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TFC Notebook: Richie Laryea emerging as a star for Toronto FC

More on the Canadian, plus details about Pablo Piatti/load management, and what to expect next for TFC.

Mar 7, 2020: TFC’s Richie Laryea takes on two NYCFC players at BMO Field during the Reds’ 2020 Home Opener.
(Sean Pollock/Waking the Red)

TORONTO, Canada—“Quiet now. Quiet Now. ... Now, Quiet.”

Toronto FC fans were graced with yet another iconic moment from Jozy Altidore, as the star striker managed to silence the Montreal Impact faithful in attendance at the Stade Saputo Wednesday evening netting a late winner, putting the Reds in pole position to reach their 13th Canadian Championship Final.

While the goal and celebration that followed will undoubtedly be the talking point from yesterday’s match, there were still plenty of football to break down, so let’s get to it.

Here’s this week’s TFC Notebook.

Richie Laryea emerging as a star for TFC

MLS: New England Revolution at Toronto FC

Is there anything that Toronto FC’s defender midfielder winger absolute baller Richie Laryea can’t do? Making his return to the lineup after a three-game absence due to a high-ankle sprain, the 25-year-old Canadian was asked to operate in a new role: on the left-hand side, forming an interesting partnership with veteran left-back Justin Morrow.

“The intent of using him tonight was a little bit like a joker,” explained head coach Greg Vanney after the match. “He was kind of our winger. The way they play is they like to get their right-back out into the attack a lot, so we wanted to put Richie (Laryea) in that left midfield position where in transition you could get out and go and be in one-on-one situations, ideally against the centre-back, when they rotate into their three.”

The plan worked to perfection as Laryea looked like his fellow countryman Alphonso Davies getting up and down the left-hand wing, highlighted of course by his run to set up the Reds’ opening goal.

Laryea was actually robbed of an assist on the play (because the ball took a deflection on the cross), but on paper, the versatile footballer is having (another) breakout season. After cementing his spot in the Reds’ lineup a year ago, the Toronto native already has three goals and one assist in nine games this season despite only going the full 90 minutes on one occasion. Like in Wednesday’s match, he was robbed of another clear-cut assist earlier in the season, on Achara’s game-winner all the way back on Mar. 7 at BMO Field.

Left, right, back, forward, in the middle, it doesn’t matter where you play the young Canadian. He has the poise to play as your last line of defence and the swagger to make a difference up top. Undoubtedly, Richie has become a must-start for Vanney moving forward.

Pablo Piatti defies ‘Load Management’

SOCCER: SEP 09 MLS - Toronto FC at Montreal Impact

One of the more polarizing Toronto FC storylines of 2020 has found some stability.

Pablo Piatti, the club’s newest designated player, has all but erased the question marks asked about his fitness prior to the MLS is Back Tournament in July.

“Pablo is extremely fit. He works hard,” began coach Vanney on Aug. 21, following TFC’s 1-0 victory over the Vancouver Whitecaps. “... Through this stretch, he’s done a ton of work to get himself fit. I’d put him up there with one of our fittest guys. We’ll keep an eye on him, but so far, he’s feeling good and he’s ready to play and he loves to play.”

Following an ACL injury in February 2019 which sidelined him for most of last year, the Reds took a gamble on the former La Liga star, acquiring him at a low cost that appears to be paying off. Piatti has started every TFC match since the league returned to play in July, appearing for at least 65 minutes in each of his appearances so far this season.

The notion of “load management” which was floated around by the TFC brass when Piatti was first signed appears to have gone out the window.

“Most games, we’ve been able to get him out for chunks of the game at the end ... we’ve had some opportunities to bring other guys on and make sure we bring him along, but he works really hard and he’s got himself into top form, so I don’t think there’s too much there anymore (in terms of load management),” said Vanney.

Since it’s already September, it’s hard to believe that the Argentine has amassed less than 700 minutes of North American soccer under his belt so far. Nevertheless, he’s still found a way to make an immediate impact over that span, netting three goals and adding two assists so far this season, while creating several other scoring opportunities for him and his teammates.

While he has lived up to expectations—and other clubs are learning very quickly that you can’t give him space at the top of the box—I believe Piatti still has more to offer. He looks better and better as each game passes by, but as he continues to settle into his role here in Toronto, I think there’s still another gear the talented attacker can reach.

