Toronto FC have kept three clean sheets in four games this season, but they have also been shut out twice themselves. Getting back among the goals should be more of a case of ironing out a few imperfections, though, rather than solving any major issues, and they have also suffered from a bit of bad luck.
Chances are they will break out eventually - they have too much talent not to - and Greg Vanney will hope Atlanta United are the victims. Here are a few things they might be focusing on in a bid to resume normal service in attack.
1. Improve the final ball from wide
There was a lot to like about Raheem Edwards’ first MLS start, but he is young and raw and at times did the hard work only for his final pass or cross to leave a little to be desired. Edwards’ speed might even have allowed him to get in more good positions than Justin Morrow would have done, but Morrow has regularly made more of less.
Toronto will finally get Victor Vazquez, Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco in the same starting lineup this weekend, and whenever that is the case opponents will be forced to give up space out wide to congest the middle. The Reds need to use it.
“There were glimpses in [the Sporting Kansas City match] where I thought, especially when Jozy came on, you could see the three of them - the three being Victor and Jozy and Seba - combining a little bit in some of those tighter areas that then gave Raheem a little extra space,” Greg Vanney said last weekend. “There was one in particular that ended up with [Jonathan Osorio] and instead of rolling it out to Raheem, who would have been behind the line, Oso tried to spin back into the pressure.”
Here’s the play Vanney was talking about:
By the time Osorio gets on the ball, seven Kansas City players have collapsed on top of the four central threats, leaving the wings completely open. If Osorio could have picked out Edwards, you would back the wing-back - and certainly Morrow - to either test the goalkeeper or pick out Altidore across goal.
2. Find routes out of defence
Kansas City pressed Toronto pretty effectively in the first 30 minutes or so at BMO Field last Friday, and it was only when Giovinco started dropping deep to pick up the ball that TFC began to get between the lines and unsettle them.
Playing out from the back more cleanly, with set routes and patterns of movement, was a focus at training this week as a result. This isn't a perfect example because it all starts out a little haphazardly, but it does illustrate that when Toronto are able to break the press with passing combinations they are extremely dangerous:
That should have been a goal. Giovinco came deep again on that occasion, but with Altidore and Morrow (and probably Armando Cooper) back in the team there should be less need for him to do that - which is good news, because it will allow TFC’s best finisher to stay closer to goal and make runs for Vazquez to pick out.
3. Don’t be afraid to use Ricketts-Giovinco-Altidore
Dropping Giovinco into an attacking-midfield role behind Altidore and Tosaint Ricketts proved to be an extremely effective switch for Vanney late in games last year, and it was a bit of a surprise he did not try it against Kansas City with the score tied and the Reds on top. Ricketts had not had his best outing, but he's the kind of player who can have two goals and the fewest number of touches of any player on the pitch at the same time.
As mentioned, Giovinco was already having to come deep to help Toronto play out of defence, so it would have been nice to see Altidore partner Ricketts and have the two of them attack the numerous opportunities that were being created from the wide positions. Toronto ended up firing 10 crosses into the box in open play and completing only one.
It can be a risky change - you would either have to bring Vazquez off or take your chances in terms of being hit on the break - but with one substitute still left to use after Altidore, I would have liked to have seen Vanney roll the dice.