Editor's Note: Please welcome Nicholas Konut to the Waking the Red team. Nicholas fell in love with Toronto FC during their Champions League series against the LA Galaxy in 2012 after flirting with the club in their early years. He will provide a variety of articles for the Waking the Red team.
With MLS announcing their offseason schedule, December 7th stands out as the day by which teams have to make a decision on player options. It will be the first chance that fans get to see which players the Toronto FC front office choose to release and which ones to move forward with. Probably the most important question leading up to that date is the direction that the team will take with its defensive core.
It doesn't take an armchair analyst to figure out that after being tied for the most goals conceded, the Toronto backline (and keeper) needs to be rebuilt. When a team allows 58 goals, with 20 of them coming as a result of poor marking on a cross, all defenders deserve evaluation for their poor play this season. Here is a breakdown of each Toronto defender's performance this season:
Justin Morrow: Not much can be said for Morrow as he was the most consistent performer on the backline for the second year in a row. There is no reason that Toronto would not want him back and Bezbatchenko should do everything he can to resign him.
Ashton Morgan: With a suspension to Justin Morrow early in the season, Morgan took his chance and performed well enough to force Vanney to move Morrow over to the right side. Morgan showed he could be a valuable member to the team, especially going forward on the counterattack. The same could not be said later on into the season when it appeared Morgan had fallen out of the starting 18 again, even going so far as having Daniel Lovitz playing left back. While riding the bench in MLS may not be the best spot for Ashton's playing time, he is a nice option to have if Morrow ever goes down with an injury and should be back with the team next year.
Ahmed Kantari: Due to the early retirement of Steven Caldwell half way through the season, Toronto was forced to throw money at a centre back signing to replace the hole left by Caldwell. Toronto only did one of those two things and that was throw money at Kantari, a centre back.
He in no way was able to replace Caldwell's spot in the lineup, but Kantari was able to allow attackers to run right by him, concede fouls in dangerous spots and of course allow opposing players freedom on crosses into the box. In no way should Kantari return next season, especially with his expensive cap hit.
Damien Perquis: If fans were to describe Perquis's play this season in one word it would probably be "conflicted". At times Perquis looked like an above average MLS defender, but at other times like an overpaid, over-the-hill defender. It is tough to judge Perquis based on what we saw this season for a variety of reasons. With multiple injuries and multiple centre back pairings, it was hard for Perquis to find consistency in his first season in MLS. Perquis's play appeared to suffer from playing as the left sided centre back once Steven Caldwell went down with injury and never returned. Perquis looked out of place on the left, as he was much more susceptible to attackers running by him and losing his man inside of the box. Things did change when the team brought in Josh Williams to partner Perquis, allowing him to return to his natural right side. Perquis was able to find consistency with Williams as his partner and began playing as an above average defender in MLS. Perquis should be back next season and should be better with a consistent partner on his right side, whether it be Josh Williams or another signing.
Josh Williams: After being claimed off of waivers from New York City FC, Williams earned a starting spot on the Toronto backline. Since being claimed, the argument can be made that Williams was Toronto's second best defender behind Justin Morrow. Williams was a consistent performer and improved the play of Damien Perquis. On a contending team Williams would probably be the 3rd centre back in the depth chart. I would not be opposed to having Williams as a starter on the backline next season, but I would prefer him as the first defender off of the bench.
Eriq Zavaleta: Before Ahmed Kantari there was Eriq Zavaleta, recently acquired nephew of coach Greg Vanney. Once Caldwell was forced off the field with an injury and Nick Hagglund was dropped as a result of a couple of poor starts, Zavaleta was called upon by Uncle Greg. Zavaleta showed composure on the ball and was relatively good at clearing crosses inside of the box, something which most other defenders struggled with this season. However, Zavaleta did show the signs of his inexperience as he was prone to making common mistakes. I don't see Zavaleta being moved but I do hope that someone is brought in to start ahead of him.
Nick Hagglund: Coming off of a successful rookie season, there was serious thought that Hagglund would challenge Steven Caldwell for his spot in the lineup. That was a battle that would never happened as Hagglund was handed the spot once Caldwell went down with an injury. While Hagglund didn't look terrible during his limited run of starts, it was certainly a step down from his play witnessed the season before. This was not helped when Vanney choose to play Hagglund at right back against a fast paced FC Dallas team. Ever since his run of starts at the beginning of the season, Hagglund had not been seen since, partially due to being forced to have his appendix removed halfway through the season. Next season will be crucial one for the development of Hagglund if he is to continue his professional development. Hopefully, Hagglund sees more minutes next year, although I could see him starting off the season getting minutes with TFC2. With the arrival of Josh Williams, Hagglund could certainly be seen as an expendable piece.
Clement Simonin: With only two starts throughout the year, Simonin did not have much of a chance to show his worth this season. In his very small sample size of two games, Simonin did show his ability to control and pass his ball out of the back. At the age of 24, it is hard to see Simonin having that much more time to development. He should be back next season, especially with his high praise as a great left foot passer from Vanney, but he will be the furthest down the depth chart as nothing other than depth.
It is really hard to talk about Toronto's right back position considering they never really had one throughout the season. At first there was the disaster that was Warren Creavalle, then came Justin Morrow who didn't look out of place on the right but was a much more effective player at his natural position. Towards the end of the season, after a stint of Marky Delgado playing right back, Toronto appeared to find a temporary solution in Jackson. However, it did not last long as the last two games of the season against Montreal showed the huge hole in the backline that was there throughout the season, but was never fixed. This is perhaps the most intriguing situation going into next year as the club will need to bring in a right back regardless. The question is whether or not the new right back will be brought in with the intention of starting or as depth to cover for Mark Bloom. Bloom was a revelation at right back two season ago for Toronto before missing all of this season with an injury. What remains to be seen is how the front office and Vanney rate Bloom. Even before his injury, it appeared that Vanney preferred to start Warren Creavalle. The logic behind the move appeared to stem from whether Bloom could play in a system where the full backs were expected to get forward quickly. It appears that Vanney does not believe Bloom can not play that role, which is why a new starting right back will be brought into Toronto for the 2016 season. Bloom should be kept on the team for depth but it appears that's all he'll ever be under Vanney.
Projected Starting Backline For Toronto FC’s 2016 Season
|Morrow||Perquis||New CB Signing||New RB Signing|