Toronto FC have now completed the first few days of their training camp and there should be plenty of competition down in Florida this year. Without counting any academy players who will join the club during preseason the team currently have 32 guys fighting for roster spots. With 28 players under contract, three unsigned players from this year's SuperDraft, and Issey Nakajima-Farren on trial there should be a fair bit of competition for the final few roster spots as the club moves towards opening day.
The fact that there are so many players already in camp actually makes it easier than normal to put together a decent depth chart for the team since there are very few question marks. With Bradley Orr arriving on loan from Blackburn Rovers the back five seems to be pretty much set for the start of the season.
Three members of the defensive unit will be expected to resume their roles as starters with Joe Bendik likely to start the majority of games in goal behind an unchanged CB pairing of Doneil Henry and Steven Caldwell. The changes to the projected starters took place on the outside of the back-line as both Orr and Justin Morrow should be given a chance to earn the starting role come opening day.
The depth in goal is about what you would expect from an average MLS team. Bendik may not be among the best keepers in MLS, in fact his numbers last year were actually fairly concerning despite some highlight reel saves along the way, but he should be good enough to get the job done. Assuming he stays healthy TFC should be in decent shape but if something does happen to him their will be plenty of question marks about Chris Konopka's ability to handle the starting role as he has been a career backup. Behind them is Quillan Roberts who is most likely going to go out on loan and will probably have to wait a while longer before finally making his MLS debut.
In front of them the defensive options are not only improved in the starting lineup but the depth is also much better than it was last season. At both left and right back there should be some competition for minutes with the starters being pressed by Ashtone Morgan and Mark Bloom respectively. Both were starters at the end of last season and were adequate in that role but the added competition should be good for everyone. Behind them are Jonas Elmer and Ryan Richter who could play some part this season but it will be interesting to see how Ryan Nelsen works them into his plans if they even fit in at all.
Moving over to the centre of defence things are a little less impressive. The starting duo of Henry and Caldwell is good enough to get the job done in MLS and if Henry can finally come into his own as a defender they could actually prove to be an above average pairing. The issue is that Caldwell is not young and Henry will likely miss some time playing for Canada which leaves the club with a fairly large question mark about who will step up and provide the needed depth. Gale Agbossoumonde was decent last season but never really convincing when he got the chance to try and make the starting role his own and an extended run with him starting at CB would not be ideal. He is a good option for coverage though. The next best option would be shifting Morrow over from LB and using him in the middle. He is a capable CB and based on the way Nelsen has talked about him since he arrived in Toronto it would not be at all surprising to see him at CB from time to time in 2014 as there is plenty of cover at LB should he move inside. Nick Hagglund, the club's top SuperDraft pick, is an interesting prospect but it is hard to see him playing too big of a role in 2014 which does leave the CB crop looking a bit thin but it is impossible to be three deep in every position given MLS' rules.
In front of the defenders is where we start to run into some question marks about how things will shake up. The biggest question is what will happen with Matias Laba. If he is in Toronto by some miracle when the season opens the middle of the park would be occupied by Laba and Michael Bradley. If he is not around it will likely mean Bradley anchoring the midfield which could them take on more of a diamond formation with someone like Dwayne De Rosario or Jonathan Osorio starting in front of Bradley.
The depth in the middle of the park would be a bit suspect should Laba be unable to stay. That would leave Jeremy Hall and Kyle Bekker as the only real options to play that deeper midfield role and neither of them would inspire a whole lot of confidence as both players lack the ability to take control of a game and dictate the pace. There is also Manny Aparicio who could play some part in the middle of the park but he seems more likely to wind up heading down to Wilmington.
On the wing it seems that Alvaro Rey and Jackson will be the expected starters heading into the season. Both have pace and some tricks in their bag but more importantly they have the ability to get the ball into the danger areas and are competent defenders when they need to be. They will have competition for playing time though from Reggie Lambe who seems to have done enough to win Nelsen over as he was a regular in the starting lineup last season. Add in the fact that Osorio and DeRo can both play on the wing and the team has some options. There is a bit of a lack of natural left sided players though which could open the door for either Dan Lovitz or Issey Nakajima-Farran to win a spot on the roster to provide cover.
Leading the line will be a pair of shiny new Designated Players in the form of Jermain Defoe and Gilberto. It is unclear how the pair will be used by Ryan Nelsen but it is very likely that they will be playing together on a regular basis. Both players have the ability to create chances for themselves and for teammates so Nelsen will have options in terms of how to deploy them to maximize all that talent. No matter how they play the duo is certainly a major upgrade over the options that TFC had last season.
Should Defoe find his way onto the England roster for the World Cup this summer it would not be the end of the world for TFC as they do have some options that they can bring off the bench. Bright Dike should be first in line to step up and fill in when needed as he seemed to be rounding back into form late last season after making his return from major knee surgery. He should be motivated early in the season as he has an outside chance of Nigeria's World Cup squad and would provide a bit more of a physical presence than either of the starters bring should he get into games.
After the top three options at forward there is a drop off in quality but even the fourth option, Andrew Wiedeman, is a guy who will come into the game with a lot of energy and do the dirty work for you. His high work rate could actually help to create chances and space for his strike partner even if Wiedeman himself is not a consistent scoring threat.
The forward group is rounded out by Emery Welshman and Jordan Hamilton who are two more candidates to spend the season in Wilmington as well as Kene Eze who seems to be a very long shot to make the roster at this point in time.
On the whole, things are looking good for Toronto FC at this stage with over a month to go before the start of the season. They have the ability to trim the roster down and make some moves but even if they kept the roster as it is now to start the season they would be in good shape. With the exception of one or two positions the team has at least two serviceable options at each spot in the lineup which should be the goal for a team at this level.
Things are looking good on paper with the first games of the preseason just around the corner. Hopefully by the time we do our next review of the depth chart just prior to the start of the season things will still be looking good.
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