When Toronto FC did not retain the majority of their defenders following a dismal 2021 season, it was very likely that the defensive struggles would continue, mainly due to the amount of roster turnover.
As numerous injuries and suspensions hampered TFC’s backline in the first half of this season, cohesion and consistency was nowhere to be found. Designated Player Carlos Salcedo has not lived up to the billing, Shane O’Neill was seen as a depth signing and has since started 12 matches, Lukas MacNaughton was a star in the Canadian Premier League, but the MLS is very much a step up in quality, leading to some unconfident displays from the Canadian defender.
Enter, Domenico Criscito. The veteran Italian defender has spent his career applying his skills both in his home country with stints at Juventus and Genoa, and also in Russia at Zenit Saint Petersburg. He joins Toronto FC at a point in his career where he not only wants to play consistent minutes and stay healthy, but also be a leader on the field for a defence that has looked lost on many occasions this season.
The 35 year-old’s main qualities include distribution, man-marking (something the Reds have lacked), and aerial presence on set pieces. All of these traits will greatly benefit TFC, here’s why:
- When play starts from the ‘keeper and continues with the defence, there is rarely movement from the fullbacks or midfielders to give viable passing options - Criscito has good vision to pick a pass that can catch the opposing team off guard.
- TFC has allowed countless easy through balls along the flanks because of the inexperience of Kosi Thompson and Luca Petrasso. Experienced defenders always know their surroundings by checking their shoulders, and that’s what “Mimmo” does. This is one important step to prevent counter-attacks from happening all too often.
- Toronto has rarely been a threat when it comes to scoring off set pieces, while also looking lazy when defending them at times (specifically corner kicks.) A specific instance of this was Orlando City’s game-winner on May 14th.
KYLE SMITH WINS IT IN STOPPAGE TIME! pic.twitter.com/Tn6VPcRwWr— Major League Soccer (@MLS) May 14, 2022
Deandre Kerr was not as marking Kyle Smith closely enough, which gave him enough room to head the ball in to the far post. Although Criscito is not the tallest of players, goals would not happen this easily because of his presence to allow the least amount of space between him and the attacker.
What I am most looking forward to finding out is which position he will play, along with the formation Bob Bradley will field game in game out. Criscito has played most of his career as a left-back, but MLS is a fast paced league compared to the style of Serie A. The Italian top flight is a league where possession dictates the play, as opposed to MLS where play is much more frantic. Bradley has experimented with both a back three and a back four, but has opted for four defenders in recent matches, either with a 4-4-2 or a 4-3-3. I believe TFC will get the best out of Criscito by playing him on the left side of a back three, ideally with Chris Mavinga and Salcedo. A 3-4-3 or 3-5-2 allows Mimmo to push the ball forward with more freedom, and with ample passing options to the left of him. We have seen the success in Toronto with the 3-5-2 in 2017, and the club will have more depth by the end of the transfer window to experiment with which players work best in the respective systems.
Criscito spoke to media (through a translator) on Wednesday for the first time since signing with the club on June 29th.
“I’ve played at very high levels throughout my career, I’ve played in championships. It’s different with European championships, but I want to bring that experience here on and off the field,” said Criscito.
Toronto’s new No. 44 will make his debut this Saturday, July 9th against the San Jose Earthquakes at BMO Field.