Waking The Red writer and blogger over at Partially Obstructed View, James Grossi takes a deeper look at the depth (or lack their of) of Toronto FC's current squad in this latest installment of the Depth Chart.
In the previous installment, Waking the Red looked at how the pieces at the disposal of Ryan Nelsen were likely to lineup come opening day of the 2013 MLS season.
With the cupboard threadbare - though rumoured additions are slowly making their way into town - and the final fitness of so many players - Danny Califf, Doneil Henry, Logan Emory, Julio Cesar, and Justin Braun, to name a few - unknown, there is not a whole lot of variation currently at the club's disposal.
By adding some observations from the brief glimpses during preseason, we'll attempt to round out the picture of what Toronto FC can offer beginning Saturday in Vancouver.
Stefan Frei is the undoubted number one keeper on this side, his forced absence due to the errant boot of Ryan Finley, will be a blow to a side that needs all available hands on deck.
Joe Bendik is a young and inexperienced keeper with only a handful of professional starts to his name. He did fairly well throughout the preseason, but could definitely have done better on at least one goal.
The opening concession in the 3-0 loss to the Philadelphia Union was a series of delayed responses and inaccurate interventions.
We'll touch on the faults further up the pitch shortly, but when Bendik dove to his left to attempt to palm the shot from Antoine Hoppenot away from his bottom corner he failed to properly track the flight of the ball, managing to get his hand under shot. He made sufficient contact to push the attempt wide but the misplacement of his hand saw the ball kick up off it and into the net.
Just a small point of sharpness and something that will likely return with time, whether he has faced enough shots to find that match readiness, well, we'll find out soon enough. If he hopes to supplant Frei and the starter, he will have to replicate Stefan's ability to make saves he shouldn't, as well as those he should.
There were no particularly distressing signals concerning his distribution, something that was always a concern with Milos Kocic, no red flags on his command of the box either.
He will be tested regularly while Frei is on the sideline and the team finds its rhythm, but he will not be looked to for leadership, just to play a simple game and help his side manage the chances of the opponent.
At the Back
Fortunately, the leadership of Frei is not as necessary with Darren O'Dea back for his first full season in Toronto.
O'Dea will be one of the vocal leaders of the back-line, as evidenced last season. Again, no major issues through preseason. He was a little slow to come across and back up his defensive partner - the Roger Torres goal comes to mind.
One slight concern was the red card he picked up against Kansas City. Video evidence was unavailable and, as noted in the match report, he may have been an early victim of the new no-hands-to-the-head directives handed to MLS officials.
Transitioning to a league and getting to know how their officials call a match can be a difficult proposition, O'Dea was lucky to not be sent off for some physical play last year - his tackle through the back of Emilio Renteria in Columbus was border-line.
Question marks surround who he will be partnered with in the centre.
Califf, once fit, provides a solid experienced option, but a lack of combined pace will be an issue. Henry, who has matured slowly with a lack of time on the pitch, and Gale Agbossoumonde, who struggled at times in preseason, could add a touch more pace and athleticism, but are not as calm when pressured.
Agbossoumonde showed a fair bit of rust, having found regular matches difficult to come by as he bounced from club to club over the last few seasons. He got a good run in Carolina last season and, if given the time, could prove to be a useful piece.
That said he was at fault for several goals against in the few matches the club played. He failed to move laterally quickly enough to cut off the run of Hoppenot, though it was not entirely his fault, and he was made to look foolish by the quick feet of Roger Torres - Torres will do that to several defenders this season.
Upon first look, Agbossoumonde appeared to be marking Columbus centre-back Glauber when he scored the lone goal of the opening match of the Disney Tournament, but subsequent viewings displayed a more complex problem.
Toronto's defending from that right-sided Federico Higuain corner kick was very disjointed. Whether the players had specific assignments or were using zonal marking is unclear, regardless Agbossoumonde was the only player who motioned towards the ball in attempt to clear.
They were all very static, which was a concern.
Nobody was tracking runners, and Jonathan Osorio, the marker closest to Glauber, was too easily shoved aside. Agbossoumonde was then beat on a standing jump, by someone who had a running leap. No real surprise and it was a very nice header, tucking in off the underside of the bar.
Richard Eckersley and Ashtone Morgan will lock down the outside back positions, injury allowing, for the entire season, and the current options for backup requires shifting centre-backs, Doneil Henry and Logan Emory - both possibly unavailable with injury at the moment - out of position or deploying Matt Stinson and Jeremy Hall; neither option would adequately replace the quality the club has in their starters.
Emory looks more comfortable defending in those wide positions, but Henry showed some glimpses at the end of last year that he has been working on his service and could mature into the role if necessary.
Eckersley was guilty a few times of over-committing defensively and being slow to recognize danger and backup his fellow defenders in Florida - again on the Hoppenot and Torres goals. He has a tendency to switch off for a split second once the ball has moved past him, which will, hopefully, be corrected as sharpness returns.
