In this installment of the on-going pre-pre-season depth chart, we skip over the defence for now, to focus on the midfield.
Toronto currently has some eleven players listed as midfielders on their roster, which does not include any trialists, namely Issey Nakajima-Farran, who will join the club for training and potentially beyond.
For the purpose of this discussion, consider three groups: the starters, the reserves, and the projects, though, of course, there are some grey areas overlapping the three.
While the acquisition of Jermain Defoe was indeed a bloody big deal, there is no doubt that the real coup of the offseason was Michael Bradley, who will marshal the midfield from its base.
Never mind that he automatically becomes the top midfielder in the league, one does not simply drop that much cash and cap space on a player who is not going to feature in every minute of action for which he is available.
Tattoo him into that central, box-to-box role.
After that things get more fluid.
The Matias Laba situation will play out in the near future, if Tim Bezbatchenko can spin some cap magic and somehow keep Laba with the club, the central half of the pitch is pretty much locked down.
True, neither Bradley, nor Laba are particularly offensive-minded, but in tandem, once they learn each other’s game, they should provide more than enough thrust and passing ability to compensate for any lack of attacking dynamism.
And of course, there is Dwayne De Rosario to nestle well in front of them and behind the striker to augment the attack if needed.
Whether De Rosario is a 34-game starter, or more of a role player, is yet to be seen – surely he sees himself as the former, while the club may apply him as more of the latter, depending on how things shake out.
On the flanks, it’s safe to pencil in Jackson, nominally on the right, and Alvaro Rey, on the left, though each is capable of taking up the other side – expect lots of swapping if these two do indeed end up on the pitch together.
Jackson has the ability to be a real driving force from the outside, pushing wide then cutting towards goal on the break. Rey is less-direct, but equally capable of providing that outside-in threat, while hitting a lovely cross when necessary.
Horrible as it may sound, Jonathan Osorio may find himself fighting for a regular position in the midfield after a very impressive rookie campaign that garnered far less acclaim from those outside the city than it warranted.
Osorio was never at his best when shuttled out on the flanks, preferring to get involved in the game through the middle of the pitch.
If Laba is indeed traded or loaned elsewhere, it would perhaps open up that central role he covets, most likely a little ahead of Bradley, though potentially alongside him, alternating in attack as a midfield fulcrum-duo.
The same goes for both Jeremy Hall and Kyle Bekker.
Hall shone in the first half of the season, as a defensive-minded midfielder, and regardless of minutes, will prove to be a useful role player, solidifying (hubris alert) a lead as a substitute or filling in as needed from the start.
Bekker, when finally given his chance in the final few matches of 2013, was impressive, having gained the confidence to impose himself on the midfield, but with Bradley expected to log heavy minutes and a few ahead of him on the depth chart, this may well be another season as an apprentice for the young Canadian with time in Wilmington to keep him sharp a genuine possibility.
Reggie Lambe, in his third season with the club, is a bit of an enigma; at times engaged and useful, others petulant and uninterested. As one of the longest serving members of the club not graduated from the academy – shocking, yes – it is too easy to forget that he will only be 23 come the start of the season, not a project per se, but still a reserve of potential.
As a sometime starter, or an injection of vitality from the bench, Lambe will provide a useful option, and a spell out of the firing line may foster some growth in his game.
Then there is Nakajima-Farran, should he stick with the club, who will likely be utilized as an outside option, though he is capable in the middle.
Midfielders on the fringes of the first team are academy graduate Manny Aparicio and draft pick Daniel Lovitz.
With a midfield already rather congested, both will likely be prime candidates for some time with Wilmington - should he stick with the club in the case of Lovitz.
It is worth noting that TFC has several players not listed as midfielders that could yet see some time in that part of the pitch:
Ashtone Morgan has regularly been mentioned as a candidate for a move into the midfield, something that could come to pass should his minutes at left-back dry up this season; when Jonas Elmer was signed, it was stressed that he had featured in the midfield as well as at full-back; then there is Emery Welshman, who, though nominally a forward, has featured on the outside of midfield, and it would not be overly surprising to see Mark Bloom or Ryan Richter provide an athletic outside option, if necessary.
The real crux of the issue is formation.
The 4-2-3-1 is still very much the en vogue formation around world football, heralded for its flexibility in attack and sturdiness in defense, leaving plenty of space up top for a rangy lone forward to drag defenders about while wingers cut in to those gaps and full-backs overlap, while the central midfield duo reinforces the defense.
With a pair of designated players at striker, it seems more and more likely that TFC will look to play in a 4-4-2, a formation that may not really make best use of its assets.
To hazard a guess, expect to see a fair bit of each put to use this season, perhaps going for the game at home with a two-striker system and opting to be a little more conservative on the road. Here's what I'd say the depth chart is for the 4 man midfield, with the central pairing being a lot more fluid formation wise than a mere table can represent.
With seven weeks until the season kicks off on 15 March in Seattle, let the speculation begin and be prepared for a few more surprises to surface in the meantime.
*If he signs
**If he somehow stays