Twas the night before preseason....
On January 22nd MLS teams are officially able to open preseason camps ahead of the 2016 MLS season. For most teams that means over the course of the day Friday and throughout the weekend players will all make their return to the training ground and check in for their physicals.
For Toronto FC that means players will be heading back to Downsview and with the exception of Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley it is expected the whole team will be there. Having a full team in place for the start of training camp has been a bit of a rarity for TFC throughout the club's history as they have often been left scrambling to fill important roster spots up to and beyond the start of the new season.
This year, the roster is all but set before the first ball is even kicked at training camp. After the acquisition of Clint Irwin from the Colorado Rapids, General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko make it clear that the team was done adding pieces for the time being. There is a chance that we will still see some players heading out the exit door before the end of the January transfer window but any further additions are now quite unlikely.
Even if TFC do not add a single further piece this offseason the work they have already done should make them a much tougher team to score on this season. They have done a complete overhaul of the team's defensive unit bringing in potentially four new starters in the back five. Some might even go as far as to crown them offseason champions once again for the pieces that they have managed to add.
So while fans will not be watching the rumour-mill as closely this offseason and there will likely be very few trialists over the course of the preseason there will be a few things to keep an on eye as training camp opens.
The first thing to watch for this preseason will be just how Greg Vanney manages to make the pieces at his disposal in the midfield work. It will be an interesting puzzle for the coach to figure out just how to get the most out of Bradley, Benoit Cheyrou, and Will Johnson in the middle of the park. None of that trio is a real defensive midfielder and they are all capable of playing similar roles in the middle of the park. Will we see one or even two of them pushed a bit wider, will Bradley be pushed further forward, will one of them be coming off the bench the majority of the season? Add in the question of where the likes of Collen Warner, Marky Delgado, Jonathan Osorio, Jay Chapman, and Dan Lovitz are going to fit and the puzzle gets even more complex.
The rumours linking players to the exit door will be another story to keep an eye on as camp opens. Both Damien Perquis and Luke Moore have been suggested as potential candidates to leave the club but nothing more has come of those initial reports. It is still possible that one or both players will depart this month to make space on a roster that is already quite full. With both players also carrying rather sizeable contracts their exits could also help to create some breathing room for the club in terms of the salary cap.
Fans should also been keeping an eye on the players who spent the bulk of last season with Toronto FC II in the USL. Odds are at least one of Quillan Roberts or Alex Bono is going to get the job as the number 2 keeper but they may not be the only TFCII given the chance to make a bigger contribution in MLS this season. Jordan Hamilton and Chris Mannella should both be given the chance to take the next step this year and as a result they should see some extended minutes with the first team during the preseason. It would be a nice boost to the academy system to see one of them become a first team contributor after yet another former academy graduate was let go this offseason. It will also be worth watching to see if anyone else from the junior ranks gets an extended look this season as there has been little talk of the potential for the club to make any further homegrown signings this year.
How fast all those new defenders can get on the same page will be another key thing for TFC this preseason. It is a lot of new players to integrate into one area of the team but the good news is that there is at least some familiarity amongst the group with some players having played together in previous years at their former clubs. If that group can come together quickly and be ready to hit the ground running for opening day it could be a huge boost for the team as points may be hard to come by early on as they once again start the year with a lengthy road trip.
There are probably dozens more storylines that one could keep an eye on this preseason but those are a few of the main ones that we think will be worth watching to see just how they unfold as camp opens tomorrow.