The moves come with a new ownership group led by Cleveland Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam expected to take over and plans in the works for a new downtown stadium. The MLS team was at risk of being moved to Austin, Texas, by its present owners before the local group stepped in.
The 43-year-old Porter was head coach of the Portland Timbers from 2013-17, finishing there with a 68-50-52 record. Previously, he was head soccer coach at the University of Akron from 2006-12.
The 37-year-old Bezbatchenko was Toronto FC’s vice president of soccer operations and general manager from 2013-18.
Bezbatchenko is said to be moving back home to Columbus for the president’s position at Crew SC, where he’d also oversee the business side of the club. He was born 20 minutes from Crew Stadium, but has made his name by putting together the TFC powerhouse. The Reds’ 2017 season might’ve been the best in MLS history.
The year is 2008, and friends north of the border have need of partners in their two-year-old habit of TFC season tickets. Given a love of the game and a less than two hour drive from Buffalo to BMO Field, we leap at the chance.
The Reds had won seven games in their inaugural campaign, but had signed Pescadito and hired ex-Leeds and Newcastle assistant John Carver (We didn’t know then what we know now). And it all looked great when Rohan Ricketts scored a brace on June 14, moving the team to 6W-4L-2T.
They won one of the next 14 league games. Toronto committed a similar grievance the following season — Two wins from 11 after a 7W-6L-4T start — compounding it by failing to score over 180 minutes of CONCACAF Champions League play against the Puerto Rico Islanders. Following a scoreless friendly against River Plate, we bid TFC the best and saddled up with a nascent club closer to home.
More misery followed for Toronto supporters, and little soothed the frayed nerves of the faithful enough Red Patch Boys. Little swings, like the signing of Mista, missed. The drafting woes were almost comical, selecting consecutive players the picks before Sporting KC took Roger Espinoza. The next year? O’Brian White when three of the next four picks were Rodney Wallace, Chris Pontius, and Matt Besler. 2010 and 2011? First round picks traded for Adrian Serioux and Nathan Sturgis.
This is a long way of describing why embattled American fans may not quite understand what Michael Bradley and Company have done up in Toronto, and why Canadian fans adore their bald-domed metronome. Even forgetting for a second that Bradley was a 90-minute force on Saturday.
Yes, Toronto spends money. This is nothing new, though, having names like Torsten Frings and Danny Koevermans through the door in years past. But it’s how they spend money now under general manager Tim Bezbatchenko.
And for every discussion on how Bradley and Jozy Altidore may be better for country had they stayed overseas, or how Sebastian Giovinco somehow wound up in Toronto, there’s a solid acquisition like Justin Morrow or draft pick Alex Bono. There are savvy signings Drew Moor and Steven Beitashour, and the mining of MVP candidate Victor Vazquez from Club Brugge via Cruz Azul.
Jonathan Osorio developed in house.
Eriq Zavaleta for a second round pick.
Marky Delgado off the Chivas USA scrap heap.
Chris Mavinga from no more than 20 league matches anywhere in the world in recent history.
This is, without a doubt, the best team in Major League Soccer history. MLS is by far as good as its ever been, and Toronto FC took that class and dominated it. Say what you will about where the league stands internationally, but TFC didn’t just beat the teams on its docket; It largely crushed them.
We can only hope it sticks together through a CONCACAF Champions League season, and maybe gives MLS its best chance at a Club World Cup.
But for now, appreciate that Toronto’s ambitious project finally executed the plan its supporters deserved. On a cold night and its third time of asking — the first time TFC wasn’t even in the match — an MLS Cup was won by the boys in red at BMO. And the entire crew deserved it.
Toronto… holy smoke! A friend of mine gave me tickets to take my young son to BMO Field for a match-up between Toronto FC and San Jose on Saturday, so we crossed the border to see the Reds hope to clinch a playoff spot versus the Earthquakes.
San Jose was coming off a 3-0 win in the Cali Clasico and another victory would’ve boosted the Quakes into the Top Six. Now bringing a second grader to a game, all I was hoping for was that TFC would handle its home field like the majority of MLS, score a goal so the kid could cheer, and to not be sucked into the vortex of overgrown Toronto traffic.
The game gave us that, and then some, with the Reds rolling to a 4-0 win and leaving me with the thought that this TFC team has two big things we’re not often talking about: a masterful coach in Greg Vanney and a “gem unearther” in GM Tim Bezbatchenko.
The Reds move so well with and without the ball, a master class in shape. Days after Costa Rican star Marco Urena exploited space in the United States back line, Vanney’s defensive corps — which includes USMNT captain Michael Bradley at CDM — either eliminated the channels for San Jose’s star and, at one point, forced Urena to dribble the width of the defense just to find a step in the corner.
Knowing the many Americans in TFC’s XI, the Reds’ clear understanding of their duties and roles, and with Urena’s work against the U.S. fresh in my mind, I literally wondered for a moment if the U.S. shouldn’t just hire Vanney and call up TFC’s 3-5-2 for next month’s World Cup qualifiers, plugging Christian Pulisic in for Sebastian Giovinco (TFC players below in bold).
