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Toronto FC 2019 MLS preview

Let’s get down to business.

Campeones Cup 2018: Tigres UANL v Toronto FC Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

Toronto FC have already played two competitive (put that word in sarcastic quotation marks if you wish) games this season, but with the Concacaf Champions League now out of the way, it’s time for them to get down to business and put all their efforts into the MLS campaign.

Along with all of SB Nation’s other MLS blogs, we’ve put together our preview of the upcoming year for TFC — both for you diehard fans and for the casual browsers. Here are the answers to every question anybody could possibly have about Toronto FC’s 2019 MLS season.

How did they finish in 2018?

Poorly. One year removed from a league points record, Supporters’ Shield, and MLS Cup, TFC finished ninth in the Eastern Conference, 14 points out of a playoff spot in a season that was surprisingly terrible after the club was so dominant a year before. Injuries played a major factor, but so did mentality, it seemed, as the club continued to let massive defensive errors and poor finishing snuff out any hopes they had of a playoff push.

What’s new in 2019?/Biggest change from last year?

A lot. TFC have started to move on from the era of the 2017 championship, but it’s unclear what exactly the new Toronto FC is going to look like. The biggest change is probably a major one in the front office; the general manager who helped build their past success, Tim Bezbatchenko, has moved to the Columbus Crew. He’s been replaced by Ali Curtis, whose tenure as TFC’s new GM has begun tumultuously.

Curtis has a bit of a reputation for being a cost-cutter from his time at the New York Red Bulls, but transfer rumours from the past few weeks have suggested that TFC are still willing to flex their considerable financial muscle. Curtis may, however, put some more stock in the academy system and try to transform TFC’s development pipeline, as he did at NYRB. He’s got some massive work to do at the start of his reign to right the ship in Toronto.

Who’s out?

Some major faces have moved on, particularly Sebastian Giovinco. The best player in club history, Giovinco left for Al-Hilal of Saudi Arabia after a fairly ugly public contract disagreement. His departure left a bit of a bad taste in fans’ mouths, but he’s still an absolute TFC legend who will be remembered as such.

Also out are Victor Vazquez (sold to Qatar), the clever playmaker who made a massive difference in 2017, and defender Gregory van der Wiel, whose status is in limbo right now after he apparently had an altercation with TFC head coach Greg Vanney in pre-season training. A few other rather expensive bench players have also moved on, including goalkeeper Clint Irwin and striker Tosaint Ricketts, as well as loan player Lucas Janson, who spent the last half of 2018 with the Reds. TFC also dealt centre-back Nick Hagglund to FC Cincinnati in exchange for a hefty sum of allocation money.

Who’s in?

Not much, yet. TFC have added defender Laurent Ciman, who had a tremendous amount of MLS experience, but he’s shown signs of rust in his two Concacaf games for TFC. It’s possible he needs time to grow into the side. The Reds also added another MLS veteran in Nick DeLeon through the re-entry draft, and he’s expected to be a decent wide option at both ends of the right flank. He saw some success in a lengthy tenure at D.C. United.

TFC also signed striker Terrence Boyd, who hasn’t made a great impression in his first two Concacaf games, but he too will need time to shake off rust after being relegated to the bench in Europe his past few seasons.

TFC are definitely not done yet, though. They’ve reportedly pretty much locked down Alejandro Pozuelo as their new Designated Player, but they haven’t been able to get him over to Toronto just yet because of some holdups with his current club, Genk. He’s an exceptionally talented 27-year-old playmaker who’s the captain of the top club in Belgium right now. When he joins this team (possibly next month), the outlook will be a lot rosier.

Everything coming from the club also suggests that they’ve got a couple other TAM players coming in this season. They have a decent amount of cap space and lots of TAM from their various deals this winter, plus they have the top spot in MLS’s allocation order.

What’s the new jersey?

It’s red.

MLS: Champions League-CAI at Toronto FC Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Projected starting XI

It’s very hard to say what it’ll be once TFC add some more pieces to their lineup, but here’s what it could look like once Pozuelo gets here. This is a wild guess, though.

Expectations for 2019?

TFC have to make the playoffs this year, or things will be a lot more desperate. They very easily have the talent on their roster to do so, it’s mostly a matter of getting the best out of it. A lot of that is down to Greg Vanney, who will have to tinker with his systems to try and get it right. It’s been stated he wants to play with wingers this year, but unless TFC sign some wingers with TAM, they don’t really have any.

They probably won’t be a major powerhouse this season (unless Pozuelo comes in and lights the league on fire), but TFC desperately need to get up to the level they’re capable of and win some games. If they can stay healthy this season, then they stand a very good chance of doing so, and being a comfortable playoff team.

What’s the biggest concern for this season?

Health. Jozy Altidore is still recovering from off-season surgery, and since he just signed a new contract, it’s imperative that he’s consistently in the lineup. On top form, Altidore is one of the most lethal power strikers in MLS — he can barrel through defences like nobody’s business. He was hardly part of the equation for TFC last year, though.

At the back, Drew Moor, Laurent Ciman, and Chris Mavinga are all injury concerns as well. The former two are in the twilight of their careers, and all three are prone to missing extended spells. Hopefully the Reds won’t have to deal with more than one of them being out at a time, but the depth isn’t quite there at the back to deal with multiple long-term injuries.

What did we learn last season about this team?

They get into their own heads all the time. Many of last season’s struggles seemed mental; whether it was overconfidence, or laziness, or a lack of determination, it seemed that they were outworked at pretty much every turn. When they turned it on — think of their Decision Day win over Atlanta United, for instance — they could keep up with any team in the league, easily. That just wasn’t there consistently.

TFC were good enough last season to beat Tigres and Club América in the Concacaf Champions League, and to take the final with Chivas Guadalajara all the way to penalties — further than any North American team has ever gone. That’s the true Toronto FC. They’re quite a different-looking side now, but many of the lower-profile players that are still with the club are all capable of pulling their best moments out when necessary. We just didn’t see that enough in 2018.

Who’s the player fans will learn to love?

For my money, it’s Terrence Boyd. Before you all start shouting at me, just wait. Yes, he made a poor impression in his first couple appearances for TFC, but he’s got skill. He hasn’t had consistent minutes in a long time, so he’ll definitely take some time to get up to speed, but he’s got some attributes that the club has been sorely missing for a while — most notably an ability to challenge for headers off crosses and corners. If he gets consistent minutes off the bench, he could definitely be an impact player later in the season.