The Runner Sports

MLS 20 In 20: Toronto FC

Toronto FC is one of the more interesting clubs heading into this season.  They have been serial disappointments throughout their brief history considering the huge budget that owner Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment has.  The past few offseasons have seen Toronto FC make big splashy moves bringing USMNT stars Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore and Italian maestro Sebastian Giovinco in.  However, in the history of the club, they have never employed a non-interim coach with a winning record and their biggest trophy is the Canadian Cup (most of these wins, they were the only MLS team contesting the trophy).

Key Additions:

D Drew Moor (Last Club: Colorado)

D Steven Beitashour (LC: Vancouver)

M Will Johnson (LC: Portland)

GK Clint Irwin (LC: Colorado)

This offseason’s transactions were finally done in a manner that didn’t reek of desperation.  In the past, even with the Altidore, Bradley, and Giovinco additions, Toronto consistently seemed as if they were going for sizzle instead of substance.  Don’t get me wrong, all three of these players have been very good for Toronto, but those signings left significant holes everywhere else on the roster.  With the quartet of players Toronto signed this year they have a real shot at winning major trophies for the first time.

A consistent problem for Toronto through the years has been their defending and instead of using expensive roster spots addressing the problem, they have used a rotating cast of players with poor quality.  That problem of salary and talent distribution might finally have come to an end as Toronto invested heavily in quality defensive players.  Long time Colorado Rapid Drew Moor was brought in during free agency and while not flashy, he represents a huge upgrade over the existing options.  Right back Beitashour is another quality MLS veteran that represents Toronto learning from their past splashy mistakes and building a foundation of winning.

Clint Irwin is another player coming over from what was a solid Rapid defense last season and is an exciting young goalkeeper that has the potential to be the best ever at Toronto before it is all said and done.

Finally, Will Johnson was a crafty acquisition for Toronto as he can play a variety of positions very well and will be a nice starter who can move around positionally.  A two-time MLS Cup winner and three-time all-star, Johnson brings an attitude of winning to Toronto.

Key Subtractions:

M Jackson

F Robbie Findley

GK Joe Bendik

D Ahmed Kantari

Honestly, I don’t believe that Toronto is losing anything with these players.  Findley has an element of speed that might be missed, but every player on the way out has a replacement that is better.  Bendik, Kantari, and Jackson are all players that shouldn’t be missed.

 

2016 Storylines:

Starting on the road:

Much like last season, Toronto begins on the road for a very long stretch, as renovations are being made to the stadium.  A long eight-game road trip that includes difficult matches against the likes of the New York Red Bulls, Sporting Kansas City, and Portland opens the season and it will be critical for Toronto to keep their heads above water during this period.  Last season, Toronto was able to win three of the first seven matches on the road, setting up a second-half run to the playoffs.  If they can replicate, or improve on that start, Toronto could have a shot at the Supporters’ Shield.

Overcoming history:

It doesn’t take an MLS historian to know that Toronto has been persistently underachieving.  It took the club nine attempts to make the playoffs for the first time, in a league that seems to allow everyone in. Even last season as they made the playoffs, Toronto stumbled, fumbled, and bumbled their way out in the first round to rivals Montreal 3-0.

Toronto has been so horribly mismanaged in the past that it is shocking to see wise moves made in any offseason.  Now that a solid core group of players is set, can they continue the upward trajectory of the club and make a run at more than just the playoffs?

International absences:

Like any MLS club, Toronto FC will be experiencing a good number of absences due to international call-ups.  The difference for Toronto being that they rely so heavily on the scoring of Altidore and Giovinco.  Will the new additions allow for Toronto to survive without their stars?  This summer is packed with high-profile tournaments: Copa America Centenario, the Olympics, the Euro Championships, and World Cup Qualifying.  Key players will be gone for long stretches and may need rest upon returning, just look at how often Altidore comes back injured from international duty.

 

2016 Reasonable Expectations:

I am extremely bullish for the second year in a row in regards to Toronto FC.  Last season the club qualified for the playoffs for the first time in their history and this season it is reasonable to expect a further push.  The additions to the roster will help defensively and much-needed depth and quality.  With that said, there are many challenges heading into the season that might lead to slippages.  I believe those slippages will limit the ceiling for this club in the regular season, but they are certainly a contender for the Cup.  My 2016 reasonable expectations for Toronto FC are a Championship appearance in the Canadian Cup and a second place regular season finish in the Eastern Conference.

 

Mainstream Sport Equivalent: 

Although on a much smaller scale I believe that Toronto FC resides on the same plain as the Washington Redskins.  Both are owned by extremely wealthy people/groups who don’t always allocate their time and resources appropriately, leading to underwhelming performances.  For years, the Redskins have paid enormous prices for big name free agents that were unable for a variety of reasons to make an impact and the same can be said of Toronto FC. These lists of busts are long for both teams and have led them to underachieve given their resources.  There is hope in sight for both franchises as they seem to have hired smart management with a clear direction.  Both are now heading in the right direction and made brief appearances in the most recent post season.

The players aren’t perfect comparisons but:

Kirk Cousins = Michael Bradley

Both are their team’s leader who have their fiery moments.  These two leaders have come under criticism in their professional career for somewhat foolish reasons (Micheal Bradley was thought to only get called up to the USMNT because his dad was the manager and Cousins had the misfortune for being drafted in the same class as RGIII).

DeSean Jackson = Sebastian Giovinco

Obviously, Giovinco impacts a match much more than Jackson, but their playing styles are similar.  Both are small for their position and sport in general.  Both are extremely quick and have huge amounts of talent.  However, Jackson has been described as a distraction at times, whereas Giovinco never has been.

This has been the fourth installment of the MLS 20 In 20 series if you enjoyed this Toronto piece, I encourage you to check out L.A. Galaxy, Seattle Sounders, Real Salt Lake, and D.C. United as well.

John Harbeck

Ohio sports and all things soccer.If you like my writing follow me @JHarbeck5 on twitter

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