This all looks very awkward. Kind of like figuring out just where Ryan Johnson fits into the team.
Continuing our look at Toronto FC's squad depth going into the season. You can read what we had to say about the goalies and defenders here, and the midfielders here, next up, how did you guess, it's the forwards.
Very little has really changed as far as the forwards go since we wrote the pre-preseason report. The formation is still obviously the same and will be all season despite whether it's a 4-3, a 3-4, or a 5-2 behind them, the Left Winger, Centre Forward, Right Winger combo seems set in stone up front. The personnel hasn't changed either, Stefan Vukovic was curiously absent through almost all the Mickey Mouse Cup until the team was virtually forced to give him playing time as a sub due to lack of alternatives against Vancouver. Moises Orozco (P. Coltrane) did get more playing time and impressed with a stunning goal against BK Hacken, but neither have been signed on as of yet, so I won't include them here.
So there's only really a couple of things seen in preseason that will have an effect on the tentative depth chart I guessed at in January, one good development, and one not so good.
We'll start with the bad development, over on the Right Wing, and that's the disappointing form of Reggie Lambe. When signed he was touted as fast and skillful, all in all much more dynamic than Nick Soolsma, and with the potential to form an absolutely dynamite winger combo with Joao Plata. Early reports from training confirmed he was the real deal, with blistering pace. The we actually got to watch him, and, yeah, not so much. To be fair, the third game he played against Dallas he looked better, making a couple of dangerous runs, one which saw his shot well saved, and another that should have ended in a penalty. Overall though he was disappointing, not linking well with teammates, easily nullified and not able to effectively demonstrate his speed. Just another winger with more flash than substance.
What that means of course is that, for me at least and this is only after 3 preseason games so I'm not going to definitively proclaim this even as my own firm opinion, once again Nick Soolsma has seen off another challenger and should be considered the number one choice at Right Wing. It's not a move that will get anyone's blood pumping, but his more understatedly effective wing play is generally a lot more productive than what we saw from Lambe, so once he's served his suspension against L.A on Wednesday, I'd expect to see him back in that starting eleven for the return leg.
At Centre Forward, despite a lacklustre preseason campaign that just never seemed to really get going, Danny Koevermans is still very obviously the first choice there, but preseason did little to assuage the fears about the lack of backup options. Ryan Johnson can obviously play there, but hopes that Vukovic would show what he can do were quashed due to his almost total lack of playing time. Keith Makubuya is an option of course, but he was played mostly as a wide player in the minutes he got, and really didn't show that he's knocking on the first team door yet. If Koevermans is fit and can regularly play 90 minutes, then we're in great shape, but the drop off in quality when he was substituted in games last year was noticeable. As well as looking less dangerous up front , it often led to a lot more pressure on the defence and late goals due to the lack of his presence and ability to hold the ball up. That hasn't been addressed so will remain a problem, and if he gets injured for any period of time, then god help us.
On the Left Wing, despite swapping wings with Reggie Lambe a few times, it was obvious that Joao Plata is more effective on the left, and he should definitely still be considered the first choice there. He linked very well with Luis Silva, and especially when supported by Ashtone Morgan's runs down the wing that give the defence another option to worry about, his ability to cut inside and run at the defence will just keep causing the opposition problems.
This brings us to the good development I mentioned earlier, and that's Ryan Johnson. He didn't get a lot of time in Orlando, but put in a very good performance against BK Hacken on the Left Wing, causing all sorts of problems, and making me think that he just has to be in the starting line up somewhere. If we assume, and we should, that Plata will also start, then there's a couple of options to get Johnson in the side. Either he moves over to the Right Wing, or he's on the left and Plata moves over there.
Johnson played on the right a few times last year, and frustratingly, it's the one position out of the 4 attacking spots that he didn't look particularly good in. Plata is a very right footed player so in a traditional way it make sense for him to be out on the Right Wing where he can take on the full back down the outside and get crosses in. But the ability to cut inside is a very valuable tool, causing problems for the full back (does he follow his man or maintain his position? and how far exactly should he follow him?) while also opening up space for our full back to get down the wing. It works very well with Ashtone Morgan, and Richard Eckersley can also fulfil that role well, but I'm not convinced Plata's left footed play is strong enough for him to play that role effectively from the right.
It's a puzzle with no obvious answer. For the L.A game at least, with Nick Soolsma suspended, I'd put Johnson out on the right wing, but I doubt that will work as a long term solution. The obvious position for Johnson is probably on the bench as a multi purpose back up, probably seeing regular late game action replacing koevermans, and also rotated into the starting lineup now and then as fitness and tactical formation decisions impel.
So, here's what I'd say our depth chart looks like for the forwards.