Greg Vanney and his magic 8-ball are going to get real familiar over these next couple of weeks. Late last week, Waking the Red wrote about the difficult decision Toronto FC’s head coach has to make in terms of picking a starting goalkeeper.
Well, that isn’t even the toughest positional decision on Vanney’s hands anymore. His biggest puzzle remains how to manage his increasingly deep stable of central midfielders.
This weekend’s game didn’t help Vanney in the least in this regard, as two seldom-used midfielder, Benoit Cheyrou and Jay Chapman, stepped in and delivered excellent performances. Cheyrou was his usual classy and composed self, while Chapman was the architect behind most of Toronto’s best chances in the match.
Their performances mean that Chapman, Cheyrou, Michael Bradley, Victor Vazquez, Jonathan Osorio, Armando Cooper and Marky Delgado have all impressed at least briefly this season. The problem for Vanney is that under his current formation, he can only start three of the seven at a time.
“We have a deep team, we have a lot of talented guys,” Vanney told the media after the Seattle match. “My toughest job this year is trying to keep the guys happy because they all want to play and they’re all worthy of playing.”
It is, of course, a good problem to have. But between those seven players, there is a lot of ego and salary for Vanney to manage. Only one member of that group, Chapman, makes less than $200,000 in guaranteed compensation according to the MLS Players Union. There’s a chance somebody gets restless with a lack of playing time.
In a league like MLS, the temptation is always to spread the wealth to other positions. For a team playing under salary cap restrictions, Toronto FC has a surprising amount of depth in most places. They could, however, probably use another right-back.
But for now, Toronto would be wise to be patient. All of their midfielders offer something a little bit different, giving Vanney some options depending on the opponent and situation. Furthermore, while injuries are impossible to predict, international absences at this summer’s Gold Cup guarantee some squad rotation.
Chapman and Cheyrou showed little to no rust, a sign that Toronto’s midfielders are remaining in good shape and ready to be subbed in whenever needed. That’s got to feel good for Vanney, knowing that whomever he puts in will be ready to carry out their role.
Right now, two players have all but cemented their spot in the first-choice Toronto midfield: Vazquez and Bradley. The player who has complemented that pair the best so far this season that been Marky Delgado, hence the string of starts the 21-year-old has been given of late.
The problem with Toronto’s midfield has remained the same: they have only scored one goal as a group so far this season. However, with Vazquez’s addition, they are also creating more opportunities for Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore.
After his performance on Saturday, Chapman seems like the player best suited to replace Vazquez when he needs a break. The game also showed once again that Cheyrou can capably fill Bradley’s role when needed. So far, Cooper has been the best replacement for Delgado.
That means that a slow start to the season may have really cost Osorio. A regular starter last season, the Canadian has been relegated to the bench ever since missing a trio of chances in the team’s home opener against Sporting Kansas City.
The good news for Osorio, as well as Chapman and perhaps even Sergio Camargo: The Canadian Championship is coming up. Since Toronto are required to start at least three Canadians under tournament rules, that likely means two more starts for both Osorio and Chapman this month.
They would be wise to take advantage of their opportunity, because with the quality of this group any slip in form could mean a place on the bench for a while. Ideally, this level of competition will bring out the best in each of these players.
Even if it doesn’t, the cream will rise to the top and Toronto will find out which of these midfielders are worth factoring into the long-term plan. For now, the Reds have the rare luxury of knowing they have seven starting-calibre MLS midfielders at their disposal.