Edmonton native Tosaint Ricketts has got off to a slow start this season following his electric performances during Toronto FC’s run in last year’s playoffs.
Ricketts has played in three of four matches - two in the starting XI - but has put up zero shots on target, one off target and between 10 to 15 passes attempted in each match.
While the early numbers are damning, there are three reasons why Ricketts’ first three matches have been underwhelming: his teammates are not looking for him enough or supplying him with quality balls; he’s had to replace Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore, two of the best attackers in the league, in the starting lineup; and he is better on the right wing, not as a centre forward.
“[Ricketts] is more of a run-in-behind guy, and obviously [Altidore] is more of a play-to, hold-up type of guy,” TFC coach Greg Vanney said after his team’s 0-0 draw against Sporting Kansas City at BMO Field last Friday. “With [Ricketts], he gives us something different, which is to stretch out the back line.
“I think the problem that we were having initially was getting a clear look to be able to play balls with confidence and the right timing to play [Ricketts] in behind the back line, to get them to ease off of the pressure a little bit or play a little bit of a field position game early in the game and get behind them. The timing just wasn’t in sync.”
Ricketts received the least amount of passes and had the least amount of touches of any TFC player during his 64 minutes on the field during the home opener.
The thinner lines represent a lack of passing towards a player, and the smaller a player’s red circle, the fewer amount of touches he had.
“Sometimes [Ricketts] was coming and looking for the ball when the opportunity to play behind was available and sometimes the opportunity to play behind was available and we didn’t put it there,” Vanney said. “We understand that he will look to stretch things out. The difference is [Giovinco] will come play underneath a little bit more. When [Altidore] is on the field, then he sometimes comes plays underneath and [Giovinco] will drift wider and stay higher.”
Ricketts is better as a super-sub, especially when he’s asked to play out wide and get behind tired defences with his best attribute: speed. But all of his minutes this season have been as a replacement to an injured or resting star forward. Ricketts replaced Giovinco late in the first half at Philadelphia, started instead of him in Vancouver and replaced Altidore in the starting lineup last Friday after the American played in Panama three days earlier.
Ricketts is a role player, but through three matches, he’s been asked to match Giovinco’s and Altidore’s contributions instead of complimenting them, stretching the field and benefitting from their creativity and overall presence.
It’s early still. Once Ricketts goes back to his usual role and comes on to the pitch in the second half to give the attack a second wind, the Canadian forward and TFC will benefit from it.