Giovinco of Toronto FC in MLS against New York City FC

TFC finds the road to success

on April 2016 | in Sports | by Dario Passarelli | @PapaDart | with No Comments

With the Toronto Blue Jays in full swing and the Toronto Raptors in playoff mode, there is little fanfare for what their younger sibling is accomplishing. That really is a shame as Toronto FC have put together a nice little run to start the season. It is still early in the campaign mind you, but there are enough encouraging signs that suggest this could be their best season and hopefully, a much longer playoff run.

In an earlier article, Toronto FC – Depth, Defence and Starting on the Road the three keys to success in 2016 were discussed. Although the season is only seven games old and a little too soon to evaluate their depth, it is possible to see how well they are doing in the other two categories, defence and their eight game road trip.

It is common knowledge that this team made the playoffs last year for the first time in its 9 year history, but a pathetic result in their lone playoff game left a sour taste in everyone’s mouth. That 3-0 defeat at the hands of the Montreal Impact at Stade Saputo may have driven home the biggest team sports cliché of all time – Offence may win games, but defence wins championships.

Last year at this point, they played 7 away games and gave up 12 goals. This year, during a similar stretch, they only gave up 5 goals and that includes 3 clean sheets. They literally have given up 1 goal less per game and that is a remarkable accomplishment. It may be difficult for them to maintain this pace for the entire season, but at the very least there is a conscious effort from coaches and players to keep the ball out of their own net.

There is no doubt that the defensive strategies this year rely more on a team concept than that of just the back line. The midfield have held tremendous focus on defending which leaves players like Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco on their own offensively. It is also encouraging that they are not stuck to one style of defending as the Reds have successfully used a few different starting formations. The Reds had to be at their defensive best this past Saturday as it was another chapter in the 401 Derby. Two of MLS’ best players faced off against each other with Impact’s Didier Drogba hosting TFC’s Giovinco for the first time since that embarrassing playoff defeat.

This outcome was completely different. Rather than give up three first-half goals, the team defended very well and were rarely threatened in TFC’s 2-0 victory. Even though credit should be given to goalie Clint Irwin and his defenders for keeping aging superstar Didier Drogba at bay, it was the midfield that deserved the most praise. The Reds used a diamond formation in the middle, with Michael Bradley close to the defence, Jonathan Osorio towards the forwards and Will Johnson and Marco Delgado on the wings. They all have fantastic pace and used it to harass their counterparts. By winning the battles in the middle of the field they limited the number of scoring chances as it prevented the Impact’s playmakers from connecting with their Ivory Coast designated player. If Drogba doesn’t receive the ball, he simply can’t score.

However, when Montreal did successfully venture into the Reds zone, the Reds were very methodical in easing the ball back up field and relieving the pressure quickly. TFC struggled with this last year allowing that pressure to continue which eventually led to mistakes and goals against. It is very encouraging to see them improve upon this. Michael Bradley has adapted well to his more defensive role and it has helped this team tremendously as his excellent passing skills are used as the main conduit in getting the ball from the defence to the offence.

With so much focus on defence one would expect there to be a drop on offence and sure enough there is. It hasn’t been a huge difference as they have scored 8 times this year compared to 11 last year. The quantity of goals is not the issue however, especially if this stubborn defence continues. But there is cause for concern in where the goals are coming from. Last year’s MLS Player of the Year Giovinco has scored 6 of the 8 TFC goals and assisted on the other 2. Simply put, no Atomic Ant, no offence. With a very good chance he will be called up for Italy’s Euro 2016 team this summer, this means he will be away for one to two months during the season. Someone, anyone will need to step up to provide some timely offence in his absence otherwise this wonderful start to the season will go to waste.

And what a start it has been. Playing on the road is difficult and although no one wants to settle for a tie, earning a point per game on the road is considered quite successful. Toronto FC have already earned themselves 11 points with a 3-2-2 record and still have a game to play in Portland this weekend before coming home. It isn’t just the fact that they have two more points at this stage than they did last year that is encouraging, it is again, how smartly they have played as a team on the road.

It is uncertain to know how the Blue Jays will fare over the next two weeks or if the Raptors will still be in the playoffs. It may therefore be quiet outside of BMO field for the Reds home opener May 7th. Truthfully, there never has been a lot of love for Toronto FC, or for that matter, soccer as a whole in this city. But what this fan base lacks in quantity in makes up for in quality. They stand up during the entire match, they sing songs about their players and their heroes and they travel to other cities and our vocal just as much as the rest of the 6ix. Do yourself a favour and catch what you can of TFC this year. They may not win the championship but the ride could be just as thrilling.

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