CB depth not an issue for Greg Vanney

MLS: Vancouver Whitecaps FC at Toronto FC

You can see it. I can see it. Former Toronto FC captain and centre-back Steven Caldwell can see it on the TSN broadcast. Behind Chris Mavinga and Omar Gonzalez, there’s real cause for concern when it comes to the Reds’ depth at the centre-back position.

But if you pose that question to the Toronto FC head coach, he’ll tell you otherwhise.

“No, it’s not (a concern),” answered Vanney, when asked about the team’s depth at centre-back on August 17. “We have, between the two guys that we start usually, Omar (Gonzalez) and Chris (Mavinga), Laurent (Ciman), who I thought did a nice job (at the MLS is Back Tournament) ... and Eriq (Zavaleta), who is a guy that we need to get going...”

To be fair, I asked Vanney that question prior to Ciman’s showing against Vancouver—an ugly performance which has been the motto this season for the former Belgian international.

While they may have in the past, this year, neither Zavaleta or Ciman have shown that they can be relied upon to be consistent MLS defenders. The latter, a former MLS Defender of the Year, was able to step up in a major way last October (and on paper he should probably be a very good No. 3 option), but his sporadic play style and instability still leaves room for worry.

That being said, the TFC head coach still does have a few tricks up his sleeve if the Reds do find themselves in a pickle later on in the season:

“I also think that if we ever got into a pinch—and we really had to get into a pinch—we have other variations that we can use in terms of a back three, or we’ve used at times Liam Fraser as a centre-back in training and he’s been excellent if we really needed to,” added Vanney. “So we have different ways that we can go about it ... but we have the group of CBs that we think can help us through the rest of the season.”

Liam Fraser and his ability to control the game at CB? Sign me up.

Jozy Altidore opens his account at the perfect time

SOCCER: SEP 09 MLS - Toronto FC at Montreal Impact

Wednesday evening was a humble reminder to everyone watching that it only takes a few seconds for Jozy Altidore to make his mark on a match.

Let’s be real for a second. If he hadn’t scored, we’d all be here today discussing not if, but when Altidore would be on his way out of Toronto. Instead, it took one misplaced pass in the 89th minute for the 30-year-old TFC striker to pounce, taking advantage of a beautiful ball over the top from Nick DeLeon before slotting away his first goal of the 2020 ... and here we are salivating over another iconic moment from our No. 17.

Up to that point in the game, Altidore honestly had a disappointing 88 minutes. He scuffed a few chances, was looked off on a few others, and appeared to be in for another scoreless showing.

But, that’s all behind us now.

“Obviously a huge goal on the night to help us get the win. Hopefully it’s a huge goal in our ability to get ourselves to this final,” said Vanney post-match. “It’s good for him to get on the board. He had one or two looks in the game—plus we missed him on a couple chances where we should have played him and he probably would have had a tap in, so it’s just nice.

“He put in a shift today, put in a good day’s work and it’s good for him to get a goal; good for us for him to get a goal,” he continued. “He’s been working for it and our team needs him to be that goal-scorer that he is. Sometimes you’ve just got to get the first one.”

If they want to continue to be considered among the elite of the elite, the Reds will need Altidore to get going. Hopefully, for their sake, this is just the beginning.

What’s next for Toronto FC?

MLS: Toronto FC at Montreal Impact

The question lingering on everyone’s mind. I’ve heard some rumblings, but nothing tangible enough for me to speculate right now, so I’ll leave you with Vanney’s full answer when I asked him exactly this question after the match Wednesday:

“I don’t have clear information. One of the things that I have to say is that I’m really proud of our guys because there’s a lot of uncertainty in front of them the next 10 days, two weeks, a lot of things that aren’t really clear. What we know is that the season is going to continue, how exactly and what exactly that is going to look like for us, we’re not 100 per cent sure. I’m not 100 per cent sure. I don’t think the guys are 100 per cent sure. I think there’s a lot of work going on behind the scenes to try and clear all of that up. So I don’t really have anything great for yourself or even the fans, but my hope is that in the next couple of days we have some clarity and we can plan accordingly. That’s the tough part, but again I give my guys a lot of credit because they’ve stayed focus on this phase of games in this little tournament and not knowing and having families and not knowing what’s in front of you is a challenge. I’d be lying if I told you it hasn’t been discussed within our group and guys are asking questions. But when it came game time, they focused and got the job done.”

So what we know is that TFC will take part in “Phase Two” of the regular season, but what we don’t know is when and where. Stay tuned.