Continuing our look at Toronto FC's squad depth going into the season. Yesterday we looked at the situation in goal and in defence, next up, it's the midfield.
After the preseason tournament down in Orlando it is safe to say that the midfield is the deepest part of Toronto FC's squad. It's so deep in fact that the team was able to release Elbekay Bouchiba and still have plenty of bodies to work with. It's an area that is highlighted by two very distinct types of players, which is needed to suit the tactics that Aron Winter prefers to employ. You have the defensive midfielders who fill two of the spots in the 4-3-3 (presuming 3 midfielders in the point forward formation, which i think would be Winter's first choice) with the other spot being taken up by a central attacking midfielder. In Winter's tactics there is very little need for the mids to get wide as that space is taken up by the outside defenders and the wingers. So the three midfielders are left to work as a fairly tight triangle in the middle of the park. Going into the preseason, this is where things stood.
If you have to pick the players who would start the most often in the midfield the obvious choices would be Torsten Frings and Julian De Guzman in the holding roles, with Eric Avila and Luis Silva set to compete for the minutes in the attack. Behind them you have Matt Stinson and Terry Dunfield who are both capable of putting in solid minutes at the bottom of the triangle. With those six players Toronto FC meets Winter's stated goal of having two capable players in each position on the field.
After those six things get a bit thinner but you still have Oscar Cordon who can contribute as an attacking midfielder and Jeremy Hall who can play both at full back or as a holding mid. There is even Ryan Johnson who has proven that he is capable of playing more centrally and in the midfield if he needs to. It is hard to get a good read on what Hall will bring to the table or even where Winter will look to play him as he has missed out on the entire preseason through injury. If Winter does choose to use him in a bit of a utility role, all of a sudden there are a wealth of options to choose from in that area of the team.For me the biggest question left to answer in the midfield is who starts in that attacking spot in the midfield more often. In Silva and Avila the club has two very different players both capable of playing in the same spot in the park. Avila is a bit more of a finesse player who does most of his damage as a set up man. He is not likely to chip in all that many goals as he does not possess the greatest of shots. Silva, on the other hand, has the size and strength to make driving runs in to the box and his poise on the ball makes him much more of a scoring threat. Based on his preseason performance he also seems capable of playing that creator role and worked well with the likes of Nick Soolsma, Joao Plata, and Ryan Johnson. What will be really interesting to watch will be how he combines with Danny Koevermans in a game where they are on the field together for more then 45 minutes.
In my eyes the 23 year old SIlva is MLS ready and the team does not really need to ease him in to things. His performance in the preseason should be enough to convince the coaching staff that he is worth starting on March 7th. It would be a bit of a trial by fire for the 4th overall SuperDraft pick but with Avila being suspended he would be a better choice then playing Ryan Johnson out of position for the full 90 minutes. Playing Silva in the attack would give the team the most punch on the counter attack which will be crucial. After that game against the LA Galaxy the two can go ahead and share minutes so that neither of them gets burned out by the long MLS season and it gives Silva extra time to adjust to the much heavier schedule then he dealt with in the NCAA.
The defensive starting spots are not even up for debate. Frings and De Guzman are not making DP money to sit on the bench so simply put when they are fit and available they should be on the field. Over the course of the season the two 30 plus year old players will certainly miss some matches but it would not surprise me at all to see at least one of them in the starting XI for at least 90% of the teams games.
When they are unable to start or just in need of a rest Winter will have a pair of very viable options to fill the void. He can bring in a well traveled veteran in Terry Dunfield or a high effort youngster in Matt Stinson. Stinson is clearly the one for the future as this year will be only his second MLS season but if he continues to progress he will give Winter no choice but to throw some solid minutes his way. Stinson is probably the best option for the team coming off the bench as his high work rate allows the team to increase their tempo and really push the opposition. He is still a bit raw but he can get in on a strong tackle and has a decent ability to pick out a pass.
Dunfield is a solid tackler, has a good work rate, and can mark a man fairly well but his short coming is that he offers basically nothing going forward. The majority of his passes are either side to side or backwards. There is just not enough incisiveness from Terry so he is best suited to play beside a player who can pick out those passes that will launch the attack. Overall, Stinson impressed more in the preseason games we could see so I'd say he'd be the first choice replacement for Frings or De Guzman.
Add in Cordon who is a bit of an unknown still having seen very limited minutes in his first season with the senior team. His role will almost certainly remain limited this season but he might see some minutes in Cup games or when the schedule gets really crowded.
In the end, even if Toronto FC do not add anyone else, the midfield is looking well stocked for this season. The talent is there to make the 4-3-3 work but it is a formation that can be easier drawn up then executed. It is the deepest area of the team but also the one that is going to be under the most pressure to perform and drive the team forward this season.
For me, after watching the preseason games, the midfield depth chart looks like this, not including Ryan Johnson who'll be in the forwards section, or Jeremy Hall who'll be with the defenders, and barring any more signings.