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Toronto FC midfielder Marky Delgado establishing identity with the Reds

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Delgado has become Toronto FC’s unsung hero

MLS: Toronto FC at New York City FC Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Whatever happens from now onwards, the 2019 Major League Soccer season will remain a positive step forward from the past year for Toronto FC.

The 5-1 rout of D.C. United enabled the Reds to move into the Eastern Conference semifinals where they will cross swords with New York City FC. Excitement is all over inside the TFC camp as Greg Vanney’s side remain upbeat and confident in their chances of bringing back the MLS Cup to Toronto.

The TFC coach seems to have found the perfect recipe to get the best out of his players: Quentin Westberg in inspiring form, Michael Bradley rolling back the years, Alejandro Pozuelo is the chief creator and Jonathan Osorio looks revived.

Yet, with a couple of players from the senior guard absent for the first-round game — Omar Gonzalez and Jozy Altidore — it was not one of the aforementioned who excelled most, but perhaps the 24-year-old Marky Delgado.

The US international has been a regular feature for TFC, but the majority of the time he does not receive the credit he deserves for his performances. His commanding showing at BMO Field was a timely reminder of his qualities as TFC seek another star.

Performance against D.C. United

I still have his performances in the 2018 Concacaf Champions League vivid in mind. They were a perfect sample of what Delgado can bring to the team in terms of efficiency, quantity, and quality.

The performance against D.C. United was another reminder of why Delgado is key for the style that Toronto FC tries to impose on the field. It was a game TFC played at the next level and it seems that the positive harmony across the locker room is allowing the players to play more freely as well. Delgado may have been the secret weapon for TFC in Saturday’s game.

Throughout the 30 MLS matches that Delgado appeared in during the regular season, he had plenty of ups and downs. Statistics are not an accurate reflection of his displays, in particular when it comes to goals and assists. While his playmaking ability has drastically improved over time, it’s his work rate that impresses most.

That’s why it was a welcome sight when Delgado capitalized on one of his usual runs between the channels as he put TFC one up, and it almost stood as the winning goal until D.C. levelled terms deep in stoppage time.

Against D.C. United, Delgado really impressed because his movements were influencing Toronto FC’s moves in the offensive third. The high quality of passing between the midfielders enabled Delgado to exchange the ball swiftly with his partners before running into space.

Delgado finished with a 76 per cent passing completion with three key passes, reflecting his impact at the offensive end. However, Marky was also useful, as always, when TFC had defensive work to be done: four duels won and eight balls intercepted stood out for his defensive stats, highlighting his game awareness in key situations on the field.

Tactically astute, Delgado rarely struggled playing higher in the midfield as he helped the team advance their way up the field while recuperating numbers at the back when D.C. were on the counterattack.

Delgado, together with the quality that TFC boasts in the midfield in the likes of Bradley and Osorio, enables the 2017 MLS champions to conquer the middle of the park — an area which Toronto FC coach Greg Vanney highlights as the territory to conquest in order to win a game.

In fact, after the big win over D.C., coach Vanney highlighted how Delgado’s midfield role is key for winning the smaller battles in crucial areas on the field.

“Yeah, I think through the stretch, and it really was since LAFC, it’s been a goal of ours to win the middle of the field — and I mean that from a defensive stand point first and foremost,” Vanney told Waking the Red after Toronto FC’s 1-0 win over the Columbus Crew on Oct. 6. “Again, a lot of those games were on the road. We brought Oso (Jonathan Osorio) inside, we brought Marky (Delgado) inside, we Michael (Bradley) inside, and for them it’s win the middle of the field, win the battle between our three and their three, [which is] typically how it sets up.”

In addition to making the Reds tougher to play against, throughout his years with TFC, Delgado’s most valuble asset has been his energy on the field — something that Vanney wanted to highlight as well.

“Marky, and Oso too, but Marky just does an incredible amount of running over the course of the game — we see that too in the GPS — and he does an incredible amount of high-speed running,” Vanney explained. ”He’s so aware; he’s kind of that unsung guy that he’s aware when he sees something that needs to be closed down or sees a play that might be breaking down, he’ll break off of his particular role and get across to cover somebody else.

“His engine is huge for us in the midfield. It really helps us, again, to establish our ability to win the midfield in terms of just the battle of it. A lot of it is inbetween his ears, but a lot of it is just the ground that he covers.”

Vanney also explained why he’s elected to play Delgado a little but higher in the midfield, a role in which the US international has thrived at BMO Field even though he remains loyal to his defensive contribution.

“We’ve kept him a little higher because he also has that capacity to break off things and recover and get into deeper positions and help,” the TFC coach underlined. “He can also swap the role from time to time, we keep Michael typically deeper — but again it has been a strategy of ours going into the playoffs that we want to win the midfield...we don’t want teams to get much rhythm with the midfield; that’s how we’ve been rolling.”

Post-season challenge

The 2019 MLS playoffs will be another showcase for Delgado to elevate his game and distinguish himself as one of the smartest midfielders in MLS, despite being just 24-years old. The 2016 disappointment seems a long time ago now, only a cameo appearance and not even a single minute in the final against Seattle Sounders.

The following year, Delgado played a bigger role for the Reds as he featured in five post-season games en route to helping Toronto FC win their first-ever MLS Cup. In 2019, it looks like he’s taken an even larger step forward as Wednesday’s match against Eastern Conference leaders NYC FC — if he’s healthy — will be Delgado’s biggest test yet.

In Marky, TFC have a silent general who can be the club’s secret weapon as Vanney and co. seek MLS Cup Playoffs glory.