Our look at Toronto FC's depth heading into the pre-season continues with the midfielders. The club has made moves to improve this area of the team but there are certainly an abundance of question marks remaining about 2013. The biggest of which is just what kind of formation Toronto FC will end up using.
For our purposes it makes the most sense to try and work with a formation that matches the players that are currently on the roster, square pegs in square holes, round pegs in round holes, all that good stuff. We know that TFC has a group of holding midfielders, attacking midfielders, and wingers so it basically means that any formation could be an option. We also know that the club is a bit thin at forward while Danny Koevermans is out injured so it is possible that they will work with just one forward this season a lot of the time. That would mean having Justin Braun or Eric Hassli as a target man up front and counting on wingers and the attacking midfielders to provide the support in the attack.
With that in mind, using a 4-5-1 formation does not seem that far fetched and actually suits the squad better than a 4-4-2 would. If they do go with a 4-5-1 it would likely include the two wingers and then a point forward triangle in the middle of the park with two holding midfielders.
The choice of a point forward triangle comes from the fact that TFC has a fairly sizable collection of defensive midfielders who will be looking to get minutes this season. Gone is Aaron Maund so we don't have to worry about him playing out of position all season. Julian De Guzman is also gone after his mid-season trade to FC Dallas but there are still options left behind.
Toronto FC signed Julio Cesar this offseason and he will join a group that already included Torsten Frings, Terry Dunfield, and Matt Stinson (Jeremy Hall counts as a defender for the purposes of this series). There is a lot of experience in that first trio but there are also a lot of miles on the tires. Cesar comes into the season at 34 years of age, Frings is 36 and coming off an injury, and Dunfield is 30. That is a lot of years on players who are supposed to be in the engine room of the side. Stinson does provide a much younger option at 20 years of age but he barely played in 2012 and when he did showed that he still has a fair bit of room to improve.
If the trio of elder-statesmen can magically manage to stay healthy all season this should be a solid area of the team but that is clearly going to be a big if. Last year, Dunfield ended up starting 30 matches for the club in league play. Add to that the fact that he logged a lot of minutes in cup action and that is a lot of minutes for a 30 year old to be playing. If he has to play such a major role again in 2013 it will probably not end well as he still has his moments where he leaves you wondering just what the heck he was thinking.
Keeping Frings and Cesar healthy is going to be a big task for TFC but it might be achieved by platooning the pair. That way neither of them is playing twice in a week or logging too many minutes early in the season. It might be the only way to get them both to August in one piece when you consider the duo has combined to play over 700 games during careers that span nearly two decades.
The good news is that prior to last season Frings had very little history of injury and has managed to consistently play 30 games a season for much of his 30's. If he can get back to that it would be a huge boost for TFC but with travel and field turf to deal with in MLS the chances of that happening seem fairly slim.
It is an area of the team where a bit more depth would certainly be helpful. Kyle Bekker, the club's 3rd overall draft pick, could provide cover in this area like he did with Canada's U23 team in Olympic Qualifying but that would result in the attacking options being thin so it is a fairly big trade off and I would hope we only see that taking place if the team suffers a series of injuries.
Speaking of the attacking midfielders there are two main options in that part of the squad. You have Bekker who is preparing for his first season in the league and Luis Silva who is going into his second campaign. There is no doubt about the talent the duo has but the question mark comes from the lack of experience. Silva impressed for stretches during his rookie season but he was fairly inconsistent which is something he will need to improve on this season.
The position really should be Silva's to lose this season though so it will all come down to how much he has improved. Bekker would then be able to ease into his professional playing career and provide cover for when Silva does need a night off. With their youth though this area of the squad has the potential to be a big question mark or a strength. It all depends on how consistently both players can contribute.
Out on the wings things are a even more unclear. The team has one natural winger in Reggie Lambe who can play on either side even though he is better on the right. Technically, they also have Joao Plata but the club seems set to send him out on loan for another season so counting on him to factor into the depth chart seems unlikely.
There are some options that can be moved to the wings from the forward group though. Andrew Wiedeman is listed as a forward but if he has to play in 2013 it should always be on the outside of the midfield and never leading the attack despite his world-class finishing ability. He had some okay performances on the wing last year as he started to come into his own down the stretch so if he can do more of that improving this year he might just be more than a waste of space.
The club also seems like they are open to the idea of playing Emery Welshman on the ride side if that is needed. The 16th overall draft pick is a forward by trade but his pace and ability to take on defenders with his dribble should translate well to a wider role should that be where the club uses him. They may need to do that fairly often this season unless they add another wide player before the season kicks off.
So right now it looks like TFC has one natural winger and the option to play two forwards as wingers. They could also bring one of the central midfielders out wide. Bekker played on the right side at Boston College for stretches this season and even though it limited his impact it is at least another option.
Overall, the midfield clearly is riddled with question marks despite having a couple of nice pieces to work with. It will be quite the challenge for Ryan Nelsen to figure out just how to put all the pieces together and whether he chooses to go with a defensive or attacking formation.
Should he go with the 4-5-1 formation I mentioned this is how I see it lining up:
|Andrew Wiedeman||Luis Silva||Reggie Lambe|
|Joao Plata ???||Kyle Bekker||Emery Welshman|
|Torsten Frings||Terry Dunfield|
|Julio Cesar||Matt Stinson
The fact that I had to include Plata just to fill out the depth chart is really a worry at this stage. There are a couple of players in the academy that could make the case for signing to fill that void but the last thing the club needs is to have another round of academy signings that are just about filling holes and not about what is best for the players involved.
TFC did take a midfielder in the expansion draft, Nik Robson out of New Mexico. He actually scored a goal and added an assist against Toronto last preseason when he was at the University of Central Florida but the downside is that he is from New Zealand and would require an international slot should he impress enough in preseason to earn a contract. I am not sure where he would play in the midfield but the stats clearly suggest it would be an attacking role, maybe even a winger...
The midfield is one area the club probably has some work left to do and hopefully there are more moves in store before the season kicks off. If not, it is going to be a rough one as there is a lack of depth in almost every position and a lack of quality in a few too many of them.