When Aron Winter first stepped in to introduce "total football" and a three-striker system to Toronto FC in January, most fans weren't convinced.
When the team started the season with an abysmal 2-5-6 record capped off with a 6-2 lose to the Philadelphia Union, I definitely wasn't convinced.
Was this going to be different from all the other Toronto sports seasons dubbed as a rebuild that led to no future success?
Going into tomorrow's CCL clash with FC Dallas, win or lose, both the fans and I are convinced. Toronto FC has finished this campaign with class. After a mid-season team makeover, that included bringing in big-name signings Torsten Frings and Danny Koevermans, Winter is finally getting the most out of this players.
This year, the team broke the record for most players to see game action in an MLS season with 39. That is a lot of faces. A kit manager’s worst nightmare. And you can imagine the task of trying to implement an alien soccer system to a group of constantly changing bodies. It's tough.
Toronto FC are currently firing on all cylinders, most recently earning a draw against the notorious Union, while resting many of their starters. Glimpses of the style and flair that Winter preaches are in abundance with the team finally starting to mesh together as a unit.
A win in Dallas would be a bonus, as it would solidify a berth in the CONCACAF Champion's League knockout stages, a feat that one can safely assume Toronto has never achieved.
Looking into the future, the Reds look poised to break into the upper tier of the MLS elite. With a group of very young and talented players, led by some veteran pedigree, the team uses the wings to exploit the deficiencies of other teams. The three-striker front spreads out opposition defenses, and with an emphasis on a possession game, the ball gets moved around until a hole is found and a play can be made.
The team has continued to struggle in the back, trading defensive support for offensive power, which leaves the team susceptible to the counterattack. Finding some quality to shore up the defense is on the offseason priority list, as Winter will look to next season as a true measure of his managerial stature.
It's been said a few too many times in this town. That the future looks bright. That next season will be the glory days.
Call me naive, but Toronto FC just might be the franchise to break this Toronto sports curse. I am convinced they are. Now we'll just have to wait and see.