A year ago, who would have thought that Lukas MacNaughton would be scoring a header from a Federico Bernardeschi cross in the 2022 Canadian Championship Final?
What a goal by Lukas MacNaughton to tie it for TFC!— TSN (@TSN_Sports) July 27, 2022
: @onesoccer pic.twitter.com/CezZLhq6B2
Over the course of the 2022 campaign, MacNaughton has needed to step up in ways which he may have not expected to following his arrival from the reigning Canadian Premier League champions, Pacific FC.
Having started Toronto FC’s last four games in all competitions, the 27-year-old has steadily continued to make an impression in a TFC backline that has undergone several changes throughout the season so far.
“Lukas has done well with his opportunities. He’s hard-nosed and a similar player to myself,” said Shane O’Neill O’Neill on MacNaughton’s performances for the Reds.
Since coming off the bench to make his TFC debut in the 4-1 defeat to the New York Red Bulls back in March, MacNaughton has played 1070 minutes through 16 MLS appearances and 11 starts. He was also in the starting XI for the 2020 Canadian Championship Final against Forge FC and featured twice in the 2022 edition of the competition, notably scoring Toronto’s equalizer in the final against the Vancouver Whitecaps.
MacNaugton’s admirable display at BC Place was then followed by a man of the match performance in TFC’s goalless draw with the New England Revolution, the Reds’ second consecutive MLS clean sheet and their first league shutout on the road since September 2021.
Ahead of the start of the season, Bob Bradley had three experienced centre-backs at his disposal: Carlos Salcedo, Chris Mavinga and O’Neill. Moreover, MacNaughton was seemingly set to feature sporadically for the Reds in his debut MLS season.
With Salcedo now back in Liga MX and Mavinga only having just returned to league action after missing the games against CF Montreal and Charlotte FC, MacNaughton has seized the opportunity to impress Bob Bradley and stake his claim for a starting role in the heart of Toronto FC’s defence.
Against New England, MacNaughton’s tenacity was on full display as the defender won each of his three duels. In addition, he recorded a game-high 10 clearances.
During his first several appearances for the club, it is safe to say that MacNaughton was still finding his footing in a new environment, which is arguably not surprising for a player who only made his professional debut in April 2019 during the inaugural CPL campaign.
Now in 2022, the defender is playing more minutes than he probably would have thought coming into the second half of the season. With more invaluable MLS minutes under his belt, MacNaughton has shown signs of improvement week in week out while having the opportunity to play and train alongside the likes of Mavinga, O’Neill, Doneil Henry, and of course, Domenico Criscito.
In the midst of a turbulent season with regards to the team’s results, MacNaughton has duly taken advantage of the opportunities he has been given by Bob Bradley to prove his worth. With more eyes now on the defender since making his bow in MLS, a potential call-up to the Canadian men’s national team may indeed be on the cards in the near future.
John Herdman is no stranger to including improving, in-form players in his squads, as seen with Jacob Shaffelburg in October 2021 and Raheem Edwards in June 2022. Although a place in Les Rouges’ 26-man squad for the 2022 FIFA World Cup is not impossible, but rather improbable, there is no doubt that if MacNaughton continues to deliver at the club level, he may earn himself a call-up in 2023, where Canada is set challenge for the Gold Cup and the CONCACAF Nations League.
From playing with the University of Toronto Varsity Blues for five years to starring alongside Bernardeschi, Lorenzo Insigne, and Michael Bradley in Toronto FC’s starting XI, MacNaughton’s journey is inspiring to say the least. As he looks to end his debut Toronto FC season on a high with more impressive performances at the back, the 27-year-old will firmly have his sights set on continuing to turn heads ahead of the 2023 season.