Toronto FC fan patience with the process is understandably low after the team’s latest four-game losing streak. After the loss to New York City FC, the schedule was supposed to ease up. The past three games looked winnable on paper, or at least a prime opportunity to pick up some points. Instead, TFC picked up zero. As fans, we tend to become overconfident when the team is on a good run of form and lack confidence when the team is on poor run. The truth is that this team is somewhere in between the good and poor results through 11 games of the 2022 MLS season.
If you’ve been disappointed with the recent results or found yourself questioning the process, coach or players, you’re not alone. But ask yourself, what were your expectations heading into this season? Did the early four-game undefeated streak change those expectations? Has the recent four-game pointless streak swung your opinions too far in the opposite direction? The purpose of this article isn’t to tell you how you should feel about the team. The article’s purpose is to put the recent four-game slide into perspective and to remind you to have your initial pre-season expectations as your reference point.
The team is still not the finished article.
There were a lot of question marks about this TFC squad heading into the season. 21 senior first team players were changed over. Some serviceable players had to leave because they were disinterested in the new culture and long-term vision the club was pursuing. Despite signing Lorenzo Insigne this past January, he does not arrive until July. There were no natural fullbacks with MLS experience or top flight experience from other international leagues. Instead of just signing players to fill immediate gaps, TFC signed their academy players to deals, providing them with opportunities to gain MLS experience.
NEWS | Toronto FC sign Italian National Team star Lorenzo Insigne— Toronto FC (@TorontoFC) January 8, 2022
➡️ https://t.co/pgq3Uu7PTp@Lor_Insigne | #TFCLive pic.twitter.com/OmPA67DyOY
July reinforcements cannot come soon enough. It’s important to remember that the team you see right now likely won’t be the same one you see from July onwards. That said, do not expect wholesale changes by August either. Rebuilding a squad takes time. Carefully picking out players that fit the team’s culture and Bob Bradley’s system is more important than simply signing experienced players who could fill short-term gaps.
As a result, squad depth at key positions will be limited and young players have been given a sink or swim opportunity to prove that they belong. Until the team fully comes into shape over the coming years, the results and on-field style of play will continue to be a work in progress.
Player absences impacting the team’s recent results.
TFC’s recent slide has coincided with Jonathan Osorio’s lower leg injury. After first picking up the injury against Philadelphia Union in April, where he was substituted off in the 56th minute, he tried his best to play through the discomfort in the following two matches against New York City FC (subbed off at the 60th minute) and FC Cincinnati (played full 90 mins). However, since then, he has missed TFC’s last two games. His absence has been noticeable with the Reds struggling more than usual to control midfield and connect play in the attacking third.
An out of form (and likely low on confidence) Ralph Priso was the only natural CM option to replace Osorio and he unfortunately picked up a red card five minutes into his first call to starting action this season. TFC has had to be creative in replacing Osorio. Without Priso, Deandre Kerr and Kosi Thompson have had to play as makeshift CMs. Both actually performed decently in unconventional roles, but young players like them would typically have had more time to integrate if TFC were healthy.
Eight TFC first team regulars have been missing from the past two games. Carlos Salcedo, Chris Mavinga, Jacob Shaffelburg, Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty, Ifunanyachi Achara, Ralph Priso, Noble Okello and the previously mentioned Osorio are significant losses for TFC. They have had to sign TFC Academy players to emergency contracts to even field enough players to meet league minimum squad rules. It’s already difficult to get results with a young team in transition and one without two of its Designated Players (Salcedo has missed four games due to suspension and COVID, while Insigne will join TFC in July). But it’s even more difficult when seven more of your first team regulars are also injured.
This article isn’t meant to give excuses to TFC’s recent woes. Even without the recent injuries, there have been issues with the team’s ability to generate prime scoring opportunities, to defend in transition, and to limit opposition prime goal scoring chances. The on-field product has looked uncoordinated at times, and the coaching staff still needs to be more proactive in dealing with opposition in-game adjustments.
This article is meant to be a reminder to once again reset your expectations back to what they were at the start of the season. This is a young team learning on the fly and one that should hopefully get better with more experience and more players returning from injury (not to mention more reinforcements this summer). Previous TFC managers were criticized for not giving the academy players enough chances. These young players will continue to make mistakes and will need to quickly learn and adapt. Those that can will continue to provide value even when further reinforcements arrive.
One of my personal joys is seeing young academy players breakthrough. Focusing on their development has helped me survive the recent rough patch. In previous years, there were very few, if any, academy players getting any first team minutes. Let that sink in. The significant amount of minutes they’re getting now is not ideal, but it’s comforting to know that previous relatively unknown players like Luca Petrasso and Kosi Thompson will at least be valuable squad players in the future.
When expectations were low, TFC exceeded them. There’s no reason this can’t happen again even with some more difficult matchups on the horizon. A run of results would easily push TFC back in the playoff picture and that’s without considering the arrivals of Insigne and other potential reinforcements in July. Onwards and upwards, you Reds.