On Saturday, the Toronto FC embark on another campaign, full of promise and optimism. Tim Bezbatchenko has had a busy offseason and supporters are chomping at the bit in anticipation of what could be in store for the club in 2015. The 2014 season was an improvement but still fell well short of the team’s goals, one being qualifying for the MLS Playoffs.
Riddled with injuries and questions of commitment, the season fell apart after the World Cup Break came to an end. Supporters and the city will remain reserved until the team can prove that they are a contender as they have been scarred and even embarrassed over the past eight seasons. Will their ninth season and Major League Soccer’s twentieth be the one that Toronto’s been waiting for?
Who’s in & Who’s Out?
For the second offseason in a row, the Toronto FC made big headlines after making a few big name and big dollar moves. In January it was even joked that the Toronto FC were the two time MLS Off-Season Champions. This off-season however concentrated on quality rather than a marketing campaign. Questionable changes have been made before but even the most skeptical of Toronto FC critics will agree that the moves this off-season were very well done. Unfortunately, there are no trophies awarded in the off-season. As for whether the changes made will prove to be a ‘Bloody Big Deal’ on the pitch remains to be seen, but from the outset they do improve on paper.
|Jozy Altidore||Jermain Defoe|
|Sebastian Giovinco||Dominic Oduro|
|Benoit Cheyrou||Jeremy Hall|
|Robbie Findley||Andrew Wiedeman|
|Eriq Zavaleta||Dwayne De Rosario|
|Damien Perquis||Kyle Bekker|
|Jay Chapman||Doneil Henry|
|Skylar Thomas||Bradley Orr|
|Clément Simonin||Ryan Richter|
Toronto FC typically feel most comfortable in a standard 4-4-2 formation, except when Aron Winter insisted on a 4-3-3 in his managing days. This season the team itself has more shape, creativity and quality at every position. In the pre-season, Greg Vanney did the unthinkable and went against the typical Toronto FC style and put out his first team formation as a 4-2-3-1. Below is very likely the starting lineup this coming Saturday and beyond
Goalkeeper: Unless Joe Bendik is utterly terrible, expect him to be the keeper in goal the entire season with Konopka to give him a breather in a mid-season friendly or at best the Canadian Championship matches. It’d be more likely to see recently called upon US International Alex Bono replace him if the need arises.
Centreback: Former Captain, Steven Caldwell is still the anchor of the ship with the newly joined French Born and Polish International Damien Perquis by his side. The two will be critical in Toronto FC’s chances at success. Their experience and already strong pre-season should continue into March. The two will be great mentors for youngsters Nick Hagglund and Eric Zavaleta who are coming into their own themselves and strong backups in their own right.
Left Fullback: Justin Morrow has received a considerable amount of appreciation and the former MLS All-Star has been labelled the best in his position. Great timing surely going into the final year of his contract and could be looking to prove his value in 2015. Ashtone Morgan will be a good back-up but with Morrow receiving significant amounts of playing time the Canadian may be simply warming the bench.
Right Fullback: Both Warren Creavalle and Mark Bloom are good candidates for the position but are no shoe-in. This is likely the weakest position right now so expect some healthy competition for minutes from the two in 2015 and the opposition to try and expose it.
Defensive Midfield: Newly crowned Captain Michael Bradley will again be the center of attention and leader on the pitch from this position. Do not expect this to change even with Jurgen Klingsman playing him out of position with the USMNT as an attacking midfielder. Newly acquired Benoit Cheyrou will partner well in the center of the midfield and is already turning heads with some impressive moves in pre-season matches. Back-ups Colleen Warner and Jay Chapman will look to get minutes and very likely will during the summer when Michael Bradley is away with the USMNT in the Gold Cup. TFC Academy graduate Jay Chapman has been quite impressive during the pre-season and will hopefully be rewarded once the season begins.
Attacking Midfield: The Atomic Ant, Italian playmaker, Sebastien Giovinco will be fun to watch in 2015 and adds creativity and flare to the Toronto offense. Beside him on the wings will be Canadian International Jonathan Osorio on the left and former US International Robbie Findley on the right. Robbie Findley is new to the position and could be cause for concern for Greg Vanney. From left to right, Daniel Lovitz, Luke Moore and Jackson, are all significant options for Vanney to choose from. Except to see Jackson fight for minutes and attempt to impress. Even with the small concern for the right side of the midfield, it could be argued that Toronto has the strongest mid-field in the entire league.
Striker: With Gilberto loaned to Brazil and Jermain Defoe feeling homesick, former Sunderland forward and returning MLSer Jozy Altidore will have a bit of pressure to hit the ground running. Michael Bradley has put his stamp of approval on the USMNT teammate and will hopefully not need as much time to get his bearings as Gilberto did in 2014. Bright Dike is back from injury and the big Nigerian should be an excellent option for Greg Vanney to call upon late in matches.
The list below represents some youthful talent that will undoubtedly be the future of Toronto FC. For now they’ll likely be spending time with the TFCII squad in the USL to gain minutes and carefully develop their skills. The future is bright looking at the list below.
USL / Bench
GK Quillan Roberts
GK Alex Bono
M Chris Mannella
M Manuel Aparicio
M Marco Delgado
F Jordan Hamilton
Three Players to Watch
All eyes will be on the club’s newest Designated Players in Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco who are expected to be the core of creativity and offensive power. Certainly attention will also be on newly crowned Captain, Michael Bradley. Three players which may not get as much of the spotlight, but will be pivotal in the success of the club in 2015, are Justin Morrow, Joe Bendik and Benoit Cheyrou.
