TFC – All quiet on the eastern front

on March 2017 | in Sports | by Dario Passarelli | @PapaDart | with No Comments

Fans usually detest a quiet offseason for their favourite team as it provides them with little to get excited about or to look forward too. For TFC however, Toronto’s most successful team in 2016, a quiet offseason is more than welcome. If we look back through the short history of this club, we find that nothing really, has ever been done quietly. From the early years where there was a continuous carousel of players and coaches, to the Bloody Big Deal in 2014, the Atomic Ant in 2015 and even with the 4 key MLS pickups last year, the team has gone to great lengths to bolster this lineup into a contending team. Having come literally an inch last year from being named MLS Champions, they are now that contending team. The best way to improve therefore, doesn’t come in making plenty of player changes, but by building continuity on this existing, contending team. It is with complete understanding that GM Bezbatchenko in the offseason only added a touch here, in attacking midfielder Victor Vazquez and a touch there, in defender Chris Mavinga.

Vazquez brings plenty of experience having risen through the Barcelona youth system and has since made stops in Belgium and Mexico. During several successful seasons with Club Brugge he was even earned Belgium Player of the Year for 2014-2015. Vazquez is an intelligent player who can provide plenty of creativity up front. As the attacking midfielder he will be a conduit between the back line and the attacking prowess of both Giovinco and Altidore. His presence can help create space for everyone as teams can no longer play compacted. In the past, Giovinco and Altidore had to come back quite far at times to help the team transition into offence. With Vazquez however, both forwards can stay high, forcing the opposing team to stretch to cover more area and that creates more open spaces for the Reds to take advantage of. Unfortunately, Vazquez has only had about an hour of preseason game time with the squad and will need some time to gel with the rest of the team. So he most likely won’t start in the opener, but will be available off the bench if needed. Once everyone is on the same page, this could very well get TFC’s offence firing on all cylinders.

The other significant move that the Reds made earlier this year was in signing defender Chris Mavinga. The signing did not with a lot of fanfare and is also a much riskier move. Mavinga has a superb soccer upbringing having played for France at all youth levels. He has has the speed and the athletic ability to be a shutdown defender. He can play on the left side in a back-three lineup or play a more central role if they switch to a traditional back four. The risk with Mavinga is whether or not he can settle in with his teammates both on and off the field. There haven’t been any specifics but there are rumblings he has had issues of this nature with other clubs. Mavinga will not be available for the opener as he was back in France for the birth of his child.

The biggest change though for Toronto FC this season isn’t with player personnel, management or even the stadium which is not under renovations for the first spring in three years. The biggest change will be how the fans handle their own expectations. This is the first year where making the playoffs isn’t a goal, it is an expectation. So too is making the MLS Cup Final. For the first time in it’s history, TFC will be MLS Cup Champions or their season will appear to be a disappointment. That fine line certainly isn’t fair on the players, but that is the reality of the situation. What is going to make this year so difficult is that the long, gruelling MLS season will be even longer and a lot more gruelling.

We all recall the exciting end to the season last year as the Reds fought for playoff position and we will never forget that memorable playoff run with the 7-0 aggregate thrashing of NYCFC and the exciting Eastern Conference Final with the Montreal Impact. To get there again though, the team and their fans have to make sure they don’t overlook each and every regular season game. If the players think they can mail it in, they are wrong. As finalists, they have targets on their back and everyone is gunning for them. The Reds will have to match that energy night in and night out if they want to be successful and to properly prepare themselves for another long postseason run.

There will also be extra games this year as they will be playing in the CONCACAF Champions League. Exciting as that is, it will be quite taxing on the usual starting 11 and Coach Greg Vanney will have to be disciplined in balancing playing time and getting results. So get ready for the start to the 2017 TFC season as they visit Real Salt Lake on Saturday, March 4th @ 4:30 pm. It will be a long, exciting and quite possibly, a very special year. Enjoy!

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