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Toronto FC’s attack is the most dangerous it has ever been

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Opponents have to worry about a lot more than just two superstar strikers.

Tagwa Moyo / Waking the Red

On Saturday, Toronto FC comprehensively beat the Portland Timbers at BMO Field by a score of 4-1. These kind of blowouts aren’t atypical of the club, but usually mean either Sebastian Giovinco or Jozy Altidore - or both - had a monstrous night.

That wasn’t the case against Portland. The pair, who have been central to almost everything Toronto has done offensively since being acquired in 2015, had just one assist between them. Instead, it was Justin Morrow (twice), Victor Vazquez and Marky Delgado who found the back of the net.

This wasn’t an example of Toronto’s once-bright stars fading. Instead, it was clear proof that the club’s offence is now more dangerous than just a two-headed monster. Like all good clubs, they can now hurt their opponents in many ways.

“It’s very important the way we play that obviously Jozy and Seba are getting goals and big opportunities,” said captain Michael Bradley after the Portland match. “But [also] to make sure we’re also getting goals from our wingers, from our attacking midfielders, making sure we are doing things right on set pieces.

“We need to make sure that across the board we are getting good contributions from everyone in terms of goals.”

In their first two seasons with the club (2015 and 2016) Altidore and Giovinco combined for more than half of the goals the team scored. In 2015 alone, their debut as a strike pairing, they accounted for roughly 66 per cent of the team’s regular-season scoring.

This year, Toronto’s dynamic duo have only scored 43 per cent of the team’s goals. With 10 games remaining in the regular season, the rest of the team has already matched the 24 goals they managed without Giovinco and Altidore last season (both years saw a pair of own goals which I have not attributed to either group).

This diversification in attack has worked out just fine for TFC, as their offence is currently on pace to better the club record in goals scored by several tallies. This despite the fact that they have spent a good portion of the year missing key players.

While the club’s average shots per game and total shot ratio (TSR) are down from last season, according to American Soccer Analysis, more chances are being created. The club’s expected goals for (xGF) per game is up from 1.38 to 1.53. Over the course of a 34-game season that means roughly five more expected goals are being created.

The biggest offensive improvement has come in the midfield. In 2016, the middle of the park combined for just 13 per cent of the club’s goals. This year that number has risen to a far more reasonable 35 per cent.

MLS: New England Revolution at Toronto FC Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports

Adding Vazquez in the offseason has been a big reason why, as the Spaniard already has five goals to his name. So has moving Morrow from full-back into a more attacking role as a wing-back, and, at times, a full-on winger. Morrow also has five goals this year.

In fact, the switch to a 3-5-2 formation, which came late last season, has helped immensely in the diversification of Toronto’s attack. Now the team can start forward movements from anywhere on the field.

“A lot of teams in this league are going to say ‘you’ve got to beat us from the outside, we aren’t going to let you come through the middle of us’,” said Greg Vanney on Saturday. “The more we can create opportunities and create good opportunities wide, it makes teams respect the full width of the field.”

Forcing teams to pay attention to wide players has meant more room for the stars in the middle of the field to do their work. It should be mentioned, of course, that ‘work’ doesn’t just constitute scoring but creating goals as well.

That is how Sebastian Giovinco, in particular, has made a name for himself as a player who doesn’t just put up a lot of goals but also a number of assists. In 2015 and 2016, roughly 63 per cent of the time Toronto found the back of the net it was either scored or assisted by the Atomic Ant.

For a variety of reasons, Giovinco has only been involved in 37 per cent of Toronto’s goals to this point in the season. Part of that is on him, the fact that he has been injured and that his ‘points per game’, roughly 1.15 through the first two seasons, has dropped to 0.90.

But it’s also because Toronto has a growing group of players who can create chances. Again, Vazquez is the main talking point here, with his 10 assists being among the best in the league. Raheem Edwards has also flourished as a playmaker this season with five assists of his own.

Just outside of this main contributors, a growing group has lended their support. Fourteen different players have scored for Toronto this season, and regular starters Bradley, Chris Mavinga and Steven Beitashour aren’t even among that group.

Altidore and Giovinco are still the central threat of the Toronto attack, and will be for the foreseeable future as two of the best attackers the league has ever seen. However, even when they aren’t contributing offensively the team can still punish opponents.

It’s why Toronto FC’s attack is the most dangerous it has ever been.