We’re just days away from the start of Toronto FC’s 2020 MLS campaign.
Head Coach Greg Vanney has made it clear that the team intends to once again play 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 (which are essentially the same). So for the purpose of this piece, we’ll roll with it.
With more signings from outside the organization unlikely before the start of the season, it’s time to take a look at who might be in Vanney’s preferred starting eleven when the Reds kick off their season on Feb. 29 vs. the San Jose Earthquakes.
Feel free to chime in; this is just one journalist’s opinion!
The man they call "Q" was recently rewarded with a new contract, and for good reason. Toronto FC rode his good form all the way to the 2019 MLS Cup Final.
He’s also by all accounts had a fine start to preseason.
Alex Bono's future is still unknown, but he will certainly start the season on the bench, pushing Westberg for that starting spot.
LB: Justin Morrow
After the 2019 MLS Cup Final, Justin Morrow’s contract expired and it wasn’t a foregone conclusion that he would be returning to Toronto. However, after preaching his desire to remain with the club, the Reds eventually elected to pick up the 32-year-old’s option up (after leaving him exposed in the Expansion Draft).
And after club legend Ashtone Morgan left for Real Salt Lake earlier in the offseason, Morrow’s spot was further locked into the starting job at left back. Auro Jr. has also played a bit at left back, but we’ll get to him shortly.
CBs: Chris Mavinga and Omar Gonzalez
After Omar Gonzalez arrived in July last season, we all know the impact that he made. But now, there’s also been time to develop some real chemistry at the heart of the Reds’ defence.
The duo of Chris Mavinga and Gonzalez was Greg Vanney's go-to partnership when both were available—and should be for the foreseeable future. Mavinga was recently given a contract extension, and the defence was much-improved after the signing of Gonzalez, so this will likely be the centre-back pairing heading into the season.
Laurent Ciman had a decent end to the season when his name was called into action in the playoffs—and has had a strong start to preseason—so Gonzalez and Mavinga will want to have a hot start. For once heading into a Toronto FC campaign, the defence, and particularly our CBs, may not be the weakest part of the squad.
RB: Auro Jr.
Auro Jr. split time with Canadian international Richie Laryea at right back in 2019, but will hope to solidify his starting spot in 2020. As mentioned previous he played at left back during stints of the season last year and was decent, but right back is where he's at his best.
Look for Vanney to run a fluid rotation of Auro, Morrow, and Laryea at his fullback roles this season.
79%+ - Toronto FC's Auro was one of three defenders (min. 1,600 minutes played) with 79%+ passing accuracy in both the opposing half (79.9%) and the final third (84.2%). Toronto also averaged 0.4 more points per game when Auro played. Heedful. #OptaXI pic.twitter.com/CD5sgkXq5x— OptaJack⚽️ (@OptaJack) October 8, 2019
CM: Jonathan Osorio, Liam Fraser
Toronto FC have a lot of depth in the middle of the park, so these positions were the hardest to pick. There’s an argument to be made that it will largely depend on who they’re playing against.
In Michael Bradley’s absence, Liam Fraser will be getting the majority of minutes in the defensive midfield role, although Noble Okello could see some as well as he looks to take the next step in his career.
Alongside Fraser I’ve gone with Jonathan Osorio, but if Greg Vanney wants to play a bit more defensively, he could opt to start Marky Delgado instead. This one’s definitely open for debate.
CAM: Alejandro Pozuelo
️ Our crew gives their MVP picks. pic.twitter.com/hZGpvN6syT— Major League Soccer (@MLS) February 24, 2020
The focal point of Toronto FC's attack will once again be Alejandro Pozuelo.
Not only does Pozuelo have a full season of MLS experience under his belt, he’ll also be a lot more rested with a full offseason after playing an extraordinary amount of games in the last calendar year.
If the second-year designated player is as good as he was last year, or perhaps even better, he'll certainly be among the candidates for the 2020 MVP award.
RM: Nick DeLeon
Toronto FC’s breakout player of the season—along with Laryea—Nick DeLeon had an incredible first campaign in Toronto, scoring the goal that sent the Reds to the 2019 MLS Cup Final.
He's one of several candidates in contention for a starting spot on the wing, but in my opinion, he should be at the top of the list. The biggest question mark, however, is that DeLeon is coming off an injury after the MLS Cup Final and still is not 100 per cent, as the MLS veteran didn’t play in a single preseason match. He did train, however, so if he is fit enough to take the field on Saturday, expect to his number penciled in on Vanney’s Starting XI.
LM: Tsubasa Endoh
Another player who has picked up right where they left off last year, 2016 first-round pick Tsubasa Endoh has had a blazing-hot start to preseason in 2020.
With TFC's newest designated player Pablo Piatti set to miss the first game of the season at least with an injury, Endoh will have a real opportunity to make his case for a significant spot in Vanney’s side.
Other candidates to earn minutes on the left wing in Piatti’s absence include the likes of Erickson Gallardo, Jacob Shaffelburg, Ayo Akinola, Jayden Nelson, and newly-signed 2020 first-round pick Ifunanyachi Achara, among many others.
There can only be one. Despite nursing a sore hip that isn’t expected to be serious, Toronto FC designated player Jozy Altidore has been hyped up heading into the season by coach Vanney.
Expected to be the captain in Michael Bradley's absence, Altidore is all but guaranteed to start up top. He's had trouble staying healthy in recent years, but if he can stay on the pitch, he'll be relied upon to do a lot of the scoring.
Possible best XI: