TFC’s addition of fullback Auro has major tactical implications

Auro in training with TFC, (Photo courtesy of Toronto FC)

The list is long, but it includes Victor Vazquez, Chris Mavinga and Nicolas Hasler.

Will Brazilian defender Auro become the latest international player whose career is revitalized as a member of Toronto FC? Time will tell.

TFC officially announced the signing on Tuesday of the 22-year-old Auro, full name Auro Alvaro da Cruz Junior, to a one-year loan deal from Brazilian club Sao Paulo. The Reds also have an option to buy out his contract and make him a permanent player.

Auro joined Sao Paulo after coming up through the team’s youth system, and made 34 appearances for the senior side in 2014. He has also played for Brazil’s under-17 and under-20 teams. But he fell out of favour with Sao Paulo after that first season, and went on a number of loan spells over the years that proved unfruitful.

That didn’t scare off TFC, though, and they feel Auro not only gives them added width and versatility on the right flank, but also some much-needed depth in central midfield.

How can that be?

Toronto coach Greg Vanney explained that Auro’s presence on the right side will allow Hasler to move into central midfield after playing as a right wingback and fullback for most of the second half of the 2017 season. A central midfielder by trade, Hasler can now play in the middle and serve as cover for captain Michael Bradley, a role the Reds had to fill following the recent retirement of Benoit Cheyrou.

Auro’s arrival in Toronto also fills a need at the right wingback slot in Vanney’s 3-5-2 formation following the off-season departure of Steven Beitashour, who signed with Los Angeles FC in free agency. But Auro’s presence has wide-ranging tactical implications for the MLS Cup champions beyond simply filling a hole.

“Auro is a right-sided player – he can play as a right fullback, he can play as a right winger. [But] he also gives us the ability to push Nico Hasler – who is more naturally a midfielder, a central midfielder – back into his natural position,” Vanney told Sportsnet.

“Last year when we got Nico, we thought he was going to be a defensive midfielder, but we didn’t really have backup for Beitashour, and we were using Nico in that spot because he had played there before. But he grew up as a midfielder and felt most comfortable in that position.”

The addition of Auro comes shortly after the Reds signed Dutch right fullback Gregory van der Wiel. With the Netherlands international now in tow, the right side of the pitch for TFC appears to be locked down.

“With Greg and Auro, we can now slide Nico back in as a midfielder, which gives us added depth there,” Vanney said. “It gives us versatility too, because with Nico, he did a nice job as a wingback, but he wasn’t as comfortable in a back four. Now, he can play in his more natural position in the middle.”

General manager Tim Bezbatchenko at the start of pre-season training camp last month stated one of his goals was to add a different type of attacking piece. Specifically, Bezbatchenko talked about finding a new player who “can provide a different look and variation than our group [of attackers] that we currently have,” and also complement starting forwards Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore.

No doubt TFC’s GM is hoping Auro fits that bill, as the Brazilian has great speed and is able to play as outright winger on both the left and right.

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