MLS

Wileman: Defoe, Toronto FC giving fans hope for the future

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Luke Wileman
3/23/2014 9:45:15 AM
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Toronto FC supporters have heard all about it. They have watched it from afar. And now they have seen it for themselves. Jermain Defoe is a difference maker.

Just two matches into his Major League Soccer career, the England international now has three goals. He followed up his opening day brace by scoring the winner against DC United in the club's home opener on Saturday.

MLSE has spent big bucks bringing the former Spurs forward to Toronto as part of a remarkable offseason transformation and even at this early stage, they are seeing a return on their investment.

On Saturday, BMO Field was alive again. It was like 2007 all over again. A stadium and fan base that has seen the life gradually sucked out if it, year by year, failure after failure, was reinvigorated.

With Defoe, it's not just about the goals. Far from it. His movement is exceptional. Against D.C. United he created three first half chances which showcased his exceptional reading of the game - he was one or two steps ahead of the D.C. defence every time he sensed a potential opening in front of goal.

An MLS coach told me last year he believes when LA Galaxy's Robbie Keane is on his game, he is "unstoppable." Defoe has shown in his first two matches that he has the ability to have that same impact in Major League Soccer.

And it's not just Defoe. MLSE President Tim Leiweke must have been grinning from ear to ear when he saw three of the club's big offseason acquisitions involved in the only goal of the game against D.C. Michael Bradley played a lovely ball through for Brazilian Gilberto who saw his shot saved by Bill Hamid, only for Defoe to pounce and score his third goal in just two matches.

For the second week in a row, Bradley ran the midfield. Prior to signing Bradley, TFC GM Tim Bezbatchenko described him as "the heart and soul" of the U.S. Men's National Team. He has very quickly become he heartbeat of Toronto FC as well.

It was also the first chance we got to see Gilberto. The 24-year-old missed most of preseason through injury but started against D.C. and was impressive showing some quality touches as well as the physical attributes necessary to succeed in MLS.

Defensively, Toronto also looked solid. Brazil's number one goalkeeper Julio Cesar kept his first clean sheet for the club while the central defensive tandem of veteran Steven Caldwell and young Canadian Doneil Henry continues to develop a strong understanding.

The quality on the pitch and the atmosphere in the stands was night and day compared to six months ago. There have been false dawns before, but this time it feels different. For the first time in club history the Reds have won back-to-back games to start the MLS season.

There is of course still much work to be done. This is a team in the early stages of it's life together and there will be setbacks and bad days ahead. There are questions about the depth of the squad should some of the key pieces be missing for an extended period of time.

Head coach Ryan Nelsen talks often about the fact the team is not anywhere near where he wants it to be - he told me he wants the team to be able to win playing beautiful football and also learn how to win ugly. Saturday was probably somewhere in between.

It is very much a work in progress and will remain so for many weeks ahead, but after seven years of missing the playoffs, on Saturday at BMO Field it was a celebration for Toronto FC fans as their team finally gave them some hope for the future.

Jermain Defoe (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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