The holidays are here, and give us a chance to
take a break from soccer and spend time with our families look back and assess the state of the Toronto FC first-team roster player-by-player ahead of the new season.
Over the next few weeks we’ll be writing about every player that made an MLS appearance for the Reds in 2016, counting down a top 20 culminating in what I suppose will be a ‘most valuable player’ of sorts. I won’t pretend there is any scientific formula behind the rankings, but they are essentially based upon the combination of each player’s performance in 2016 and their value going forward.
Twenty-six players played in a TFC league game last season, so six find themselves on the outside looking in. To kick things off, here are some briefer notes on their 2016s and what the future may hold.
15 appearances (11 starts)
Williams would crack the top 20 if it was based only on a player’s existing body of work in a TFC shirt, and his absence is down to the fact that it looks increasingly likely he will not be with the club next season having not played since the August 25 match against Orlando City.
The 28-year-old never quite rose above rotation status with the Reds, starting three consecutive games only once in 2016. He had provided some welcome relief at the back as the defence was decimated by injury the year before, but Greg Vanney was able to lean upon a much more settled unit this time around.
Though Steven Beitashour, Drew Moor and Justin Morrow all racked up 35 games or more, however, there was a vacancy alongside Moor at centre-back - and then two in the back three - that Williams was in contention to fill for much of the season. That Orlando City game, in fact, was one of a few early previews of the 3-5-2.
But for some reason - there was no mention of an injury as far as I can tell - Williams did not even make the bench for two months after the 2-1 win in Florida. He returned to the squad for the final game of the regular season against the Chicago Fire (when Vanney settled on a back three of Eriq Zavaleta, Moor and Nick Hagglund) but did not appear as a substitute then or in the playoffs.
The starting trio played well for most of the postseason and if Bezbatchenko wishes to bring in a new centre-back to strengthen the group, it likely means Williams getting cut to make room. Sometimes that is just the natural course for players who provide decent depth but do not fully establish themselves as starters, and Williams could benefit from a fresh start in 2017.
12 appearances (five starts)
I’ll be honest: I was not often thrilled to see Dan Lovitz in the starting lineup or coming off the bench this season. Vanney seemed to see him as a useful option to balance the midfield with a left foot and provide some width and he could occupy a few different positions, but I felt his impact was usually minimal.
He did not play a great deal in the end, totalling 406 minutes overall, but Lovitz created just two chances from open play all season. For comparison, Jay Chapman created 21 in 780 minutes. Both players have good technique and some attacking potential, but whereas Chapman - who is two-and-a-half years younger - seems to be figuring out how to exhibit that at the MLS level, it just hasn’t happened for Lovitz.
If, as it currently looks, Lovitz’s time at TFC is up, he will be missed in the dressing room. He was repeatedly named the funniest player on the team in the club’s ‘We Are TFC’ interview series, which you should check out if you haven’t already.
12 appearances (11 starts)
There wasn’t really much wrong with Perquis - he could be a error-prone at times, but the main problem was simply that he was overpaid, earning more than anyone else on the roster except the designated players. When it became clear that there was not much of a drop off, if any at all, from the Frenchman to Zavaleta, it made sense to work out an agreement to let him go and take the (partial) cap relief.
Nine appearances (five starts)
Bloom is a capable MLS player and there’s not much to add on him that wasn’t said about Williams above. At age 29, it’s a better bet for him to seek minutes elsewhere in the league in 2017, and as a Georgia native he has found the perfect place to do that with Atlanta United.
Again, things could have been much different had the chips fallen another way; we could be talking about TFC’s long-serving starting right-back if not for injury. Had Steven Beitashour been the casualty of the expansion draft, even, Bloom would likely have been given every chance to prove his fitness and take that job next year.
16 appearances (six starts)
Babouli was in the top 20 until Ashtone Morgan re-signed. He’s undoubtedly a gifted player but may, I think, just fall short of making it with TFC in MLS. Babouli could keep his roster spot next season, but with Tosaint Ricketts now on the team and Jordan Hamilton a year older, even substitute appearances are going to be difficult to come by.
The 23-year-old is a classic example of the current shortcomings of Canadian youth development. Babouli did not even join the TFC Academy until he was 21, playing for Sheridan College in Oakville before that. His dominance in League1 Ontario and ineffectiveness in MLS is illustrative of a player whose talent needed spotting 10 years earlier, and with his international status on non-Canadian MLS teams it will be difficult for him to find another opportunity to catch up if it does not work out in Toronto.
One appearance (no starts)
Now 21, Edwards should get a few opportunities to impress with the big club in 2017. He had six goals and four assists in 20 USL games last season, which is not a bad return at all for a midfielder on a struggling team. If there is one TFC II player likely to make an MLS impact in the immediate future, it is him.