Mid-season report card: Toronto FC passes with flying colours

Toronto-FC's-Victor-Vazquez,-left,-kicks-the-ball-up-the-field-with-Philadelphia-Union's-Chris-Pontius,-right,-trailing-during-the-first-half-of-an-MLS-soccer-match,-Saturday,-March-11,-2017,-in-Chester,-Pa.-(Chris-Szagola/AP)

Victor Vazquez in action for Toronto FC. (Chris Szagola/AP)

Where has the time gone?

It’s hard to imagine that Toronto FC’s 2-0 win over the New England Revolution on Friday night marked the halfway point of the Major League Soccer regular season. It seems like just a few weeks ago we were all complaining about the incredibly short off-season as the Reds began training camp in January.

Regardless, TFC has set the pace through the first half of the MLS campaign, going unbeaten in eight games at one point (with seven wins), and currently topping the overall standings with an impressive 10-2-5 record.

Here’s a look at TFC through the first 17 games of the 2017 season.

HALF SEASON AWARDS

MVP

Jozy Altidore. Altidore’s stats and playing style point to how much of a well-rounded forward he is and to his importance to TFC. He’s tied with Sebastian Giovinco for the team lead in scoring (seven goals), second in shots taken and shots on goal, third in assists (four) and fourth in minutes played. Altidore has been a tireless workhorse for the Reds at both ends of the field, leading the attack up front (and scoring three game-winning goals), and serving as the first line of defence when TFC tries to win back the ball. Altidore has become the focal point of Toronto’s attack with his physical presence and bullying of opposing defenders, which opens up spaces and chances for his teammates to exploit.

Best off-season pickup

Victor Vazquez. Who else could it possibly be? Not only has he proven to be Toronto’s best addition, but he has emerged as one of the league’s best newcomers in 2017, and is quietly making a case to be considered for the league’s MVP award. The Spanish playmaker was brought in to unlock defences, and link up with Altidore and Giovinco, and that’s exactly what he’s done. Vazquez has three goals and leads MLS in assists with nine (tied with Atlanta’s Yamil Asad). The former Barcelona youth academy product has added a touch of genuine class in the centre of the park, and appears to be the type of midfield creator the Reds have long needed. Alongside Altidore, he’s been Toronto’s most important player thus far.

Best defender

Drew Moor. Yeah, he missed seven games due to a heart condition. Yeah, Eriq Zavaleta has logged more playing time than everybody else on the team except Michael Bradley and Justin Morrow. And yeah, Chris Mavinga, Jason Hernandez and Nick Hagglund (before getting injured) have all looked solid. But Moor remains the quarterback of TFC’s stout defence, the chief organizer of a back line that ranks among the best in the league. How important is Moor? Consider this: Moor was only one of three players (Mavinga and Altidore were the others) to start on Friday night after playing 90 minutes just 48 hours earlier in Montreal.

Unheralded hero

Michael Bradley and Alex Bono. Both are deserving, so why pick between them, right? Bradley continues to be the linchpin that holds not only TFC’s midfield together, but the entire team. He serves as the reference point with his bullish and determined play in the centre of the park, doing the unglamorous muck work that provides the solid foundation for the Reds’ dangerous attack. As for Bono, he displaced veteran Clint Irwin in firmly establishing himself as the club’s No. 1 goalkeeper. Still only in his second MLS season, Bono has looked poised and commanding in his box, made a number of big and important saves, and is quickly establishing himself as one of the league’s best shot stoppers.

WHERE DOES TFC STAND?

Top of the Eastern Conference. First place in MLS. Ten wins in 17 games, with only two losses. On the verge of repeating as winners of the Canadian Championship.

You can’t ask for much better than that, right?

There have been plenty of positives: nine clean sheets, tied for the second-best defensive record in MLS, one of the best attacks in the league, young players such as Raheem Edwards and Marky Delgado making contributions and becoming regular starters, and the core of key starters (Altidore, Bradley, Giovinco, Moor and Vazquez) continuing to lead the way.

TFC left some valuable points on the table at the start of the season, but they quickly rebounded and became noted for their ruthlessness during an incredible eight-game unbeaten run that saw them win seven times.

And yes, it’s been said so often, but it needs to be repeated: This is an incredibly deep team. Neither injuries and international absences, nor insane scheduling with a flurry of games in a short period of time, have been able to slow down the Big Red Machine. Coach Greg Vanney has routinely looked to his long bench to help him get through whatever crisis has presented itself.

The first decade of Toronto FC in the words of the players, coaches, executives and fans who built the franchise.

PLAYERS TO KEEP AN EYE ON IN THE SECOND HALF

Sebastian Giovinco

It seems a bit unfair to say the Italian has had a quiet start to the season, especially when you consider he has seven goals (tied for the team lead) and three assists – and this after sitting out five games due to various reasons. And part of the problem is that Giovinco has set such a high standard for himself through his first two seasons in MLS that anything less is viewed as a disappointment. Still, he’s been far from his best through the first half of the campaign – although, he’s still been pretty good – so it’ll be interesting to see how much, or even if, he’ll be able to turn it up a notch over the ensuing months.

Raheem Edwards

The young Canadian was one of the Reds’ most dynamic players through the first four months of the season, both as a super sub and a semi-regular starter, tallying five assists in 13 appearances (eight as a starter). He also proved to be quite verastaile, playing at both left and right wingback, and filling in on the left side of TFC’s three-man defence. He’ll likely be away for several weeks this summer as he plays for Canada at the CONCACAF Gold Cup after earning his first international cap earlier this month. He can only benefit from that experience, as playing for his country in a big tournament will help his game grow and develop even further.

Jonathan Osorio

A regular starter last year, and a key figure for the Reds down the regular season stretch and during their run to the MLS Cup final, Osorio has fallen down the midfield depth chart this campaign. He’s made 15 league appearances – all but four of them have been from the substitute’s bench. With the arrival of Vazquez and the emergence of Marky Delgado, the young Canadian has had to fight for playing time. Osorio is still a useful player, and his skill set is a good match for Vanney’s playing style that stresses quick ball movement. Whether he’ll get a chance to feature more often remains to be seen.

TFC Pitchside will provide Toronto FC supporters with an inside look into their favourite obsession Monday nights at 11 pm ET on Sportsnet 590 The FAN. Call it an all-access pass for all things MLS brought to you by co-hosts Dan Riccio, Thomas Michalakos and producer Amil Delic. You'll hear from the biggest names around the club, and the MLS. You'll also get reviews and previews of every TFC game with reports from Pitchside at training and on game days at BMO Field. The Six is about to get done!

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