Summer is coming for Toronto FC. While that isn't exactly the famous line from HBO's Game of Thrones, things around this club have always been a little backwards. Every year, around this time, the season starts to go off the rails if they haven't already.
This year there is an added roadblock that could de-rail that train, the CONCACAF Gold Cup. For most of July the team will be without four starters: Captain Michael Bradley and Designated player Jozy Altidore who are playing for the States, and Jonathan Osorio and Ashtone Morgan who will feature for Canada.
While they will only be away for a maximum of four games, it is the timing of those games that is so important. Toronto has consistently failed to win in the month of July, winning only 8 of the 38 matches they have played in that month.
Even last year, when Toronto had its best year ever points wise they only had a single victory in six July games, losing three of them.
This year, however, even with those who will be departing for the Gold Cup, what the team has shown in recent matches gives the impression that for once they will be able to handle this part of the year just fine.
It all starts, of course, with the one designated player that won't be leaving for the Gold Cup: Sebastian Giovinco. He is Toronto's best player and keeping him around means they still have a least one dangerous offensive weapon that can win them close matches.
From there it is those who will be deployed as replacements that give off true confidence that Toronto has enough depth to sustain them during this trying time.
As Toronto's "General" leaves for international duty, there are a number of other footsoldiers eagerly awaiting their chance. Marky Delgado has shown well for Toronto as of late, and looks very capable of as starting spot. The same can be said of Jay Chapman based on his several substitute appearances.
While it's unlikely that Toronto will stick with the same formation and roles it has as of late, Chapman will likely be the replacement for Bradley as a central attacking midfielder. Marky Delgado will fill in for Osorio who plays a bit wider and a further back.
This is the case unless the team decides to go with wide midfielders instead, something they very well could do. In this case Daniel Lovitz and Jackson both have the inside track to these spots, although the former has dealt with injuries as of late.
The true replacement for Bradley, however, will be Collen Warner who has always played his best soccer when his fellow American isn't around. With more touches, look for him and a returning Benoit Cheyrou to do the heavy lifting in the midfield.
The replacement for Altidore is a little more straightforward: it will likely be Luke Moore but could end up being Robbie Findley as well. Jordan Hamilton has an outside chance, but still has never really been given a shot by Greg Vanney.
Moore has been particularly impressive whenever Altidore has gone down this season. The ex- EPL striker isn't most eye-catching player on the field and can disappear for large portions of games but he always seems to score goals. Considering his position, the start of that sentence isn't relevant.
In Ashtone Morgan's place Toronto choose Warren Creavalle. This is the replacement in which the least confidence exists. Creavalle has had an up and down season, and most of the down has come when he plays in defense.
However, he really didn't look half bad in the club's recent match against Montreal and will likely benefit from a defense that is far more stable than it was day one against Vancouver.
Nick Hagglund has also played some rightback in his time with the club, and could draw into the lineup if the team isn't playing against a speedy opponent. Mark Bloom is an option as well, but considering what has happened this season with him he's about as likely as Jordan Hamilton to see time.
Finally, the opponent's Toronto will play during the month give confidence that they will be able to pick up points. The first match, this weekend against Los Angeles Galaxy is difficult, but they are a team that have been known to lose in surprising fashion.
After that it is New York City FC and the Philadelphia Union, both Major League Soccer bottom-dwellers. Toronto will have extra incentive to beat New York considering the last match the two played together. TFC finish up July with a match against Columbus, who have fallen off since the two last met.
So the Gold Cup might not be such a disaster for this team after all. If any Toronto team has the depth to replace four crucial starters it is this one. In that time they will have a chance to show that they are a better team than people are willing to give them credit.