The Reds are down in Panama for their first competitive match of 2019, and after a crazy off-season there is some uncertainty as to how Greg Vanney may opt to organize his starting eleven.
Greg Vanney has made it clear that he wants to play with wingers this season, as he explicitly stated it at the end of last year, and has acquired Nick De Leon and Griffin Dorsey, and brought back Tsubasa Endoh.
If you combine that with the departure of Sebastian Giovinco, the formation that seems to make the most sense is a 4-3-3 with a single striker and two wingers.
Although his 2018 season wasn’t as good as his 2017 campaign (the same can be said about most players, to be fair), Bono will almost certainly be the number one goalkeeper on the team.
Caleb Patterson-Sewell is the backup on the roster following the departure of Clint Irwin, and if Bono finds his 2017 form again, CPS will likely be limited to Canadian Championship and “CONCACAF specials” — MLS Games before Champions League games — if TFC make it past the first round.
Auro, Laurent Ciman, Chris Mavinga, Justin Morrow
This group of players was probably the easiest to predict, as these are the four players who, on paper at least, should be starting every match. Chris Mavinga was limited to just 19 appearances in all competitions last year, which was a major factor in their poor defensive record in 2018, but if he can stay healthy, he is quite possibly the best centre-back in the league, a title that his newest partner, Laurent Ciman, could also challenge for.
Ciman was the 2015 MLS Defender of the Year, and is a three-time all-star in the league, so his addition to the backline will be huge. His physical strength, leadership qualities and ability to spray passes all over the pitch will make him an important member of the squad in 2019.
The two full-backs will have some adjusting to do in 2019. In previous years, Greg Vanney used a lot of central players and wing-backs, who were just as important going forward as they were in defence, because there were other players there to defend if they were caught out of position. This year, with wingers, they will likely take on a more defensive role, but make overlapping runs when needed to.
With Gregory van der Wiel seemingly out of the mix, Auro and Nick De Leon are the only two right-backs left in the squad. Auro has never played as an attacker in Toronto, while Nick DeLeon has plenty of experience higher up the pitch, so I think it’s Auro who gets the majority of playing time at right-back.
Justin Morrow had a dificult 2018, but as I mentioned on the Footy Talks Podcast recently, he is the player I expect to bounce back in 2019. He played 31 matches in 2018, contributing one goal and three assists, a fall from the eight goals and one assist he registered in 2017. Hopefully it was just a confidence thing last year and he can return to the MLS Best XI-level player that terrorized his opposition in 2017.
Michael Bradley, Jonathan Osorio, Marky Delgado
As was the case last year, there is one player that is a mainstay in the midfield, and it requires no thought as to whether or not he’ll be in the lineup. I am of course talking about the skipper, Michael Bradley. Michael was tied with Jonathan Osorio for the most appearances on the team in 2018, making 43 in all competitions. With a strong and healthy campaign, him (166) and Justin Morrow (176) should both make their 200th appearances for the club in 2019.
The aforementioned Jonathan Osorio had a breakout year in 2018, scoring 17 goals, which doubled his career total, as he had 17 goals in the previous 5 years combined. While he may not produce at that level again, he will be expected to step up and pull the attacking strings in midfield after Victor Vazquez left for Qatar.
Marky Delgado, now wearing the famous number 8 previously worn by club legend Ager Aketxe, had almost the exact same MLS stat line in 2018 as in 2017. Delgado made two more league appearances than in the previous year, but played 89 fewer minutes and scored one less goal. His confidence seemed to have fallen a bit after he missed his chance to score in the Champions League final, but overall, he was still a crucial member of the midfield, as his work rate makes him an engine that never stops running from box to box.
Terrence Boyd, Nick DeLeon, Tsubasa Endoh
This is where I had the most difficulty selecting players. I have listed two new additions to the team among my predictions up front, three if you include the fact that Tsubasa Endoh didn’t see a single minute of first-team action in 2018.
Endoh, who was a part of the 2016 and treble-winning 2017 sides in Toronto, was signed to a USL deal in 2018, so he spent the season with TFC II, where he tore it up. In 14 appearances with the club, he scored eight goals, including an impressive four-goal week that featured a trio of stunning goals against FC Cincinnati, who just happen to be the newest MLS expansion team. I think he will see some time on the left wing this season, competing with Ryan Telfer (who saw a lot of preseason minutes) and Ayo Akinola for starting opportunities.
On the right, I have selected Nick DeLeon. One of the new members of Toronto FC, DeLeon is bringing nearly 200 games of MLS experience with him, making him one of the most experienced players in the team. He can play as both a right-back and a right-winger, so I think he will get the start up front with Auro slotting in behind him. He also seems to have had a good first impression on the final player on this list, Terrence Boyd.
Finally, at striker, I have selected the newest addition to the club, Terrence Boyd. Boyd, who joins the club from SV Darmstadt 98, was signed not very long after the departure of Sebastian Giovinco was announced, so there are a number of people in the Toronto FC corner of the internet who assume that he is Giovinco’s replacement, which is not the case. Boyd is seen by people in and around the club as the replacement for Tosaint Ricketts, and he will compete with Jordan Hamilton for the right to be the first forward off the bench when Jozy Altidore returns from injury.
In my opinion, Boyd’s experience playing in big games with both his club sides and the United States national team is enough to place him ahead of Jordan Hamilton, who has yet to show his full potential in MLS. That battle for playing time will be one to watch in 2019, as both players have to prove that they have what it takes to play at the highest level.
Here is my full lineup:
Ah, lineup predicting season. The best time of year. In my first go-around with Waking the Red in 2018, I got 77% of my predictions correct, so I’ve set a goal of 80% this year, starting with tonight’s match.
Who do you think will get the start tonight? Let us know in the comment section below (not that you wouldn’t have done anyway).