It hasn’t been a banner season for Marky Delgado. After a 2017 campaign that was the best of his career, things just haven’t quite gone the 23-year-olds ways this year.
There was the miss. Then there were injuries. Through all of it Jonathan Osorio, the player he largely beat out for minutes last season, has been impossible to take out of the lineup. If Delgado started all thirteen remaining games he still wouldn’t surpass his 2017 starts total.
Saturday against the Chicago Fire, however, was a distinct reminder of why Delgado is such an important piece of the Toronto FC puzzle. The midfielder’s attributes are often critical to Toronto FC playing at its best.
Delgado started the match on the bench, with Osorio, Victor Vazquez and Michael Bradley all starting ahead of him. Those weren’t illogical selections, and all three deserve to be in Toronto FC’s best eleven.
But after a sluggish first half, it was clear Toronto needed a spark if they were to secure a critical three points against their Eastern Conference rivals. A substitution which brought on Delgado for fullback Ashton Morgan did the trick.
“The first half we didn’t create many chances, a lot of our actions were going backwards because the way they were defending us our free player was behind the ball at all times,” said Greg Vanney after the match. “So we weren’t able to find the extra number or open guy to play forward to.”
Adding in an extra midfielder, Delgado, threw off Chicago’s man marking system, according to Vanney. But Delgado also helped solve the problem by doing what he does best, quickly distributing the ball forward, while also providing the midfield with balance.
Delgado has never necessarily been the player playing the final pass or taking shots on target. But his role in the buildup that creates these chances cannot be understated.
Of players who have played at least 400 minutes this season, Delgado is second in the entire league in expected buildup per 96 according to American Soccer Analysis. Basically, this is a stat that measures the total expected goals of sequences that a player is involved in, not including movements where that player took, or assisted on, a shot.
In other words, he is crucial to creating chances for Toronto FC with his ability to transition the ball from back to front. That was on full display in the second goal the reds scored against the Chicago Fire on Saturday.
Delgado takes the ball from van der Wiel and plays a beautiful pass down the line to Jozy Altidore, which opens up the space for the rest of the movement. It wasn’t on the scoresheet, or any of the highlights even for that matter, but it was a critical pass in the move.
In fact, Delgado was involved in all three goals Toronto FC scored on Saturday. On the first it was his header that Altidore eventually bundled into the back of the net, then on Sebastian Giovinco’s goal, it is Delgado’s run that creates the space for a shot.
Having Delgado on the field also frees up played like Victor Vazquez, Jonathan Osorio and even Justin Morrow to focus more on the offensive side of the game. Without Delgado, the midfield can lack a bit of balance needed between offence and defence.
As mentioned earlier, Vazquez and Osorio have become basically undroppable at this point, so it might be time for Vanney to turn to the four man midfield again. It hasn’t worked much for Toronto this season, not that much has, but Toronto also hasn’t been this healthy since the Champions League campaign.
At the very least, if the 3-5-2 isn’t working, expect Delgado to be the first player off the bench to try and fix things the way he did on Saturday.
His name might no appear on the scoresheet, or mentioned in the highlights. He hasn’t been quite as consistently good as he was last season. But if Toronto FC are going to make the playoffs, they are going to need Marky Delgado on the field.