After arriving from Polish football club Górnik Zabrze, the name Jesús Jiménez was on everyone’s lips when the season started as he was a newcomer and a fresh striker looking to prove himself in MLS.
Jiménez was brought in to lead the line and improve TFC’s goal scoring chances, and within the first few weeks, he did just that. After recording his first goal of the season on March 5th against the New York Red Bulls, Jiménez went on a rampage and led the league with seven goals in his first nine MLS regular season games. He made an impressive introduction to his MLS career and began establishing himself as a goal scoring threat for opposing defenders.
Oh my Jesus Jimenez!— Major League Soccer (@MLS) April 24, 2022
Two goals in the first half so far for Jimenez and this one is a beauty. pic.twitter.com/JXFHvV1Lxd
Now more recently, his goal scoring efforts and lack of goals in recent weeks is significantly noticeable. Since the transfer of fellow Spaniard Alejandro Pozuelo to Inter Miami and the additions of forwards Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi, Jiménez has not scored or provided an assist in any one of the previous eight starts. His last goal came before the new additions on June 29th in a 2-1 loss against the Columbus Crew.
Earlier in the season, head coach Bob Bradley voiced his admiration for the Spanish forward,
“He’s a skilful striker who can score in a lot of different ways. I think he’s a very good player. When we continue to grow as a team, I think his all-around contribution is going to get bigger and bigger.”
Since his goalless record started, in 17 games this season, Jiménez recorded eight goals and three assists. He was the focal point of all of TFC’s attacks and he rightfully earned his spot in Bob Bradley’s starting XI. “I think there’s more to come from him,” Bob was quoted after Jiménez scored four goals in his first five games.
One of the main factors of Jiménez’ goalless streak is his positioning in the box and his attempt to get on the end of crosses. Recently, Bob discussed the situation to which he replied, “We’ve talked to him that he’s got to give us more. Physically, he’s got to push harder.”
At the beginning of this season, the foundation of this squad was never going to be set in stone. The dynamics going from a contender to missing the playoffs last season was never going to be an easy feat and one of the main factors in a rebuilding team is the constant tweaking required to adjust to how the players are utilized to highlight each of their abilities. Improvements are being made during every single game and every single week in training sessions.
Bob evidently has a big picture in mind, and one that could lead us back to the promise land. But to get to that point, there are going to be disappointments with room for improvement. With the ever-changing dynamic of the squad and the rapidly changing formation this last month, Bob is still trying to find the right balance to help Jiménez succeed and get back to his goal-scoring ways.
“He’s still trying to find his way in this whole thing. I just keep trying to push him and encourage him because I want to see him use his skill and qualities to also make him more of a threat – to get into the box, to get himself some more chances. It’s still a work in progress.”
On Wednesday, August 18th, in a game against the New England Revolution, Ayo Akinola was named to the starting XI for the first time since July 16, replacing the struggling Jiménez. Yet, the Canadian international has scored just one league goal in 18 appearances this season for the club, but perhaps Akinola deserves to be earning more minutes if Jiménez can’t produce.
The one thing that sets Akinola apart from Jiménez is his aggressive demeanor to get on the end of balls.
“I liked the play early in the second half where he got into the box and was aggressive and turned the corner on the guy, I like to see him do more of that because I think he [Ayo] can be a real threat,”
Bob Bradley said after a 2-2 draw against New England Revolution:
“There are times when balls come to him and he’s not aggressive enough. I like to see him be more aggressive with the timing of his runs.”
Within the last two seasons, Ayo Akinola bagged seven goals in 23 appearances for the club and was also named to John Herdman’s squad to represent Canada in the 2021 Gold Cup. He ruptured his ACL in the 24th minute of the game against the US and was out for the rest of the season. Akinola was featured on the bench 11 times this season and also earned eight starts in Bob Bradley’s starting XI.
Akinola is still young and his game is always improving. But to earn more minutes in the starting XI, Bob needs to see a positive impact from each player to earn a shot to start every game. Both Jiménez and Akinola are proven strikers who can capitalize on chances created and finishes from inside the box and both of whom have impressed Bob Bradley this season. But finding the right structure for Jiménez while incorporating new players is the struggle Bob now faces.
Goal scoring isn’t one of the main concerns for Toronto FC at this moment, but for an individual like Jesús Jiménez, who once embodied a quality finisher and a visionary in the attacking third, his recent form has been really difficult to watch.
And for Ayo Akinola, time will tell if he can establish himself as a starter, which would lead to him earning more minutes and improving his game so he can eventually become a reliable, consistent, every-day striker.
Which striker do you think Bob Bradley should start in upcoming games? Let us know in the comments.