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Which of Toronto FC’s young rotation players will rise in 2017?

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Taking a look at the prospects of Jay Chapman, Tsubasa Endoh and the promising depth on the roster.

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at Toronto FC Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports

After Toronto FC’s run to the MLS Cup final, there is little doubt over Greg Vanney’s preferred formation. The 5-3-2/3-5-2 system worked well, and utilizes TFC’s personnel in order to allow the side to both attack and defend effectively. With the starting XI from the final returning next season, there are unlikely to be major changes to Vanney’s first-choice team. But which young TFC players are primed for a larger role in 2017?

For this article, we are looking at players under the age of 25 who were not starters during the playoff run and made at least five appearances during the 2016 season. Those criteria produce six players: Jordan Hamilton, Marky Delgado, Alex Bono, Jay Chapman, Tsubasa Endoh and Mo Babouli. We went through each of these players and evaluated the reasons for and against handing them an increased role for the upcoming season. All statistics are from Whoscored.com, unless otherwise stated.

Jordan Hamilton

MLS: Toronto FC at Columbus Crew SC Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Season stats (2016)

Player (Age) Appearances (Sub) Minutes Goals Assists Passing % Whoscored Rating
Player (Age) Appearances (Sub) Minutes Goals Assists Passing % Whoscored Rating
Jordan Hamilton (20) 11(3) 911 3 1 66.7 6.66

Why he deserves a larger role: When starting as a striker, Hamilton had the second highest number of key passes per 90 minutes, averaging 1.4 over 10 games. While he trails Ricketts in shots, goals and dribbles per 90 mins, his ability to play a key pass means he offers something different. He also leads Ricketts in Whoscored rating as a striker at 6.82 to 6.53 when starting, and 6.66 to 6.64 overall.

Why that might not happen: Through no fault of his own, Hamilton sits behind three strikers who, when healthy, will command most of the playing time for TFC. With Giovinco and Altidore scoring 27 goals between them in the regular season and Ricketts an explosive option off the bench, Hamilton could struggle to find minutes barring injuries to those ahead of him on the depth chart.

Prediction for upcoming season: Since Giovinco and Altidore struggled with injuries during the 2016 season, Vanney might consider rotating his forwards more often in 2017, with Ricketts and an emerging Hamilton on the bench. Although that might not result in Hamilton starting as many games in 2017, expect him to feature significantly in the Canadian Championship and find more opportunities as a substitute in MLS.

Marky Delgado

MLS: Montreal Impact at Toronto FC Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports

Season stats (2016)

Player (Age) Appearances (Sub) Minutes Goals Assists Passing % Whoscored Rating
Player (Age) Appearances (Sub) Minutes Goals Assists Passing % Whoscored Rating
Marky Delgado (21) 23(6) 1999 2 2 80.9 6.77

Why he deserves a larger role: As covered on Waking the Red a few weeks ago, Delgado appears to be the natural replacement for Will Johnson. In the same number of appearances (statistics from Opta), Delgado had more tackles (3.34 to 3.17), interceptions (1.76 to 1.49), and chances created (1.40 to 0.72) per 90 minutes while recording a similar pass accuracy (81% to 82%). As a result of Johnson's departure, Delgado may become an even more prominent player for TFC in 2017. When you consider that he also outperformed Osorio defensively (posting two more tackles and half an interception more per 90 minutes) and is a comparable offensive player, it’s possible Delgado could supplant Osorio and take over that third midfield position.

Why that might not happen: Unfortunately for Delgado, the MLS Cup final demonstrated that TFC could use a more creative midfield threat to link play and create opportunities when teams sit deep and defend in their own half. If TFC does bring in a more attacking midfielder, expect both Osorio and Delgado to start less frequently. That being said, Delgado will likely be one of the first substitutes off the bench in the event that he doesn't start a game.

Prediction for upcoming season: Delgado's playing time increased from 2015 to 2016, and without any new additions it would appear that he will surpass the 20 start and 10 substitute appearances marks. However, if an accomplished attacking midfielder is signed, Delgado might find his time on the field limited as he competes with Osorio to be the first midfield substitute.

Alex Bono

MLS: Toronto FC at Chicago Fire Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Season stats (2016)

Player (Age) Appearances (Sub) Minutes Save % Clean Sheets Whoscored Rating
Player (Age) Appearances (Sub) Minutes Save % Clean Sheets Whoscored Rating
Alex Bono (22) 15(1) 1370 70 4 6.78

Why he deserves a larger role: When Clint Irwin was injured, I was concerned that neither Bono nor Quillan Roberts were ready to start MLS games. However, Bono filled in admirably in Irwin's absence; in fact, he arguably outperformed Irwin over the season. Over 16 appearances, he had a higher save percentage (70%) than Irwin’s season number (65.8%) and career average (67.5%). Bono also had a higher Whoscored rating (6.78 to 6.72) and more than doubled Irwin in Squawka’s performance score per 90 minutes (15.04 to 6.50).

