With another season comes another air of expectation around BMO Field as Toronto FC's first decade of existence comes to pass. While Toronto FC fans will be looking to build off last year's strong regular season there are five factors to keep watch of that will help determine the season's success.
1. Golden Boot Hangover
Unlike his English predecessor, Sebastian Giovinco has returned for another season of football on the lakeshore. Last year's MLS Golden Boot winner returns to BMO Field looking to build off a record-setting season after collecting 22 goals and 16 assists in his first season of MLS. While Toronto FC's talisman has already quoted saying he'd like to win more awards next season the toughest act to follow may be his own.
Previous MLS greats who have won the golden boot saw significant drop-offs in their goal production the following season; two prime examples are recent winners Bradley Wright-Phillips and Chris Wondolowski. In 2012, Wondo tied the MLS goal scoring record of 27 to score only 11 goals in 2013. Wright-Phillips also suffered from the Golden Boot hangover going from a 27 goal season down to 17 last season.
While TFC fans would not be disappointed with a 17 goal performance from the Atomic Ant there has never been an MLS Golden Boot winner to win the title back to back. While Giovinco may prove to be the anomaly only time will tell whether the stellar performance will continue or if history will repeat itself and see the goal tally drop.
2. Playoffs? You kidding me? Playoffs?!
While last season's performance granted Toronto FC entry to the promised land, if it wasn't for MLS' expansion of the playoff format TFC would've been on the outside as they finished in the sixth and final playoff spot. Supporters will look to see the team build off what was a promising run that saw the Reds competing for second place in the east heading into the second last week of the regular season. With last season's playoff game behind them, anything less than a deep post season run would be considered an underachievement for a Toronto club that has had time to gel and now feature MLS veterans able to step up in big games.
3. The Wall that Bez Builds
58. That number is the whopping amount of goals Toronto FC managed to concede last season. That number is 1.7 goals against per game. That number is the worst in the league. Defending has never been a strong part of Toronto FC's game and fans may find it easy to look past that end of the field when goals are finally being scored at the other. Put it this way, while Giovinco golassos are the seven million dollar fuel that launches the Toronto FC car in motion, it is the defence that is the emergency hand brake that the driver forgot to release. Sure the car is moving, but until that hand brake is down the passengers will be in for a harder, longer ride than they would have hoped. However, the driver may have just clued in.
This offseason the backline have seen two significant additions that should build supporter's confidence in the defense. With additions of Drew Moor and Steven Beitashour expected to play starting roles on defense it is a matter of signing and deciding upon a new starting goalkeeper with Bendik and Konopka being let go by the club. Homegrown signing Quillan Roberts and Alex Bono are the last remaining goalkeepers and fans can expect TFC to pick up another goalkeeper before the season starts. If the new look back line can limit the goals against to even ten goals less than 2015 they will be within touching distance of the league average of 47. That should not just give the team confidence but more results that they will need to push higher in the standings.
4. Veteran Presence
Say what you will about Toronto FC's designated players, one thing all three of them are lacking are MLS minutes. Combined, the three DPs have 175 MLS matches under their belts and while their desire, skill and star power can outshine the rest of the squad, this season could be one defined by the MLS vets. Will Johnson (189), Drew Moor (304) and Steven Beitashour (143) have a combined 636 MLS games between them and have a handle on MLS' gritty style of play with the experience to see out results. Look to see these players take on leadership roles within their areas of the pitch as they look to provide experience and support to players lacking in MLS playing time.
5. Midfield Management
The question of Toronto's midfield may just have moved from how to set up to who to start. With the addition of ex-Portland captain Will Johnson, Vanney will look to shuffle around a talented midfield including Michael Bradley, Collen Warner, Jonathan Osorio, and Benoit Cheyrou. Arguably one of the most talented midfields in the league, Toronto FC will have to learn quickly how to best use the tools at their disposal. Expect to see plenty of rotation through the beginning of the season as players compete for starting roles and management decides on formations. If Toronto FC can consistently win the midfield battle look to see higher possession games and more complete performances as the season wears on.