Toronto FC spent a lot of money on forwards this offseason. Bringing in a pair of Designated Players, they have really upgraded this part of the squad. Jermain Defoe and Gilberto will be pencilled in to start every single game that they are fit and available for which is good news for TFC fans because after them things get a bit dicey.
The preseason showed us very little about what we can expect from the forward group this season. All we saw was Bright Dike go down with an injury that should sideline him for the entire season, Gilberto play briefly in the fog before being sidelined, and Defoe waving goodbye to Spurs fans. For much of the preseason the attack was being led by Andrew Wiedeman which shows you exactly where the depth stands.
Before the start of the season this area of the team seemed to be completely sorted out. The team had two very good options in the starting lineup and one player on the bench who could mix things up. Even with Wiedeman as your fourth option you were looking at a player who was going to bring a lot of effort even if the top end skill is not there. Now just by removing Dike from the equation things look a bit thin.
In an ideal world you would see Defoe and Gilberto starting almost every game this season and getting the job done. That is not going to happen though as both will miss time through injury at some point (could even be week one) and there is still a chance of Defoe heading off to the World Cup this summer. Either way, their ability to form a working partnership will be crucial to TFC's success this season. We have yet to get a single taste of what that will look like but we know there is a fair bit of goal scoring talent between the two of them.
When Gilberto and Defoe are both available we will most likely see Nelsen using more of a front two with the bulk of the support coming from the wingers. Each player's role in that front two will be interesting to see in the first couple weeks of the season. It would not be a surprise to see one of the pair dropping a bit deeper to link up with the midfielders while the other sits on the backline looking to get in behind defenders. Both are capable of either role but I would except we see Defoe doing more of the linkup work to ensure he is getting involved in the match.
If either is unavailable plan B suddenly becomes a bit less clear. If Nelsen wants to stick with a front two it would mean having to put Wiedeman into the starting lineup which, given his scoring record, is not an ideal solution. There are options in the midfield though who can be put into a more attacking role or even be used as a forward. You could see Dwayne DeRosario pushed up to forward or playing just behind a lone striker if needed. The same could happen with Jackson who has played as a bit of an inside forward in his career. There are options if Nelsen can show the tactically flexibility to make the most of them.
With everyone healthy the 4-4-2 looks to be the ideal use of the forwards that we have. Once you take one of them out of the equation it stops looking so ideal. The problem is that even when Nelsen basically only had one healthy forward to work with during preseason he still managed to put the team out in a 4-4-2. If he wants to continue with that during the season he might need to get a replacement for Dike so he at least has some options to work with.
Toronto FC do have another option to work with at forward and that is Jordan Hamilton. He showed a lot of talent in the U-17 World Cup last fall and clearly has a knack for getting into space and finding the back of the net but it is unlikely that the 17-year-old is ready for any kind of serious minutes this season. It would have been great to see him in preseason action but like so many of the other forwards he was sidelined with an injury and didn't see a single minute of action.
The last forward who was with TFC during preseason was Kene Eze. He got a decent number of minutes during preseason and even picked up an assist but it seems like the 60th overall pick in this year's SuperDraft is not going to be sticking around for the new season. That leaves the club with four real forwards on the roster as opening day approaches.
Some have suggested that Hamilton could wind up going down to Wilmington on loan but unless the club adds another forward they may need to keep him around to provide some much needed depth. It would be risky for them to have only three forwards in the squad even if they could recall Hamilton at any point in time. That is another element of the forwards picture that will be interesting to follow this season.
Just a few weeks ago the biggest question mark about the forwards was whether or not Gilberto would live up to his DP price tag. That remains the biggest one of the bunch but now there are a lot more small questions that will need to be answered for this team to succeed. Adding one more forward with ability would be a good step towards addressing those questions.
|Andrew Wiedeman||Jordan Hamilton|
|Bright Dike (Injured)|