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False 9’s, failed 9’s, & rewinds: How Poz, Gallardo & Bradley may be heading for a Chris Armas remix

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Could several key Toronto FC figures be in for a role change in 2021? The Waking the Red Weekly crew discuss.

MLS: Chicago Fire at Toronto FC
Toronto FC midfielder Alejandro Pozuelo (10) passes the ball to forward Jozy Altidore (17) in the second half against Chicago Fire at BMO Field.
(Szczerbowski/USA TODAY)

New manager Chris Armas is busy putting his own stamp on Toronto FC. And while there’s still little news on additions to the roster, there’s also a growing sense that TFC’s existing talent may be headed for an internal makeover.

After a season in which previous manager Greg Vanney seemed to have run out of ideas, is Chris Armas right to take his squad back to the drawing board, and apply new ideas to a host of familiar faces?

Mitchell Tierney picked up the story on yesterdays’ Waking The Red Weekly presented by Footy Talks:

“A number of players spoken about by Chris Armas suggests that they could be used in different roles this season. I think the one that stood out first and foremost was Bradley - that he could be played in a role higher up the field, closer to Pozuelo, where they could combine up there and create.”

“This isn’t unknown territory for Toronto FC. I think it was 2015 when Jurgen Klinsman, with the US Men’s national team, wanted Bradley to play as an attacking midfielder. Toronto FC did that as well and it went pretty well. I mean obviously Bradley was much younger at that point, but five goals and six assists was his most productive season with Toronto FC.”

“Obviously I think I need to see it in practice, but it’s interesting to have a coach that will come in and not put these players in the boxes that they’ve been in for so long - that he’ll try different things with a number of players.”

For Michael Singh, a shift further up the pitch for Bradley could have a knock on effect for Alejandro Pozuelo, as well as seeing the return of an attacking formation that might better suit veteran striker Jozy Altidore:

“Michael Bradley did that back in 2015. The way that Armas was talking about Poz and Altidore, it reminded me of that 2015, 2016, 2017 team with Giovinco and Jozy up top. Because what we’re going to see now I think is more of Poz as a ‘false 9’ with Jozy Altidore still playing striker.”

“There are obviously a few different ways that TFC can use this. But my impression is that Poz is going to stick really close to Jozy Altidore, almost like the way that Seba did back in the day, where he wasn’t really a true striker, but was still used as a forward and was not asked to track back.”

“I think we’re going to get that same sort of set up, with Poz and Jozy up top, and they’re hoping that two of them can link up together and recreate some of that Seba/Jozy magic.”

“So I’m really looking forward to seeing how that plays out. Although we have seen ‘false 9 Poz’ in the past, it wasn’t always roses for TFC fans, let’s put it that way. We’ve been happy about playing Poz as a number 10. So, I’m interested to see how that goes.”

“And this is where Bradley comes into play. We know that Poz and Jozy are not the most mobile players. While Armas has been quick to praise Jozy for the work that he’s doing, and the pressing that he’s willing to do, Armas also understands how you can load-manage these players through pressing without the ball. They often don’t have to do too much work, it’s just about doing the smart work.”

“Behind those guys though—and this is why you have Michael Bradley playing a little bit up the field—is that you want your team pressing. You want your team putting the opposition in corners. And is there anyone better at that than Jonathan Osorio, Marky Delgado and Bradley? Those are probably three of the toughest midfielders in all of MLS to play against. So, if you slot those guys behind the Jozy/Poz attack, it could be a recipe for success and that’s sort of the vision that Armas is selling here.”

SOCCER: SEP 01 MLS - Los Angeles FC at Toronto FC

And it’s a vision that’s taking a new look at some of TFC’s depth pieces as well. According to Michael, Chris Armas may represent Erickson Gallardo’s last chance to prove he has what it takes the wear the TFC number 9 shirt:

“Erickson Gallardo is having a great preseason, and it really excites me because I’ve stressed this so many times: Gallardo was played out of position last season, and even the year before.”

“He’s not a pure outside winger. Can he play that role? Perhaps. But he’s best when he’s playing on the shoulder of the back line and trying to get in behind. He’s at his best when he’s working without the ball—and he’s capable of doing that even through the middle. He wears that number 9 shirt, and I really think we have to start playing him as that number 9. Playing off someone like Jozy Altidore and just beating players with speed.”

“Last season, he was playing that role, and he scored the first goal of Toronto FC’s preseason but then got injured. Then obviously the pandemic hit and shut things down. But through all of that, former TFC head coach Greg Vanney was singing Erickson Gallardo’s praises—especially in training.”

“So is this the year that he finally pieces it all together? We know after 2019 he had a child and moved with his family to Canada at 23 years old; a completely different life in a new country with a baby. In 2020 we had the pandemic. But in 2021 we’re running out of excuses and I think that’s what Ali Curtis said when spoke to the Toronto Sun.”

“All options are on the table for Erickson Gallardo. Loan options are on the table. But it’s also possible that a new coach could reinvigorate him and be the spark that finally gets him going.”

For everything TFC, check out the full episode of this week’s Waking the Red Weekly now, also available on Apple Podcasts and Spotify! Kindly like, rate, and subscribe!