Taylor Morgan will be fighting for a roster spot tonight against Orlando - USA TODAY Sports
Toronto FC is taking on Orlando in a fairly meaningless preseason friendly but that does not mean there aren't players to keep an eye on as the battle for roster spots intensifies.
After their first preseason game Toronto FC sent one trailist and two supplemental draft picks packing without even letting them see the playing field. It means that there are now only six players left in camp who are not already under contract for 2013. With the signing of draft picks Kyle Bekker and Emery Welshman the club is up to 22 players under contract so there is plenty of room for the remaining six to earn themselves a deal.
Tonight may well prove to be their best chance to show what they have to offer as Toronto FC's roster is looking fairly thin heading into the game against Orlando. Doneil Henry has headed off to Mexico to report for U20 duty with Canada, Ashtone Morgan and Julio Cesar reportedly are carrying small knocks, Danny Califf is questionable, Stefan Frei is coming off surgery on his broken nose, and Danny Koevermans and Logan Emory are still recovering for their surgeries. That opens up a lot of minutes for players that will be looking to impress.
The first player who needs to make the most of tonight's game is actually one that is already under contract. Joe Bendik is going to be the backup keeper this year as long as Frei is healthy but that does not mean he can afford to waste his chance to show the club what he has to offer. A good showing in goal through the rest of the preseason will help his confidence and could see him earn more minutes during the season. With Frei having lost time to injury the past two seasons it would be foolish not to have Bendik ready to go and ensure that the club can rely on him should the worst happen. Best case scenario is that he impresses the rest of preseason and is able to lighten Frei's work load and avoid potential injuries that could come from playing too much.
Next up is another player who already has a job but is going to be fighting for more minutes this year. Gale Agbossoumonde did well in the first match outside of committing the mistake that allowed the Columbus Crew to score the only goal of the game. Another strong performance like that could at worst cement his place as the club's third choice CB and may allow him to push for a bigger share of the minutes. He offers more athleticism than Danny Califf and could form a nice partnership with Darren O'Dea against teams with more pace up the middle this season. An actual battle for minutes at CB would be a good thing for TFC rather than the normal routine of the job going to whoever has screwed up the least of late.
Then there is Matt Stinson who was a bit of a forgotten man in 2012 due to a number of reasons including the fact that he spent long stretches of the season carrying injuries that kept him out of training. He was back in the first game of the preseason but it was at right back instead of his traditional role as a holding midfielder. He filled in at RB in 2011 with some fairly promising results so if he can build on that this year and prove to be a serviceable backup to Richard Eckersley that might be his ticket back into the lineup on more of a regular basis. Fans will certainly be hoping for more from Stinson in 2013 so another strong performance wherever he gets to play against Orlando might show that he is back on track.
Nicolas Cabrera is still with the club on trial and considering the current lack of wide players there is no reason that he should not be given every single chance to earn a contract for the upcoming season. He showed some of what he has to offer in the first game but will need to prove that he can at least be a better option than the likes of Reggie Lambe and Andrew Wiedeman against Orlando. The team has now had a few days of practice to get a sense of what he brings but a good showing in the game could be enough to at least buy him more time. Unless the club has other plans to fill the void on the wings they would be wise to give him a very long look.
Toronto still has two Supplemental Draft picks hanging around and both attacking players still have a realistic chance of making the team due to the fact that they can help to fill pressing needs. Ashton Bennett, a forward by trade, has been placed out wide by Toronto and given the chance to earn himself a deal. He has shown skill on the ball and the blazing pace that we all knew he had but he really does need to show a lot more if he is going to be worth keeping around. Just running fast is not enough if he continues to struggle to pick out passes and can't create for himself in the tight spaces when he cannot just use his pace to beat defenders. His Canadian residency should buy him some time but TFC is going to need some quality out wide and he has a lot of work to do to prove he can provide that.
Then there is Taylor Morgan who garnered a lot of attention for his performance in the opening game. As a sixth round draft pick and an international he was an after thought for many, myself included, but showed that he might just have something to offer in an attack that is in need of contributors after the club shipped Eric Hassli out to FC Dallas. Morgan combines very good height with a surprising turn of pace that allows him to get in behind defenders and latch on to balls played over the top. That is something that TFC does not really get from its other forward options as they are either smaller with some pace (Welshman, Bennett, and Luis Silva) or big and fairly slow (Justin Braun and Danny Koevermans). If he can show that he also has the ability to finish in game situations he could snag a contract for the year but his international status means he faces a tough challenge in doing so.
The last group to watch are the academy players who are on trial with the club. Jonathan Osorio, Daniel Fabrizi, and Derrick Bassi could all see some more minutes tonight but will have a lot to do if they are hoping to earn contracts. Osorio will have to really impress with his skill on the ball to make up for what he lacks in size and the fact that if there is one area that TFC has plenty of able bodies it is central midfielders with Torsten Frings, Terry Dunfield, Cesar, Bekker, Silva, and Stinson all able to fill spots down the middle of the park. He did well in the first game but will need to build on that if he wants to prove he is ready to contribute at the MLS level.
The defenders, Fabrizi and Bassi, should both get minutes tonight with Henry gone, Morgan likely being unavailable, Califf not being ready to play extended minutes if he even features at all, and Emory still out. There are plenty of minutes up for grabs but not really a whole lot of roster spots heading into the season. The club has depth at CB but could use some help in the wide positions to provide coverage for Eckersley and Morgan who both played way too many minutes last season. I have yet to see enough from either defender to suggest they are worth keeping around but tonight could give them a chance to showcase what they have to offer.
Time is running short for TFC to figure out who is going to be on their roster come First Kick so tonight's match against Orlando and the rest of the games at the Mickey Mouse cup will have the added importance of allowing the players on the fringe to show that they belong and unless TFC suddenly starts signing all kinds of players they should all have a realistic chance to show just that. With the battle for roster spots on, these games are about more than just fitness which actually makes them interesting to watch.