Justin Morrow played in 31 of Toronto FC’s 34 match campaign and was a candidate for player of the year in 2014. He is also arguably the best left fullback in the MLS at the moment and a former MLS All-Star. On a team that has been known to struggle defensively, stability along the back four is critical for success. On the final year of his contract and hopeful for another call-up to the United States National Team, all this combined could add up to a standout season for the 27 year old.
Joe Bendik by all accounts in Toronto FC’s number one goalkeeper and this season there is no confusing that. There is question at his ability to save the team in a pinch and if he can handle high pressure situations late in the match. Thankfully the defensive front has improved in 2015 and this may just prove to be Bendik’s breakout year. He will act as a mentor to the recently drafted Alex Bono who does however have the potential to be the starter if changes are needed in between the goal posts in 2015.
Benoit Cheyrou was recently brought over to the Canadian side after spending his entire career in France and the past seven seasons with Marseille. He brings a wealth of experience to play alongside Michael Bradley in the midfield. In just a short time, Cheyrou has looked phenomenal and will be a huge asset in the starting eleven.
End of Season Predictions
Prediction by Stefan Caunter: (note, I want to be wrong)
The early road trip will bury them in last or second last place. Orlando looks like a possible victory and Columbus (on March 14th, eesh!) a possible tie. The rest of that road trip looks dire. The early lack of results will keep the atmosphere quiet and irritable at BMO field. Two Canadian cup games are sandwiched around the first game against Houston Dynamo, who had an easy time scoring against us last year. There is no Chivas USA to beat up on this year, and no one is suggesting that NYCFC or Orlando City FC will be tomato cans in the league. Injuries will inevitably leave the defense inexperienced and vulnerable. I’m thinking that both Hagglund and Morgan are starting by June. Add in the Gold Cup break, and Altidore and Bradley will be gone. Who knows if they will be fit when they return. My final question marks with the team are with goalkeeper and Giovinco. TFC were obviously using their last pre-season game to get Bendik practise kicking the ball to his defenders. Ugh. MLS teams know how to pressure him. A GK change should have happened over the off-season. I don’t care that he’s cheap and pretty good. His distribution and indecisiveness is a problem for me. Sebastian Giovinco looks like he has skill to burn. So did Jermaine Defoe. I would go early to BMO every time to watch him practice. He was amazing. He was also totally unprotected by the officials. Held up? Too bad. Pulled down? No foul. That is the reality of MLS, and it will be the same for Giovinco. He’s small, and MLS players will knock him around. I think that basing your game plan on such a player won’t work in MLS. If anyone can score like Defoe, TFC has a chance to win games at home. We need to see this happen though. I don’t think anyone is going to get more than 10 goals. Moore won’t. Giovinco and Altidore might score, but nothing is guaranteed. Only Defoe and Koevermans were the real deal, and they never played a full season.
I’m a pessimist. I’ve earned it, after eight seasons writing a cheque to MLSE. TFC will finish 7th, out of the playoffs; they’ll win 3 road games and the manager will be replaced during the season.
Prediction by Jonathan Meisenheimer:
Over a 34 game schedule, anything can happen. The Toronto FC have the potential to finally break through and not only make the playoffs, but finish top of the Eastern Conference and compete for trophies. There are a couple challenges to consider when looking at how much success is in store for the Toronto FC in 2015.
As in all of the previous eight seasons, the schedule starts out on the road for the Toronto FC. This season however has them on the road for seven matches in nine straight weeks. Even the best teams in any league feel the pain of being away from friends, family and seeing familiar faces for such a long period of time. It will certainly be a challenge, especially when you’re trying to gain momentum and gel with new players, and if they can’t get points the team will be looking for answers very early on.
Last season, the Toronto FC started off with 6 wins and 19 points in 11 matches before breaking for the World Cup. The season looked promising and the playoffs were in sight. Unfortunately the mid-season break was the beginning of the end as that same success didn’t continue. This season there is another break, this time for the CONCACAF Gold Cup where players like Captain Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore and Jonathan Osorio will be called to their respectful National Teams. They will need to prepare for their absences to insure it doesn’t have the same impact as last season.
Will the Toronto FC qualify for the MLS Playoffs? Yes, and here’s why.
- Two expansion teams this season in the Eastern Conference that will need time to take shape
- This season, the top six clubs in each conference advance which make for some good odds
- Two strong clubs in Sporting Kansas City and Houston Dynamo have moved to the Western Conference and this season travel to Toronto
- The Montreal Impact, Columbus Crew, Philadelphia Union and New York Red Bulls should struggle in 2015
- And most importantly, they have a strong group of players with a lot of pressure to perform
The Toronto FC will also win the Voyageurs Cup, Trillium Cup and finish third in the Eastern Conference. Within the Playoffs, they will fall just short MLS Cup Final to lose in the Eastern Conference Final.
Whether you support them or loathe them, the highest payroll team in the MLS will gain a lot of attention in 2015. It will involve a new addition to BMO Field, expanding seating capacity to 30,000. With wins, the seats will have bums in them. They have the strongest roster they’ve ever had before but if the club can’t get the monkey off their back, expect heads to roll, and pitch forks in the stands by even the most loyal of supporters.
First match is Saturday at 6:00pm ET (3:00pm PT) against their Canadian rivals in the Vancouver Whitecaps FC. They appear to be in good form based on their pre-season camp in Bradenton, Florida. Will Greg Vanney and his new toys be ready to take that to where it counts?