Come Friday night the MLS season gets back underway for Toronto FC. Once it kicks back off things really do not slow down again until the end of October when we will either be mourning another failed season or celebrating the first playoff appearance in club history.
With so many games coming up in the next four months one of the major keys to Toronto FC's success is going to be their depth. With that in mind it makes sense to take a closer look at how the depth chart now stands having had a few months of the season to evaluate the team. The team has also made a few roster moves which have caused significant changes to the depth chart since the last time we look at it at the end of preseason.
This area of the team was simple to figure out heading in to the season and continues to be simple but things did take an odd twist for a while there. When TFC gets back down to playing games it will be Joe Bendik taking the number one job with Chris Konopka serving as his backup. There are still some question marks about Julio Cesar but giving his emotional sendoff before the World Cup it would be shocking to see Brazil's number one back in Toronto after he wraps up international duty.
The good news for Cesar is that he seems to have done enough at the World Cup to increase his value and should be able to find a new club and finally complete his move away from Queens Park Rangers but that means next to nothing for Toronto FC who will not get anything in return for him other than some freed up cap space. The real lasting benefit from Cesar's stay in Toronto will have to be the role that he played in helping Joe Bendik develop since he will now be tasked with carrying the load the rest of the way.
The final keeper in the picture is Quillan Roberts who is doing well for himself down in Wilmington but with Bendik and Konopka in Toronto it seems that barring any injury he will be spending the rest of the season down in USL Pro which should suit both the player and the club just fine. At his age just getting him competitive minutes should be the number one focus and that is what his loan is providing.
|Julio Cesar (very unlikely to be back)|
|Quillan Roberts (on loan to Wilmington|
Early in the season the depth of the back four has been tested and more often than not the unit has stepped up and gotten the job done. Mark Bloom and Justin Morrow have proven that they are more than capable of being starters at the outside backs while Steven Caldwell, Doneil Henry, and Nick Hagglund have all had their hiccups along the way but have done enough to show they are capable of getting the job done in the middle of the park.
Henry and Caldwell seems to be the preferred pairing in the middle of the park for now when neither of them is suspended or injured. The first option off the bench seems to be Hagglund who has impressed enough this season to make Gale Agbossoumonde expendable which speaks volumes about how the coaching staff rates the rookie defender. Hagglund also seems to have established himself as the first choice to replace Bloom at right back should he miss time for any reason. The only other real option used at CB so far this season was Bradley Orr who despite being a natural right back has looked better in central roles this season.
Ashtone Morgan seems to be the odd man out in the back four as even when TFC have fielded B-teams he had not been a lock to be included. Nelsen has even started defenders on their off side ahead of Morgan who may be just about as far down the depth chart these days as Ryan Richter. Richter's future remains a bit up in the air as he had the training stint with the Ottawa Fury but no loan deal has been announced so for now he remains the fifth choice CB.
|Mark Bloom||Steven Caldwell||Doneil Henry||Justin Morrow|
|Nick Hagglund*||Nick Hagglund||Bradley Orr*||Ashtone Morgan|
|Bradley Orr||Ryan Richter|
*out of natural positon
The midfield seems to be the toughest part of this team to figure out. While Ryan Nelsen seems unwilling to stray very far from his preferred 4-4-2 formation, we have seen a number of different looks in the middle of the park. One thing is clear and that is when he is fit and not off on international duty Michael Bradley is the first name on the team sheet. After his name Nelsen has some decisions to make but we could see a number of recent acquisitions take up starting roles in the coming weeks.
If Bradley is being asked to play in a box-to-box role it means that Nelsen is going to have to find someone to anchor the midfield and protect that back four. Having someone who can do that job well would free up Bradley to push forward and generate chances for the forwards which was something that has been lacking so far this season with Jonathan Osorio doing the best job in what is clearly not his natural role. The good news is that the club has made a move to address the need in that position by bringing in Collen Warner who is a pure holding midfielder and could be that anchor behind Bradley. His backup in that role might just be Kyle Bekker who has put in his best performances when asked to play more of a limited role. That means that Jeremy Hall has slipped even further down the depth chart and it is hard to see where he fits in to the team's plans at this point in time.
Jonathan Osorio is probably the backup to Michael Bradley in the middle of the park when the general cannot go for any reason but TFC will also need to find a way to get him some time in the starting lineup. That might mean a return to seeing Osorio out on the right wing where he did well during his rookie season. It would also help fill a need for TFC as they do not have an established starter on the right wing since dealing Alvaro Rey to the Columbus Crew.
With Issey Nakajima-Farran and Rey both sent packing in deals recently the options on the wing look quite a bit different than they did early in the season. Dominic Oduro was brought in and Dan Lovitz was recalled from Wilmington to provide some options on the wing and they join Dwayne De Rosario and Jackson to form a group that may lack in top end quality but should have enough to get the job done.
It is not clear who the first choice options on the wing are now though with the deals taking place quite recently. We could see Jackson and Oduro as the starting options which would certainly provide the pace that Nelsen's counter attacking style thrives on or we could see Osorio replace one of them to bring in a bit more technical ability. After that trio you can count on DeRo and Lovitz to provide some depth on the wings.
The only remaining midfielder is Manuel Aparicio who is another player out on loan to Wilmington and it seems very unlikely that he will be recalled at any point this season as he continues to have a fair bit of developing to do before he is ready to contribute in MLS.
|Jackson||Michael Bradley||Collen Warner||Dominic Oduro|
|Dwayne De Rosario||Jonathan Osorio||Kyle Bekker||Dan Lovitz|
If Nelsen is going to keep going with his 4-4-2 formation it would make sense for him to continue to start his pair of designated players at forward. Jermain Defoe has been great early in his TFC career but Gilberto has been a bit of a question mark due to his lack of goal scoring. His other play has been solid but he was signed to score goals and hopefully he starts doing that when play resumes.
Luke Moore has done well since arriving at the club and might even be in position to start pushing for starting minutes in the coming weeks. His overall play is not at the level of Gilberto's but he has been scoring goals which is something that is hard to overlook. At the very least Moore should provide some scoring punch off the bench which was lacking early in the season.
After Moore the only other option on the bench at forward currently is Andrew Wiedeman who has only featured sparingly this season. TFC could get a boost to their forward group in a couple of months if Bright Dike can return to fitness before the end of the season but for now the depth seems to be a bit limited as Jordan Hamilton is the only other forward under contract and he is down in Wilmington where he is scoring plenty of goals but may not be ready for the first team this season.
|Luke Moore||Andrew Wiedeman|
|Jordan Hamilton (out on loan)||Bright Dike (injured)|
Since the start of the season the starting lineup has undergone a little bit of change with the majority of that taking place in the midfield where it is possible that the team could now have three different starters around Bradley than what they had early in the campaign. Given the lack of possession and chances in many early games it makes sense that the team would be working to improve that area of the squad.
On the whole the main improvement seems to be that the team has added to their depth. They have dealt a surplus defender for needed depth at forward, flipped a winger for a much needed defensive midfielder, and traded an out of form winger for one with a higher upside. The moves have made the team better but it is clear that there are still some question marks.
The good news is that the team has some room to work with now in terms of the cap given that if Julio Cesar is not back he will come off the books. They are already working to use that flexibility with a few players stopping by training during the break including Jainiel Hoilett (his brother Junior Hoilett was there was well) and Dyaln Carriero who are both young Canadian players who are currently out of contract and could be signed this summer.
There are certainly still some areas where this team can make improvements but at least it seems like they are now two options deep at almost every position in the field even if some of those options come with a couple of question marks.
For now the depth chart looks good but injuries like we save early in the season could change that quickly.