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State of the Union: Get caught up on Toronto FC ahead of the ‘MLS is Back’ Tournament

Need a refresher? Let’s get you caught up on what was happening in #TFCLive prior to the COVID-19 lockdown.

Mar. 7, 2020: Toronto FC midfielder Alejandro Pozuelo lines up a corner kick in the team’s home opener at BMO Field.
(Sean Pollock/Waking the Red)

TORONTO, Canada—It is ‘MLS is Back’ Tournament week! The Reds have landed and are settling into their new digs in Orlando.

With a little over four months since their last competitive match, a 1-0 win at home against New York City FC, Toronto FC will kick off their opening game of the tournament against D.C. United on Sunday July 12 at 9:00AM EST.

Because of this unusually long layoff, we at Waking the Red feel it’s best to give TFC fans a little refresher on the state of last year’s MLS Cup runners-up.


Who has joined the team since the MLS Cup Final?

(SP)CANADA-TORONTO-SOCCER-MLS-TORONTO FC VS NEW YORK CITY FC

IN:

MID Pablo Piatti (Designated Player Contract, Espanyol)
FWD Achara (First-team contract, MLS SuperDraft)
FWD Jayden Nelson (Homegrown contract, Toronto FC II)
FWD Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty (Homegrown contract, Toronto FC II)
DEF Rocco Romeo (Homegrown contract, Toronto FC II)
GK Kevin Silva (First-team contract, Toronto FC II)

OUT:

MID Jay Chapman (Traded, Inter Miami CF)
DEF Ashtone Morgan (Free Agent, Real Salt Lake)
DEF Drew Moor (Free Agent, Colorado Rapids)
FWD Nicolas Benezet (Rights Traded, Colorado Rapids)
GK Caleb Patterson-Sewell (Option Declined, Free Agent)

Pablo Piatti joined Toronto FC in February from La Liga side Espanyol. Signing as a Designated Player, the 30-year-old is yet to feature for the side as a hamstring strain picked up in practice delayed his debut. TFC chose Piatti in search of reinforcements down the wing and the skillful Argentinian will be one to watch (for the first time) in Orlando.

Aside from Piatti, Ali Curtis and co. turned their interests toward the future, signing five rookies to senior contracts.

In January, the Reds signed academy products Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty, Jayden Nelson, Rocco Romeo to first-team deals as homegrown players, while Achara joined the team as the 25th-overall pick in the 2020 MLS SuperDraft. Most recently, the Reds promoted 22-year-old goalkeeper Kevin Silva from their academy system as the third goalie on the first-team roster behind Quentin Westberg and Alex Bono.


What has happened so far?

  • Toronto FC extends franchise-best unbeaten run to 12

It is hard to break the team down after just two matches in the season, especially ones that took place months ago. But for a quick refresher, the first TFC match of the year saw Alejandro Pozuelo score Toronto’s first goal of the season from the penalty spot before Richie Laryea doubled the lead, making it 2-0 in the 51st minute. Despite the efforts, San Jose managed to score twice, with the second coming in the fifth minute of stoppage time for a disappointing 2-2 outcome.

The second match of the season vs NYCFC was the Achara show. The rookie was a late add into the starting 11 after Tsubasa Endoh picked up an injury in warmups. Achara dominated the wing-play and linked up well with Jozy Altidore to hold up play. He capped off the night with a goal in the 81st minute to rescue three points in front of the BMO faithful. In the win, TFC coach Greg Vanney picked up his 100th win as club manager.

With the win, the Reds extended their unbeaten run in regular-season play to 12, a new club record.

  • Michael Bradley returns from ankle surgery

While obviously not ideal, one of the positives to takeaway from the four-month layoff is that it allowed TFC to get healthy. Most notably, it ensured that their captain Michael Bradley would only miss two games thanks to ankle surgery performed on Jan. 21.

It’ll be roughly a bit over eight months since Bradley last took the pitch in a competitive match, but the 32-year-old machine says he feels rejuvenated.

  • Toronto FC loses Achara for the season

This one’s still a tough pill to swallow. Toronto FC fans were excited to see what the 22-year-old could do after his show-stopping performance in his first MLS match, however, news broke late last week that Achara would miss the entire 2020 season after tearing his ACL.

Achara, who scored in almost every appearance since joining the club via the MLS SuperDraft, was expected to play a prominent role in the Reds’ attack this season. Vanney said following the injury that the versatile native of Nigeria would have been a starter for his side or one of the first players off the bench.

We speak for everyone when we say get well soon, #99.


Other things to know

  • Richie Laryea and Marky Delgado earn new deals

We learned during Footy Talks at the end of April that midfielder Marky Delgado and Toronto FC had reached an agreement with the club on a new long-term deal. On June 25, the club made it official as the 25-year-old is set to be a part of the Reds’ core for years to come. Defender Richie Laryea, meanwhile, signed a new contract after an impressive first 11 months for his hometown club the day before Delgado’s deal was officially announced. In TFC’s only two games before the pandemic, Laryea made two appearances off the bench, notching one goal while also helping to set up Achara’s game-winner against New York City FC.

  • Jozy Altidore likely to miss the MLS is Back Tournament opener

According to Vanney, Jozy Altidore will likely not be ready for Toronto FC’s first match vs D.C. United. The 30-year-old had his first training session with the team on July 3 after his mandatory quarantine due to returning from his home in Florida on June 21. The late start for the star striker would see him have a little over a weeks preparation for the first game, a heavy disadvantage to that of his peers.

  • Expect to see the young guns

Vanney has stated multiple times that he will try to use the new five-substitution rule at the MLS is Back Tournament as an opportunity to give some of his young players MLS debuts. Jayden Nelson, the 2019 Canadian Youth Player of the Year signed a Homegrown player contract with the club on Jan. 23, and still awaits his debut for TFC after playing on both TFC II, and TFC III last season. Nelson was included in the match-day squads for the opening two matches of the season but was an unused sub. The highly-rated forward will most likely see his first minutes coming at the ‘MLS is Back’ tournament,.


Big questions

  • Who Replaces Altidore?

Similar to the conundrum in the 2019 MLS Playoffs, TFC face the challenge of replacing a striker that can change the game- at least, just for the first game. Achara may have been the go to guy up front in Altidore’s absence, but the ACL tear has kept the gap wide open. The likely answer now must be Alejandro Pozuelo in the role, while Patrick Mullins may be hoping to make an impression early in the tournament.

  • How Will Pablo Piatti Perform?

Piatti has understandably spent the majority of his first five months as a TFC player getting ready for some form of competitive football, though he, and we, probably didn't expect to see him playing in the Red shirt for the first time at a World Cup style tournament. Piatti will not only be playing a new format of football schedule, but he will be doing it alongside new faces (that he will hopefully have gotten to know by now). The massive adjustment may play a part in how well he could perform for the first time as a TFC player. Expect to see Toronto FC’s new No. 7 line up down the right wing this season.

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  • What Youngsters Will Step Up?

The tricky and demanding fixture list will take some getting used to, especially after such a layoff. The new format will allow teams to experiment with their rosters, whether that be fpr load management purposes (Like Altidore), or to see what new style of play works best. Because of these reasons, surely some young players in the squad will be looking to make their mark given the opportunity that should come. The aforementioned Nelson will be one of many hoping to be in a side that can get Toronto FC a spot in the CONCACAF Champions League.