Morgan showed glimpses of what he can provide in attack, his low ball that found Luis Silva at the back-post in space against Columbus, should have leveled the score, but Silva's shot was straight at the Columbus keeper. You get one of those a year Luis.
In The Middle
Toronto showed glimpses of a hard-pressing style in the preseason - it's all the rage these days and tactically savvy - and their ball movement, given the disparate collection of pieces rammed together during the matches, was rather sharp.
Julio Cesar did not see a lot of time and until he reaches fitness, it would be no surprise to see Terry Dunfield and Kyle Bekker in those deep-lying midfield positions.
It appears as though Toronto will play a 4-2-3-1 formation for the most part this season. It's a sturdy defensive structure with options going forward.
Expect Terry Dunfield to be this season's iron man in the middle and he is a candidate for the vacant captain's armband.
Reggie Lambe, Emery Welshman and Hogan Ephraim, should his clearance arrive in time, can provide attacking options in the wide midfield positions. Ephraim will presumably be match fit, arriving from a league in-season and though Welshman is a rookie, he didn't look out of place in Florida.
With Nelsen, a centre-back by trade, in charge Toronto will likely look to be very compact defensively, absorbing the pressure and looking to spring on the counter.
It is a dangerous strategy, especially given how easily the midfield was sliced through - the Hoppenot goal saw Dunfield fail to pressure the ball as Jeremy Hall put in a weak tackle on the attacker, allowing him an unimpeded slice across the top of the box, catching Agbossoumonde flat-footed to find the space for his shot.
With that defensive mindset, Jeremy Hall and Matt Stinson could take up the wide midfield duties with the instruction to play narrow, clogging the centre, while also locking down the flanks when necessary.
In a one striker formation, Silva's attacking midfield role will be crucial to launching counter attacks with a quick, accurate ball into space, or by sliding passes into holes for the forward to latch onto. Taylor Morgan's goal to open the scoring against Orlando was the perfect example of this tact.
A wonderful slotted ball picked out the draft pick, who tiptoed over a tackle before calmly rounding the keeper and tucking the ball into the back of the net.
Silva will be relied upon to provide that service regularly this season; at the moment one could argue that as Luis Silva goes, so goes TFC.
Robert Earnshaw is a mobile and industrious forward in his own right, once he arrives - though his acquisition has not yet been officially confirmed - and before Danny Koevermans is fit, which will open up a whole host of new options, the Silva to Earnshaw pass from a quick transition is likely to be Toronto's best threat.
It's hard to envisage any two striker systems being deployed until Koevermans returns, as it is safe to presume Toronto's plan will be to build from the back, lock down their defense before getting adventurous moving forward.
Danny is not as mobile as one would like, but his ability to find space is unparallel and pairing him with a hard-working runner - like Earnshaw or Justin Braun - will be an interesting development to watch later in the season.
One tidbit that slipped through the cracks, as nobody got to see the match and the report was very brief - and tucked away on the blog section of the TFC website - was that Bekker was deployed as a striker, presumably a secondary one, playing in the hole behind first Braun and then forgotten man, Andrew Wiedeman.
Bekker scored two goals in that match, first from a free kick and then from a volley - or so the report says. It was a peculiar match, a chance for the trialists and academy products in camp to get a run out, and only lasted for an hour. The first half was followed by a fifteen-minute second period, which was apparently ended when the TFC bench decided their players had had enough.
The fact that Rollins College had just tied the match at two surely didn't play a part in that decision.
Braun was forced off with a head knock, possibly the one that has him rumoured to be a concussion concern for Saturday.
Though he is an afterthought to most Toronto fans, Wiedeman should not be overlooked.
Yes, he looked very rusty, running into blind alleys and making the occasional mistake on both sides of the ball. And yes, he will forever be tarnished with that comment about the modern era from Mariner, but he joined the club midseason after being marginalized in Dallas for some time and is still young enough that he should be given a chance.
Toronto could very well need him this season.
One final option, a little out of left field, is that of Taylor Morgan, who's signing has still not been confirmed by the club, despite having joined the registered players on stage, in jersey, as the other trialists remained on the sidelines in the day clothes, could be deployed as the lone striker.
In a sane world, it would be madness to field a rookie in such a position in his first taste of league action, but he proved industrious in preseason, showed he can score when given the chance and had the pace to cause defenders trouble.
Expect Dunfield to take any penalties the side earns and Bekker to handle the free-kick duty, particularly attempts in range of goal.
Some Final Thoughts
Though there has been much despair at how this motley collection of players will fare as they start the season with no solid vision of what the team will be, their final match of the preseason was against a full strength Kansas City side, one of the better teams in MLS last season, who could only manage a 1-0 victory.
Of course, nobody saw the match, as the streamed broadcast was cancelled, but the match reports tell the story of a Luis Silva who was causing trouble and winning free kicks in dangerous positions and of a last-minute penalty shout, as a result of sustained attacking pressure that could have seen the match end a draw.
When the final injury reports trickle out late on Friday evening we'll be able to glean a more informed idea of what the team may look like, but this rampant speculation will have to serve until then.