Altidore — Pulisic
Morrow — Bedoya — Bradley — Delgado — Yedlin
Zavaleta — Moor — Hagglund
Howard (Not yet, Alex Bono)
All of TFC’s center backs in its 3-5-2 were marvelous with the ball, and the team seemed especially dangerous when it was on the left peg of Chris Mavinga. The left-most CB allows Justin Morrow to fly up the side of the field. In the middle, it’s Drew Moor who shows an innate ability to play off of Bradley.
For TFC, Bradley is the marshall expected by USMNT fans, and this simply isn’t because MLS is different from CONCACAF competition. He tries just as many creative balls and does get caught jumping towards the ball, but his midfield mates quickly suck into the ball.
This is true for essentially every position on the field, as TFC does a tremendous job attacking the ball when it reaches vulnerable points of opposition positions. If an attacker gets too tight to the end line or, even better, the corner, either Morrow or right-sided wing man Steven Beitashour are quickly on the case, pressing.
Keeping in mind that 27-year-old Jozy Altidore and 30-year-old Sebastian Giovinco as a pair are borderline unplayable at this level, the Reds attack is augmented by savvy pick-up Victor Vazquez from Club Brugge and Barca’s famed La Masia Academy. And when trio-completing Marky Delgado went down, the Reds were able to turn to TFC vet Jonathan Osorio.
And, by the way, note how an incisive pass victimizes Honduran center back Victor Bernardez to help Altidore beat Danny Tarbell, the promising American backstop who had a day to forget at BMO Field.
“You just can’t give these two that kind of space.”
Seeing a match in person without any writing duties usually brings a few new reflections to mind. Last year in Orlando, I saw visiting NYCFC midfielder Frank Lampard dominate physically in a way that showed the previous criticism of his career status in MLS was ridiculous.
This year, it was the fact that this Toronto side can not only snare a treble with the Supporters’ Shield, Canadian Championship, and MLS Cup, it can compete with anything CONCACAF will offer in the Champions League. It’s a shame it’ll have to keep its corps in tact over an offseason in order to do so.
Bonus TFC/MLS in a nutshell fun fact: The flags on the left are indicative of how Major League Soccer would love its international and American stars to help raise the tide for all American boats, in this case on a Canadian team (Stats via WhoScored.com):
Bonus TFC “Power Couple” fun fact: Jozy Altidore scored a pair of goals on Saturday, the same day his girlfriend Sloane Stephens won the U.S. Open. Lunatics will hope their glorious love blossoms and provides USMNT and USWNT champions deep down the line…
Other quick hitters:
Portland goes top — As long as Caleb Porter’s in charge, and he’s gonna be there a while, I’ll be nervous to confidently state we know which Portland Timbers team is going to show up: the flashes of brilliance side which can run to an MLS Cup Final, or the flashes of brilliance side which fails to make the playoffs. But the win over New York City FC, Andrea Pirlo mistake-aided or not, has the Timbers remaining in a fine spot.
Cascadian trio leading West — Matches-in-hand means Sporting KC and perhaps FC Dallas will stop the table from finishing this way, but Vancouver stayed hot by knocking off a good Real Salt Lake team and Seattle remains unbeaten since mid-June to make the table 1-2-3 with Cascadia Cup rivals.
Atlanta’s big week — The “Five Stripes” clobbered Dallas to christen Mercedes Benz Stadium, and now make up one of their matches-in-hand at midweek. With visits from New England and Orlando City, it’s not crazy to think AUFC will be in the driver’s seat for a home playoff match after this weekend.
Crew looking tricky — Columbus is going to run out of time to climb the table thanks to playing more several matches than their competition at this point, but no one’s going to want to see the unbeaten in five Crew on their playoff docket.
Impact slowing — Three-straight losses for Montreal have the Impact outside the Top Six, as the buoyant arrival of Blerim Dzemaili has cooled a bit in Quebec.
Revs closer to road imperfection — Houston’s 1-0 win at Columbus mean New England is the only team without a road win. The Revolution still have trips to Atlanta, KC, Orlando, and Montreal, and will need to win more than one of those to make a surprising run into the playoffs. The six-pointers versus Atlanta and Montreal — the first is Weds. — are huge.
Toronto FC’s new star-studded roster has three wins in four games to start its time together, the lone blemish being a blowout loss in the harrowing home grounds of Real Salt Lake.
And as Michael Bradley, Jermain Defoe, Steven Caldwell and company continue to get to know each other, TFC general manager can salivate at the prospect of holding the No. 1 slot in Major League Soccer’s allocation order.
This allows the Reds first dibs on any player headed for the States, but also gives them the power to trade that asset for something they might need. It’s a spot general manager Tim Bezbatchenko loves, and the 32-year-old Ohio native was asked about TFC’s interest in Brek Shea if the big Texan came galloping home from Stoke City.
“Yeah, 100% (we’d be interested),” Bezbatchenko told me. “I mean, Brek Shea is a dynamic U.S. international. I think you’d take any of these guys seriously.”
Of course, Bezbatchenko is duty-bound to say such a thing. Why abdicate the power seat by admitting you’d pass on the guy, or do anything other than lavish praise on the 24-year-old? But the concept of TFC finding a way to add his pace on the side is interesting, even if they’ve had good work on both sides so far this season.