In July, I wrote about newly-acquired Toronto FC defender Domenico Criscito - and how the 35-year-old Italian could improve a backline which struggled mightily during the first half of the 2022 MLS season. Click here to refer back to that article.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way: the Reds did not concede less goals in the remaining 16 games of the season compared to the first 18. In fact, TFC conceded almost the exact amount, letting in 32 goals from July 9th to October 9th. Interestingly enough, the club conceded 66 goals in each of the past two seasons. Moreover, letting in 132 goals in 68 league games is absolutely abysmal.
There weren’t many bright spots for Toronto’s defence this year, as arguably the worst piece of business was signing Mexican defender Carlos Salcedo to a Designated Player contract. The 29-year-old had his contracted terminated by mutual consent in order to return to Mexico and be closer to his family. I was anticipating that Salcedo, Criscito and Chris Mavinga would create a formidable back three, which unfortunately did not happen.
Meanwhile, Criscito was a joy to watch for a few games before his compatriots arrived in the form of Federico Bernardeschi and Lorenzo Insigne. “Mimmo” showed true leadership through his play, and his presence both with and without the ball made his teammates better. I was quite impressed with his debut against San Jose, as his calmness helped lengthen periods of possession for TFC. Although the former Genoa man is not as quick as he once was, he would often move forward into the attacking third in the hopes of receiving the ball to send crosses in and around the 18-yard box.
Speaking of the 18-yard box, I would be remiss if I did not mention his world-class volley against the New England Revolution in August.
I don’t know about you, but that goal always puts a smile on my face whenever I watch it.
Criscito is a player that does the intangibles - he may not often be in conversation for the man of the match award, but it is clear to see that he always attempts to make the right play both on and off the ball. He is also not afraid of getting stuck into a tackle when necessary. When Bernardeschi and Insigne began playing for the club, along with Mark-Anthony Kaye and loanee Richie Laryea - a 4-3-3 best suited the skillsets of all the new players. Laryea and Criscito could push up on their respective flanks and provide support to the Italian wingers, and Kaye is a box-to-box midfielder that got involved in many build-up plays with Insigne and Criscito, given that he plays on the same side of the field as them.
If Bob Bradley were to play a back three with “Mimmo” on the far left, a 3-4-3 would limit his attacking abilities - a four man defence is definitely the best option for both full-backs.
The last five games of the season were tough to watch, with the Reds letting in 17 goals during that stretch, including conceding four goals in three of those matches. Criscito has improved TFC’s defence in the sense where he brings much needed stability, as seen by him playing in 16 of 17 possible games since his arrival.
Mistakes will always occur - but I firmly believe that with the help of a full pre-season, this group will build stronger chemistry, which will result in much stronger and convincing performances in 2023.