Well, that flew by.
Toronto FC’s 2–1 home victory over Orlando City on Wednesday night denoted the quarter mark of the Major League Soccer season, with the Reds earning their third straight win to improve their record to 4-1-4.
Here’s a look at TFC through the first nine games of the campaign.
Jozy Altidore. The American international was TFC’s best player down the stretch last year and into the playoffs, and he’s picked up where this campaign right where he left off. With five goals and three assists in eight starts, Altidore continues to challenge Sebastian Giovinco as the club’s most important player. It’s not just the goals and assists, either – Altidore uses his size and strength to serve as the reference point in attack, creating space and opportunities for Giovinco.
Best off-season pickup
Victor Vazquez. This is a no-brainer. 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 one goal and leads MLS in assists with six, and he has emerged as one of the league’s best newcomers this season. 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.
Justin Morrow. The beat goes on for Morrow, who has cemented his status as TFC’s most consistent player since joining the club in 2014. He started the season at left wingback in coach Greg Vanney’s 3-5-2 formation, but Drew Moor’s health issues meant he had to drop back and play on the left side of the Reds’ three-man defence. He’s nary put a foot wrong in either position, underlining his value as one of the club’s most reliable and versatile starters. With two goals (third-highest on the team) and an assist, he continues to be a threat going forward.
Raheem Edwards. Moor’s health issues also provided an opportunity for Edwards, as the young Canadian filled in for Morrow at the left wingback spot. Edwards has hardly looked out of place as a starter in his rookie MLS season, winning plaudits for his hard work at both ends of the field. Edwards showed brief flashes of what he was capable of during a few Canadian Club Championship appearances in 2016, but the way he’s played with a maturity and poise well beyond his 21 years has been a pleasant surprise for the Reds.
Michael Bradley. As always, Bradley has been TFC’s workhorse, playing every minute (810 in total) of the first nine games of the season. The stats point to a pretty bland showing by the Reds’ captain — he has only one assist and registered just one shot. The stats don’t tell the full story, though. Bradley is a hardworking bulwark in midfield, serving the invaluable shield that protects TFC’s three-man defence, and the key link between the back line and attack. A lot of the little things that Bradley does go unnoticed because his is a very subtle game, but make no mistake: He’s invaluable to TFC.
WHERE DOES TFC STAND
Overall, TFC are in a good place at the moment, tied for second place in the Eastern Conference.
There have been plenty of positives: four clean sheets, the fourth-best defensive record in MLS, young depth players such as Edwards and Marky Delgado showing their worth, and solid contributions from their core of key starters (Giovinco, Altidore, Vazquez and Bradley).
“We feel good about the group that we have, and we don’t step onto the field on too many days feeling like we’re not going to win,” Bradley said after Wednesday night’s win over Orlando.
That being said, there’s no doubt that Toronto left some points on the table through the first nine games of the year. Vanney admitted he’d like to see his side start putting opponents away when they have them at their mercy.
“When we have the game by the scruff of the neck, [we need to] finish it off,” Vanney stated. “We have to progress a little bit in our ability to control games in possession, not just in our defensive shape.”
PRESSING QUESTIONS GOING FORWARD
Has Bono displaced Irwin as No. 1 goalkeeper?
Out of action since suffering a hamstring strain on March 31, Clint Irwin might not be reinstalled as the starter now that he’s healthy. Alex Bono has been more than solid in Irwin’s absence, earning one shutout and three wins in five starts, and making a number of important saves for the Reds. Vanney recently told Sportsnet that “Clint has been the No. 1, and provided he shows he’s healthy and ready to go, I don’t see that changing.” But if it ain’t broke, why fix it? It’ll be interesting to see if Vanney goes back to Irwin or sticks with Bono during a May and June stretch that is packed with fixtures.
Has Delgado earned a spot in the starting 11?
With Vazquez and Bradley holding down two of the three central midfield spots, Vanney rotated between Canadian Jonathan Osorio and Armando Cooper through the first six matches. He gave Delgado a rare start on April 21. Since then, Delgado has made three consecutive starts and has been one of TFC’s most effective players during that stretch. “Marky has done a really nice job of moving the ball quickly, getting the difference makers the ball in the right place, at the right time, in the right way. He’s been very efficient,” Vanney said. TFC is putting an emphasis on quicker ball movement this season, and Delgado’s style of play best suits that ethos, more so than Osorio and Cooper.
What’s in store for Mavinga?
Chris Mavinga was one of the team’s biggest off-season additions, the belief being at the time that he was a solid defensive piece who would add depth and quality to the back line. He’s the club’s fifth-highest paid player (according to the MLS players’ union website), but thus far the French defender has underwhelmed. He’s made just three appearances, and he looked poor in his one start — he was culpable on both goals in a 2–2 draw against Atlanta and was subbed out after 51 minutes. An abductor injury sidelined him for several weeks, but he’s fit again, which raises the question: Now what? Can he displace Eriq Zavaleta or Nick Hagglund as a regular starter? Will he be used as a backup? How hard will Vanney press to get Mavinga involved after the club went to the trouble of bringing him over this off-season?