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In Depth: Sorting out Toronto FC’s striker situation

After trading away a striker, Toronto FC finds itself with three viable candidates looking to compete for the starting role.

Ayo Akinola during pre-game warmups before a game vs Columbus Crew, June 29, 2022
Sean Pollock/Waking the Red

Since the departure of Spanish forward Jesús Jiménez last week, Toronto FC now finds itself with three strikers all competing to be Bob Bradley’s first choice to start games. Each available option is capable of producing when called upon and each one carries a fair amount of player traits, strengths and abilities that can change the way a game is played.

The veteran, former LAFC frontman Adama Dionmande; Canadian international Ayo Akinola; and the prospect who has yet to truly impress the TFC faithful, Jordan Perruzza, all of whom will be competing to solidify Toronto’s reputable go-to man for the short-term future.

In the right circumstances, these three TFC forwards can be considered the leading contenders for starting as the lone striker. In any case, these three strikers will have to compete for Bob Bradley’s short-term go-to man, depending on his preferences and tactical decisions.

Where will the goals come from? Easy. Both Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi led the team in goals last year, alongside Jonathan Osorio, and when the three are healthy and in form, there’s no stopping the trio.

Once again, Toronto’s attack will lean heavily on the contribution from the Italians and both Insigne and Bernardeschi will play an important role throughout this season. Toronto FC scored 49 goals last season, with 14 of them coming from the Italians, Of the 49, 11 came from a combination of the strikers: Jiménez and Akinola.

Ayo Akinola and Jesús Jiménez share a moment during a game against CF Montréal, June 22, 2022.
Sean Pollock/Waking the Red

Last year, Adama Diomande scored five goals in 10 appearances between Al-Aarabi and Odds BK. Ayo Akinola managed to score twice in 26 appearances last season while Jordan Perruzza hasn’t scored for TFC since his first senior goal against Atlanta in 2021 despite making 18 appearances during the last two seasons.

Since TFC’s first-choice striker last year was traded away last week, which one of these three contenders would be the most influential part of Bob Bradley’s lineup?

The younger guys, Akinola and Perruzza, could benefit from more minutes with the first team this season, but they’ll have to work hard to earn that spot.

Let’s take a look and break down the pluses each striker brings to the squad.

#99 Adama Diomande

Playing style: Target Man

MLS: Atlanta United FC at Los Angeles FC Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

The 33-year-old Norwegian striker joined TFC this offseason, reuniting alongside head coach Bob Bradley after previously working together at LAFC and in 2015 at Stabæk in Norway. Having already played under Bob Bradley on two previous occasions, Diomande is the most familiar with Bob Bradley’s tactical playing style. During Diomande’s time at LAFC, Bradley would often play Diomande as a Target striker, a striker reliable to be on the end of crosses or passes. The Target Man likes the ball played to their feet and subsequently, that’s where Diomande made the most impact during his time at LAFC.

Perhaps we might see a revival with the Kaye-Diomande connection at TFC.

While former TFC head coach Greg Vanney is busy bringing in former TFC players to his LA Galaxy team, Bob Bradley is similarly doing the same by bringing in former LAFC players to TFC; Mark-Anthony Kaye was added before the end to the transfer window last season; although no longer with the club, Doneil Henry was brought in as a backup defender before the end of last season; goalkeeper Tomas Romero was selected in the MLS Re-Entry Draft as goalkeeping depth, and backup goalkeeper Greg Ranjitsingh was in LAFC’s squad during the 2021 season but failed to make a single appearance.

Although Diomande’s age might limit his playing time, I still expect to see him make an impact in the squad, whether starting or from off the bench, Diomande could very well be that option late in the game when all TFC need is the one goal. And because Diomande has already featured previously in Bob Bradley’s 4-3-3 formation with two inverted inside wingers, he could very well be the clear and obvious answer to start games this year.

#20 Ayo Akinola

Playing style: Poacher/Pressing Forward

Ayo Akinola during a game against New England Revolution, August 17, 2022.
Joshua Kim/Waking the Red

Ayo Akinola joined the senior team in 2018 after becoming the 15th academy graduate to sign a contract for TFC. Akinola was a focal point during the MLS is Back tournament in 2020 and led the tournament with five goals in three appearances. He finished 2020 second on the team with Alejandro Pozuelo in goals scored, although Pozuelo played nearly twice as much as him.

Since sustaining an ACL injury while away on International duty with Canada in 2021, Akinola has been struggling for a starting spot with the team. On various occasions throughout last season, Akinola earned the starting spot in 14 games last year, the most appearances in a single season for Akinola since joining the first team. While Akinola made 26 appearances during the 2022 MLS season and netting two goals, Akinola made a contributory effort during the 2022 Canadian Championship, playing in all three games for TFC and scoring twice against rival CF Montréal.

“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.” - Bob Bradley said after a 2-2 draw against New England Revolution.

Akinola leads the front line well and likes to sit on the edge of the last defender and press high up the field whenever the team is trying to regain possession in the opponent’s half. Akinola’s presence inside the box is an increasing threat for defenders and is always looking to win headers.

If Akinola is able to build on his offence inside the box and improve his finishing technique, he may just get the nod that he so righteously desires. Look for him to start in the Canadian Championship matches.

#77 Jordan Perruzza

Playing style: Advanced Forward

Jordan Perruzza during a game against FC Cincinnati, April 30, 2022.
Sean Pollock/Waking the Red

Since scoring his first senior goal at Mercedes Benz stadium in Atlanta near the end of the 2021 season, we haven’t seen much of anything to be impressed with to earn him a starting role as TFC’s go-to number nine. But perhaps earning more minutes might change that.

The 22-year-old is still developing, I imagine, but by competing for a spot on this roster with two skillful strikers ahead of him in the depth chart may be tough for him to earn many minutes this season. Maybe a loan move might benefit him, as it did when he was loaned to San Antonio FC in 2020 and then again for a few weeks in 2021. Perruzza still has value as an advanced forward, but his future may not be in a TFC uniform.

These are favourable choices to have within a club and Bob Bradley certainly has a lot to consider when deciding his preferred lineup this season. And it’s actually a good thing to have reliable options available because of the chemistry and ability that come from each player.

But without a clear and obvious answer for TFC’s number one striker going into this new season, Bob Bradley will need to find the right structure and the right output to utilize the three strikers he currently possesses. And if we are indeed in a “win-now” type of mentality, these strikers need to step up and prove that they are capable of performing in big matches.