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WTR Mailbag: On Early Days

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With preparations underway, this week’s Mailbag looks at what must be done and the task ahead.

MLS: SuperDraft
Focus shifts from the draft tables to the pitch
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The players have reported, training camp is underway, medicals are done, the beep test has been run, and the club departs the wintry vibes of Toronto for sunnier climes this weekend, as their preparation begins in earnest for the 2017 season.

Given the success of last year, the integrity of the squad, and the depth built over the last three seasons, this winter was very different from those of years past.

The club has been built with purpose, taking forward steps with each successive off-season.

Michael Bradley and Justin Morrow were signed prior to the 2014 season, while Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco joined ahead of the 2015 campaign. Toronto FC were hailed as off-season champions for the third year running in 2016 with the savvy additions of Drew Moor, Clint Irwin, Steven Beitashour, and Will Johnson.

MLS: MLS Cup Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

While such moves grabbed the headlines, the club was busy behind the scenes building the institutional depth and knowledge that makes MLS teams great. Draft picks such as Nick Hagglund, Tsubasa Endoh, Alex Bono, and, hopefully, Brandon Aubrey, shrewd signings like Eriq Zavaleta, Marky Delgado, Benoit Cheyrou, and Armando Cooper as well as homegrown products like Jay Chapman, Jordan Hamilton, Mo Babouli, and Sergio Camargo have transformed the club.

As such, this year there was very little need for drastic change.

Salary cap limitations, given contract elevators and bonuses, are a consideration and the club has expressed a desire to look internally, both to TFC II and their academy, the rechristened TFC III, to plug gaps on the roster.

There are plenty of names that could be ready to make that leap, with Raheem Edwards the most obvious given his role in the Voyageurs Cup win last June. But any player who moves up will likely still spend the majority of their time playing in USL with TFC II.

MLS: Seattle Sounders FC at Toronto FC Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

That is not to say there are not needs.

There is that long-desired attacking midfield slot to be considered. Is Chapman the answer? Camargo? Babouli? Cooper? Osorio? Some combination of the above or some external option in the works?

The re-signing of Cheyrou appears to be imminent, addressing the need to shore up the midfield with the loss of Johnson to Orlando and free agency.

The departures of Mark Bloom and Josh Williams has opened up vulnerabilities at both centre-back and right-back, while the clearing out that occurred at TFC II has left little in the cupboard. Mitch Taintor has developed nicely, while Clement Simonin, though plagued by injuries and not re-signed, has been invited to camp. Aubrey looks a steal at 21st pick in the SuperDraft, but whether he is ready to step immediately into the MLS fold remains to be seen.

MLS: MLS SuperDraft Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The club has welcomed a few new faces. All five draft picks (Aubrey, keeper Robert Moewes, midfielder Oyvind Alseth, and defenders Lars Eckenrode, Juan Pablo Saavedra) are being evaluated, while the entirety of TFC II is currently training with the first team.

There are also at least three trialists currently in camp: 20-year old Trinidadian midfielder Aikim Andrews, formerly of W Connection, 23-year old former UNC Tarheel and New England Revolution/Rochester Rhinos right-sided defender Jordan McCrary, who was selected 10th overall in the 2016 SuperDraft, and 25-year old Finnish defender Johan Brunell, who last plied his trade at FF Jaro in his native land.

Vanney has said that some 33 or so bodies will be making the trip to Los Angeles on Saturday. Bradley and Altidore, already in situ with their national team, will join the club there.

Despite such consistency, reaching the same heights as 2016 is no foregone conclusion.

MLS: Eastern Conference Championship-Montreal Impact at Toronto FC John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

MLS is a difficult and unpredictable league, and past success in no way determines future outcomes. In addition, there is no doubt that every other team will be eager to prove their mettle against the defending Eastern Conference champions.

Early preseason matches while at UC Irvine have yet to be announced, while the more formal portion of the build-up in Orlando mid-February will see five matches played, and provide more insight into how the team is shaping up.

Rest assured, there will be plenty to discuss in the coming five weeks, as kickoff of the 2017 season is just around the corner.

Please leave your questions and comments in the section below and the ever-vigilant WTR staff will respond in kind.