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Like 2016, Toronto FC have to find their missing piece this offseason

Another goalscorer needs to be the top priority over the winter transfer window

Tagwa Moyo / Waking the Red

It felt a bit like déjà vu.

During his end of season media availability, Jozy Altidore alludes to a piece he felt the club had been missing in the Final — not to mention throughout the year.

It wasn’t that long ago, in 2016, that he sat in the same seat, after Toronto FC had failed to break down the Seattle Sounders the first time. Back then he bemoaned the club’s lack of a creative attacking midfielder. The front office responded by signing Victor Vazquez, the prelude to the most successful season in MLS history.

In 2019, Toronto FC again failed to break down a defensively resilient Seattle team. This time, however, they weren’t missing a locksmith; they were missing someone who could do damage once the door was wide open

“We need more firepower,” Altidore began. “A dynamic player, who can score and create. [Alejandro] Pozuelo is silky and can create but we need someone else who can do a little bit of that & score on his own.”

The oddity was that Jozy Altidore was, in many ways, describing his own skill set. There is a strong argument to be made that if he was healthy enough to start the match against Seattle the result would have turned out differently

After all, he was the lone TFC player who was able to find the back of the net on the day. Shame it came down 3-0 at the tail end of his 22 minutes of play — the total amount of time the American-born striker spent on the field throughout the 2019 playoffs.

Altidore started only 18 games during the season. He started a mere 12 in 2018. With 0.59 goals per 96 this past season (12th in MLS), Altidore remains lethal when he’s on the field, but he isn’t on it near enough.

A longer offseason should help the 30-year-old recover to some extent, but Toronto FC need a reliable Plan B when he isn’t available. Even when he is, the club relied far too heavily on himself and Pozuelo to do all the heavy lifting offensively this year.

Greg Vanney was able to find ways to get by.

During the playoffs, the solution was to play Pozuelo as a false nine. It worked well enough to get Toronto FC to the MLS Cup Final, but was hardly ideal. The team only managed 0.14 expected goals against Atlanta United, and 0.93 despite all of their possession in the Final. It is not a viable long-term option, as we saw on Sunday

Throughout the match, and especially in the first half, Toronto FC were able to get themselves in good attacking positions, only to stall in the final third. For as much as Tsubasa Endoh tried, Toronto never had a true threat in the box. Pozuelo, playing as the nine, was always looking to make the final pass, not be on the end of it.

All of this resulted in a frustrating cycle of possession in the midfield, wherein Toronto shuffled around the Seattle box without ever really creating any clear cut chances. A quick look at the crosses attempted and completed during the match demonstrates how much they were missing a presence in the middle.

Green = completed crosses, Red = failed crosses Yellow = Key passes (passes that led to a shot attempt)

To the club’s credit, they have long identified this issue. The front office has been working for several months behind the scenes to identify goal scoring targets for the winter transfer window.

What will be of interest now is how much cap space they have to acquire this target. Central to this is the Michael Bradley contract and his DP status. If Toronto FC can convince Bradley to take a TAM contract — which he told The Athletic’s Joshua Kloke that he would — then they have an avenue to acquire a significant player.

Given how Toronto finished this past season, a side with a rested Pozuelo and Altidore, plus Bradley and another designated player attacker would instantly become a favourite to get back to MLS Cup.

During their playoff run, Toronto FC showed signs of greatness once again, but they need more firepower in order to truly count themselves among the league’s elite.