Coming off their best finish in club history, the Eastern Conference champions will be looking to finish the job in their 11th MLS season.
2016 was an historic year for Toronto FC and soccer in Canada. Record crowds and television ratings accompanied the Reds as they marched through the season, playoffs and all the way to the MLS Cup. TFC were a year removed from their first ever playoff appearance after being carried by MVP Sebastian Giovinco. La Formica Atomica was once again pivotal for TFC in 2016 was supported by some excellent performances from his teammates.
Last season, TFC was hit by adversity. Injuries to Jozy Altidore, Clint Irwin, Michael Bradley, in addition to an 8 game scoring slump from Giovinco should have proved detrimental to the club. In years past, the Reds would have folded under this pressure, but not this time. Not only did they weather the storm but also won and clawed out points to remain in the top 3 of the Eastern conference all season. Contributions from the bench showed resolve and depth the club had never seen before. Greg Vanney’s switch in tactics to a 3-5-2 allowed TFC to score while defending resolutely. This marked a stark contrast from the season before where TFC scored the most goals in the league while conceding the most as well.
TFC in 2016 was once again one of the highest scoring clubs but were second in conceding the least in MLS. An epic Eastern Conference Final between bitter derby rivals Montreal impact, 7-5 on aggregate was arguably the greatest series ever played in MLS. TFC were unable to replicate the magic at BMO Field on a frigid night, losing to the Seattle Sounders in heartbreaking fashion in a penalty shootout. TFC’s accomplishments brushed away the failures of their dismal 10 year existence and have made them hungry for more.
Going into the 2017 season, the squad remains nearly intact from last year. Clint Irwin was picked up in the MLS expansion draft by Atlanta FC but was re-acquired shortly after. TFC added 25 year old DR Congo native Chris Mavinga. The former Liverpool youth product will add depth and is a nice addition as a left centre-back to TFC’s backline. He can also play as a left back. TFC’s main acquisition this off-season was Victor Vazquez. The former Belgian player of the year in 2014-15 for Club Brugge brings vision and creativity. The prototypical No. 10 was lacking last season for the Reds and was evident in several matches most notably in the MLS Cup final. Vazquez spent his youth playing alongside Lionel Messi in the Barcelona academy team and will look to link up with Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore. Not only does this allow TFC to use the long ball less, something that became ineffective when a smaller Giovinco faced taller centre-backs, but also alleviate the pressure on Michael Bradley. The TFC captain can now focus on controlling the midfield and covering the defensive line. The only notable loss was Will Johnson who left for Orlando City.
This can certainly be considered TFC’s year. With Giovinco, Bradley, and Altidore all in their prime, one of the deepest defenses in the league, and added creativity up front the sky’s the limit. Last year’s deep playoff run will prove vital for the club who now know what it takes to play under pressure in high stakes matches. The club has rejected an offer from China for Giovinco, an important move ensuring their MVP remains at the club giving them the best shot to win the title. TFC’s biggest test will be in July when Altidore, Bradley, Armando Cooper and Jonathan Osorio will leave for the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Luckily, with a deeper bench, the Reds will likely weather the storm in time for the final playoff push in the fall. Thanks to their Voyageurs Cup win last June TFC will be participating in the CONCACAF Champions League adding extra travel and games to their schedule.
Barring injuries, TFC will be a contender for the Supporter’s Shield and the MLS Cup. They have added depth and are coming off an incredible season with valuable experience only championship teams have. They will be hungry to claim the trophy that escaped their grasp in cruel fashion last season. The city and media are now taking this team seriously after years of neglect. The pieces are in place now it’s simply a matter of finishing what they started.
Projected lineup: 3-5-2
Prediction for 2017 Season:
MLS Supporter’s Shield & MLS Cup- Despite the challenge from Colombus and the New York Clubs, look for TFC to have MLS’s best record and run their way to the final again. Giovinco will have a career year and break his own MLS record for goals + assists in a season en route to his second MLS MVP. With more tactically flexible players and experience from 2016, the Reds will seal the deal and become the first Canadian team to add a star to their crest and raise the MLS Cup.