Last night’s 2017 home opener probably won’t live long in the memory. An uneventful 0-0 affair against Sporting Kansas City at a rainy BMO Field left a lot of be desired from the home side. It was further proof that Toronto FC still aren’t playing to their full potential.
However, for one player it will be a night he never forgets. With Justin Morrow out of the Toronto FC lineup with a minor heel injury, Raheem Edwards stepped in to make his first Major League Soccer start.
Given the way that he played, it is likely the first of many. Edwards made a strong case to get more playing time as this season progresses. His play has been one of the biggest positives in the early part of this season.
“You wouldn’t have known it was his first MLS start tonight in my opinion,” said Toronto FC head coach Greg Vanney after the match. “He looked composed, comfortable, did a great job defensively.”
Edwards looked a little tentative to start, as can be expected, but grew into the match midway through the second half. He was one of the team’s main outlets going forward, as 40 per cent of Toronto’s attacks came down his flank.
This wasn’t necessarily by design, as Sporting Kansas City did an excellent job of pressing Toronto and forcing them to attack out wide instead of through the middle. But as the clips below demonstrate, Edwards did very well with the increased responsibility.
He was able to get himself into a number of good crossing positions, although his final ball let him down on a few occasions. Particularly impressive was a first-half sequence (shown above) in which Edwards turned defender Graham Zusi before crossing the ball into Giovinco. He played seven crosses, although only one found its target according to WhoScored. He also played two key passes during the match.
“[Edwards] just brings a lot of energy,” said TFC defender Drew Moor. “He doesn’t play his age, he plays well beyond his years and he was a big boost for us tonight.”
Alongside Moor and the rest of the back line, Edwards wasn’t always the best defensively. He is still growing into a wing-back role, having played more of an attacking role for Toronto FC II last season. However, he certainly wasn’t a liability and made a huge game-saving clearance at the end of the match.
“I’m still learning,” said Edwards after the match. “The guys are doing a good job of teaching me how the system works. I feel like I’m learning more and more each day.”
He is learning from the best, as Morrow is one of the elite left full-backs in Major League Soccer. However, the veteran is also standing in the way of Edwards getting more playing time. Edwards also has to contend with other left-back options like compatriot Ashtone Morgan and potentially Chris Mavinga.
But Edwards has made a strong case to be an attacking super-sub for a fully healthy Toronto FC, perhaps even over compatriot Tosaint Ricketts. Ricketts’ slow start to the 2017 season continued last night, as he only had 19 touches on the ball, the fewest of any starting player on either side. He has failed to make the attacking impact that he did last year so far.
Whether Morrow returns next week against Atlanta United or not, Edwards looks likely to see the pitch in some capacity. After the performances he has delivered so far in 2017 it is getting increasingly difficult to keep him off the field.