Over the past month, the Toronto FC front office have done an excellent job in adding the pieces needed to fix the problems the team faced last year. With the likes of Will Johnson, Drew Moor, and Steven Beitashour all being added, fans should be excited for the upcoming season.
However, in contrast to past offseasons where Toronto was crowned the "Offseason Winners", there is still some confusion as to how to the team will look on the field. This confusion stems from the formation and player roles the team will choose to with their current regiment of players.
Besides the question of who the starting keeper will be, the defense seems relatively easy to sort out. It is widely assumed that the team will have Justin Morrow and Steven Beitashour playing at fullback, while Damien Perquis and Drew Moor will partner in the center of the defense.
Questions begin to arise when the midfield and forward positions are plotted out. The only locked in position seems to be Jonathan Osorio on the left flank. It is thought that another signing; either from the academy or overseas, will fill the right flank position.
But then there's the center of the midfield. Over the past season fans saw that the midfield was largely built around the strengths - and weaknesses - of Michael Bradley. Being deployed in the number ten role, the team struggled when Bradley only had one man behind him, usually the technically sound Benoit Cheyrou.
However, the team was at its best when there were two players positioned behind Bradley. With two center midfielders playing conservatively, it allowed Bradley to do what he was "best" at (it is very debatable as to where he is best positioned) and allowed Cheyrou and Colin Warner to cover up for his defensive lapses.
If the team intends to play Bradley at his preferred position and not face the same defensive weaknesses that they had previously, it reasons to stand that Vanney will choose to play two midfielders behind him. These spots would be filled by Cheyrou and newly acquired Will Johnson.
This optimal and preferred positioning in the midfield leaves only one striker position open for two DP forwards, and it is nearly impossible that MLS MVP Sebastian Giovinco would not fill this spot. Evidently, it leaves Jozy Altidore on the bench, which would be a failure by management to have a designated player sitting on the bench.
The alternative would be to see the return of the two-man partnership in midfield with Johnson sitting behind Bradley. This would allow Altidore to remain up top with Giovinco, but as past results have shown, this would not be optimal. This option would also have Benoit Cheyrou and his large paycheck left sitting on the bench.
The five-man midfield is not without its faults either. When leaving Giovinco alone upfront, he has struggled, as evident by performances late in the season against New York City and the Columbus Crew. Giovinco is at his best when playing with a striking partner. By removing Altidore from the starting eleven, Giovinco is losing a forward partner that he has shown to work well with. The team would also be losing an effective inside-the-box poacher in Altidore, who is the team's most consistent aerial threat.
Playing the five-man midfield may also send the wrong message to Michael Bradley. Before arriving in Toronto, Bradley showed he could be an effective player who was responsible defensively. Ever since his debut in Toronto, he has distanced himself from the player he once was and has become an untraditional number ten, both for club and for country.
Both formations favor certain designated players while negatively effect different aspects of the team. The fact remains that a 4-4-2 would play both Giovinco and Altidore in their preferred positioning, while allowing the weaknesses of Bradley to be exposed. A 4-5-1 would hide these weaknesses while also utilizing both Cheyrou and Johnson, but would force Giovinco into an uncomfortable position*and Altidore onto the bench.
*Giovinco would most likely adapt as a player of his caliber should, but it would possibly decrease his production and impact on the field*
What the problem stems down to is whether the team should play Bradley out of position or relegate Altidore to the bench. Unless the team chooses a path of mediocrity and chooses to allow Bradley to continue causing defensive deficiencies, it really is Bradley or Altidore. The path of mediocrity is most likely as it is unlikely the team would be willing and able to sell Altidore or Bradley this transfer window.
But if the team is committed to putting the best possible product on the field, it would be best for them to sell one of their American national team DPs this transfer window. Based on his defensive weaknesses, his inability to play in a two-man center midfield partnership, and his effect on the partnership of Altidore and Giovinco, it would better the team to sell their captain Micheal Bradley. This may not be a question with a clear-cut correct answer as there are a number of reasons as to why selling Jozy Altidore would make sense. Despite this, either path would most likely benefit the play of this team this upcoming season and help rid itself of the mediocrity the team's supporters are used to.