With a little less than half a season left to play in MLS, Toronto FC find themselves tied with the Chicago Fire for first overall. This result is not completely unexpected from last year’s MLS Cup finalists, but it is still a worthy accomplishment. There are many different ways to judge their success and many reasons as to why they have been successful. It isn’t just their overall record that forces us to call them a successful team as they have only two losses, both of which were the road. They are thriving because of their continued fluid defence which is tied for third overall allowing only 19 goals in 19 games and because of the depth of talented players they have.
The reason to get behind TFC nowadays is because they play an exciting and entertaining brand of soccer, without sacrificing defence, and do so with usually a different starting 11 each time on the pitch. Their depth at almost every position is insane and has been tested through not 1 but 2 stretches when they played 6 games in about 18-21 days. Unfortunately, it is being tested once again during Gold Cup 2017.
During the group stages of this tournament, the team had lost Jonathan Osorio, Tosaint Ricketts and Raheem Edwards to the Canadian squad, while Justin Morrow played for the United States and Armando Cooper for Panama. Now that the knockout stage has begun, Canada has replaced Edwards, who did not see any playing time anyway, with Orlando FC striker Cyle Larin. As disappointing as it may appear for Edwards, his return is greatly appreciated as the US have now also called up Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore. The good news is that they have seven quality players that have been called up by their respective country but that also means they need to replace those seven in the starting lineup.
The loss of Altidore and Ricketts up front is a challenge for the Reds, but one they can overcome as they did in the past. Jordan Hamilton will get an opportunity to play more and in the 91 minutes of action he played this season he has 2 goals and an assist. If needed, there is also Tsubasa Endoh and Ben Spencer. Although both have played much more with TFC II, they did not look out of place when they have played for the parent club. Oh yeah, there is also that small kid they will be using, you know, last year’s leading point getter in Sebastian Giovinco. Although he got off to a slow start he has been sublimely wonderful in the last few games. Opposing defence should cower when he has the ball and don’t you dare give him a free kick outside the box. I believe the last person to score nine goals from set pieces did so from 2003 to the present. Giovinco has nine also, but he has done it in just two and a half seasons.
With midfielders Bradley, Osorio and Cooper out of the lineup, it is nice to see Edwards back. His speed and confidence on the wing has caused havoc for defenders and he is tied for second in assists with 5 already this season. Speaking of assists, you still have Victor Vazquez who leads the team with 10. There is Marky Delgado who despite his young age is one of the best two way midfielders on the team helping disrupt opponent’s attack while helping to create at the other end. The team will miss their captain who plays such an integral part in being the conduit that takes the team from a defensive standpoint to an offencive one, but even in that regard, you have a veteran like Benoit Cheyrou, who can fill in long enough until Bradley comes back.
Defensively, the story is the same. Take out who you want and there is someone ready to take their place. After a poor first game, Chris Mavinga has quickly taken to MLS play and has been an imposing force on the left side. Let’s also not forget the recent signing of Nicolas Hasler, the Liechtenstein international who they will try to fill the wing back position as that is the only place they are thin. With Steven Beitashour and Nick Hagglund injured, they did require some depth there. The team could have relied on TFC II call up Oyvind Alseth, who has done admirably in his 2 TFC appearances, but taking on a bigger responsibility may be too much for the 22 year old rookie.
— Toronto FC Report (@fanly_torontofc) July 14, 2017
Having so much depth is a positive in times like this, but it can also come at a price. Not enough playing time can affect players causing them to be sluggish and out of step. Also with so many pieces coming in and out of the lineup, the team may not have enough time to gel. Familiarity, consistency are usually key attributes of winning teams. Therefore it will be important moving forward to keep an eye on coach Greg Vanney’s lineups and substitution patterns to see how he will make it all work. Vanney, just like Manager Tim Bezbatchenko, received a well deserved contract extension this past week. He’ll earn it alright if he can put the puzzle pieces together and bring Toronto an MLS Championship.
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