Why that might not happen: Despite those numbers, Bono is still the clear backup goalkeeper for TFC. Both management and the head coach see Irwin as their starter, and so going forward I would expect him to receive the bulk of playing time. In addition, Bono's run of good form was over less than half a season for TFC. There is reason to be skeptical of Bono achieving such great form over a full season.

Prediction for upcoming season: Unless Irwin struggles during 2017, Bono is unlikely to play as much as he did in 2016. That being said, TFC should not have any doubts that he is capable to start in the Canadian Championship. Falling somewhere around 10 starts would be a good follow up season for Bono and will give us a better idea if his performances from last year are repeatable.

Jay Chapman

MLS: Toronto FC at Orlando City SC Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Season stats (2016)

Player (Age) Appearances (Sub) Minutes Goals Assists Passing % Whoscored Rating
Player (Age) Appearances (Sub) Minutes Goals Assists Passing % Whoscored Rating
Jay Chapman (23) 9(9) 783 0 2 78.9 6.6

Why he deserves a larger role: Chapman is an undeniably strong playmaker, especially as an attacking midfielder given time and space to play through balls. Looking at chances created from open play per 90 minutes, Chapman was one of the top midfielders in MLS in 2016 and the best on TFC. If TFC do not acquire a creative midfielder, Chapman deserves a chance to prove whether or not he can sustain those impressive numbers.

Why that might not happen: With the departures of Will Johnson, Daniel Lovitz, Josh Williams and Mark Bloom this offseason, the money is there to sign a first-team quality creative midfielder. That alone could significantly decrease Chapman's playing time, leaving him in a similar situation to 2016.

Prediction for upcoming season: At age 23, I wouldn't be surprised if TFC puts Chapman into more games to see what they truly have in the young Canadian. I think he surpasses both his starting and substitute appearances this season, and impresses when given the opportunity to play.

Tsubasa Endoh

MLS: Real Salt Lake at Toronto FC John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Season stats (2016)

Player (Age) Appearances (Sub) Minutes Goals Assists Passing % Whoscored Rating
Player (Age) Appearances (Sub) Minutes Goals Assists Passing % Whoscored Rating
Tsubasa Endoh (23) 15(6) 1388 2 0 82.6 6.58

Why he deserves a larger role: As the WTR Top 20 pointed out, Endoh's tactical flexibility is one of his strongest assets. Last season, he played as a central midfielder, an attacking midfielder, on both wings and as a forward. His versatility is an important asset to TFC and could see him receive important time as a substitute or starter if the formation is changed. Endoh played particularly well as a central midfielder as part of the 4-3-1-2 setup, which may be preferred if TFC acquires a talented attacking midfielder.

Why that might not happen: Endoh's decline in form at the end of the 2016 season was troubling. I'm also not convinced there is a position in which he fits into the lineup as a starter. Given the choice between Endoh and Chapman as an attacking midfield spark off the bench, Chapman leads Endoh in key passes per 90 mins (2.4 to 1.9) and is a more creative player. Therefore, Endoh might struggle to receive playing time off the bench in TFC's 5-3-2 formation.

Prediction for upcoming season: Endoh took advantage of a unique opportunity to play a larger role at the beginning of the season. However, with the switch to the 5-3-2 formation, his usage and influence declined. If the formation remains the same, I wouldn't expect Endoh to be as significant a contributor in 2017.

Mo Babouli

MLS: Toronto FC at Columbus Crew SC Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Season stats (2016)

Player (Age) Appearances (Sub) Minutes Goals Assists Passing % Whoscored Rating
Player (Age) Appearances (Sub) Minutes Goals Assists Passing % Whoscored Rating
Mo Babouli (24) 6(10) 647 0 0 75.9 6.28

Why he deserves a larger role: Surprising many TFC fans, Babouli was a serviceable backup and stepped in when needed during the season. Mostly coming off the bench, he brought defensive toughness and work rate to the forward lines, pressuring the defence and leading all TFC strikers in attempted tackles (2.7) and total tackles (1.4) per 90 minutes. He is comfortable with the ball at his feet and made the most short passes with the highest passing accuracy of any TFC striker.

Why that might not happen: Babouli fell down the depth chart after Ricketts signed with TFC and is now clearly the fifth-choice striker. It will be tough for him to make the bench, with Vanney usually using only one striker as a substitute during the playoffs. Even if there are spots for two during the regular season, expect Ricketts and Hamilton to fill them ahead of Babouli.

Prediction for upcoming season: Even though Babouli stepped in and played decently in MLS, he will likely find opportunities extremely limited with TFC during 2017. It would not be surprising for him to spend most of the season with TFC II, who could use an experienced presence to bolster a very young attacking contingent.