than what we currently have comes along.
4. What's your predicted formation (first and last names, please)?
I have little confidence in most of this, but I'll guess at the following. Joe Bendik: Doneil Henry, Gale Agbossoumonde, Darren O'Dea, Ryan Richter; Jeremy Hall, Luis Silva, Hogan Ephraim, Reggie Lambe; Justin Braun, Robert Earnshaw.
I'd like to thank Duncan for answering my questions in a quick manner - and point out that the lateness of this post is due to my schedule, not his. If you get a chance, please follow him on Twitter, read their blog, and show a little of that famous Houston hospitality, regardless of Saturday's result.