Before pre season started, we looked at TFC's squad, what the first team options and depth looked like, the strong points, the weak points and the questions that needed to be answered in the pre season. As distinct from previous seasons, things seemed fairly settled even before it all started but now we'll wrap up what's changed and see where we are after that underwhelming Mickey Mouse tournament and with the first game a week away. Starting with the goalkeepers.
When I wrote the pre pre season post for the goalies, it seemed like a very straight forward decision. Bendik had earned the number one job last year, his presumably still cheap contract a big factor in that, providing flexibility and cap space to be used elswehere. Chris Konopka will be the number 2 and Quillan Roberts will probably be off to Wilmington. All very neat and simple, and not likely to change barring some unforeseen circumstance such as an injury.
Thankfully the injury didn't happen, the unforeseen circumstance instead was the sudden availability of Julio Cesar, in with a bullet at the top of the rankings, Bendik left to suck up the hit to his pride and get ready to learn from a top shelf GK.
Whether putting that cap flexibility back into the goalie position rather than using it elsewhere is wise can definitely be debated, but what can't be argued is that Cesar is a significant upgrade, at least while he's here. We've (theoretically at least) gone from hoping for adequate and average value for money that won't cost us games to above average and should be stealing us some points here and there. Just how long he's here is of course the big question. He's almost certain to be going off to the World Cup and Brazil should go a long way so he could well be missing extra games after MLS' mini-break, as well as ones before it when he goes off to Brazil's pre tournament camp. But what about after the World Cup? Though Tim Bezbatchenko said that this was a year long loan, I'm sure QPR are still paying the vast majority of his wages and would prefer not to, so if someone comes in with an offer to buy him in the summer transfer window, then he'll be gone and we'll be back to Bendik full time.
Both goalies showed what they could do in pre season, Bendik for example was very good in the game against Orlando, whereas Cesar was probably at his best for Brazil, I imagine you've seen this save multiple times already. One difference seen with both goalies was an increase in short passes and building from the back, time and again Michael Bradley was coming back to pick up the ball, which is a very good sign and will hopefully continue into the regular season no matter who's in goal.
Moving on to the defence, and really pre-season changed nothing as far as the first team goes, that's still very much what we thought before pre season though further down the depth chart there were some revelations.
Starting at Right Back, nothing changed because we didn't get to see either of our right backs, both Bradley Orr and Mark Bloom sat out injured, thus didn't get the chance to play themselves in or out of the lineup. So I guess we stick with that we thought at pre-season, Orr as the first choice Bloom as the backup. Hopefully at least one of them is fit at all times as what we did learn was that the alternatives aren't all that pretty. Gale Agbossoumonde was often out of position, though it'd be harsh to criticise him for that, and Matias Laba, well for the purposes of this article how he did there really doesn't matter any more. Jeremy Hall, well remember Hall at right back in 2012? yeah, that.
Nick Hagglund was probably the best of the bunch, putting in a decent effort considering he's a Centre Back, and earning himself a contract. If Orr and Bloom's respective injuries don't heal in time and we have to go with an emergency starter, Hagglund was the best of the bunch who auditioned, so let's pencil him in as the number 3 option there.
On the left, Justin Morrow was about what I expected, fairly solid if a bit unspectacular, an average player who won't let you down, but definitely leaves room for improvement and could be knocked out of his spot by a better player. Sadly Ashtone Morgan didn't really show that he was that player so it's as you were and it's Morrow's job to lose.
In the middle, the only developments are at the bottom of the depth chart. Nick Hagglund is now officially signed and despite his adventures on the right, he'll be more involved at his natural centre back position and should push Gale Agbossoumonde for the position of first back up.
The other surprise is Ryan Richter who's apparently being converted to a centre back and didn't do that badly in the games we saw. He wasn't all that impressive at right back last year, but the main problems I had were with his attempts to contribute to the attack, some poor passing and so many bad crosses. That's obviously going to be less of a concern in the middle when most of the time he's probably only going to be charged with playing a short pass to Michael Bradley so this move does make a bit of sense. Still though, don't expect to see much of him, but a cheap versatile backup is the sort of thing every MLS team needs.
That of course leaves us with the same partnership everyone was expecting as the first choice pairing. Doneil Henry and Steven Caldwell. Caldwell's the key to the whole defence really, we saw the organisation he brought last season and there'll be 2 new players and a still young Henry around him. If he were to miss significant time with injuries, well bringing Agbossoumonde, Richter or Hagglund into that mix doesn't sound promising does it?
As for Henry, well this could be a huge year for him. He put on some weight over the off season which can only help him become the physically dominant player he's showed signs of being previously. The big area of his game for improvement is the mental side of things, positioning, when to get tight to an attacker or when to commit to a tackle, all that sort of thing. Finding himself out of position last year often led to having to give away fouls, often picking up cards in the process. He's still young so there's plenty of time to develop that game sense, experience and improved decision making and this season should be a great opportunity. Being surrounded by Caldwell, Cesar and Bradley is as good a situation as an MLS centre back could ask for, for TFC's and Canada's sake, let's hope he's a good student.
|Justin Morrow||Doneil Henry||Steven Caldwell||Bradley Orr|
|Ashtone Morgan||Gale Agbossoumonde||Ryan Richter||Mark Bloom|
All in all, a definite if temporary improvement in goal, and theoretically the upgrades at full back suggest the defence should be better. Depth will as always be a problem, fingers crossed for no injuries in the middle.