It is both impressive and depressing that halfway through the 2017 season Toronto FC has already tied or passed their point total from six of their 10 full seasons of existence. The 35 points they have amassed would already be tied for the fifth-best season in club history.
That pace through the first 17 regular season games of 2017 also has the team on track for an MLS record of 70 points. That would be the most any team has managed since the league switched to a 34-game schedule for the 2011 season.
Keeping their current pace going will be a tall order for Toronto, who have only lost two games so far this season and sit top of the Supporters’ Shield standings. However, it is proof that this current squad is among the best the league has ever seen.
What has improved for Toronto?
The biggest improvement from last season has been Toronto’s play at BMO Field. Through their first nine home games of the season TFC has gone unbeaten, only dropping points twice. That came in two draws in the first two home games of the season. They dropped points in nine home games last year.
They have also largely erased their biggest issue at home from last season: allowing the opposition to score the first goal. That has only happened once this year, in a 2-2 draw with Atlanta United. In fact, Toronto has only allowed six goals at home this season and have five clean sheets already at BMO Field.
Toronto is also on pace to set club records in goals scored (60) and conceded (30). The key improvement to the offence has been the addition of Victor Vazquez, who has provided the Reds with the midfield playmaker they were missing last season. His nine assists are tied for the league lead and he also has three goals.
Backline improvement is harder to quantify, but goaltending has played a huge part. In terms of goalkeepers who regularly play, Alex Bono is third best in the league in terms of xGA-GAp96. That may look like a typo, but it is actually a stat that measures how many goals a goalkeeper allows versus how many they would be expected to allow on the shots they face.
Cause for concern?
Those who follow soccer’s advanced stats might be a bit more guarded about Toronto’s success so far this season. While the club has the best goal difference in the league at the moment at +15, their xGD (expected goal difference), is eighth in the league according to American Soccer Analysis.
Furthermore, the club also has the second highest PDO in the league behind Atlanta United. PDO is essentially a predictive stat that combines shooting percentage and save percentage to show how sustainably a team is performing. Generally speaking, teams over 1000 combined save and shooting percentage in MLS are playing unsustainably well, and getting a lot of bounces going their way.
Toronto FC’s PDO currently sits at 1082, which means that they should be in for some sort of regression in the second half of the season. For further explanation of this, The Athletic’s Joshua Kloke put together this fine article.
Why Toronto can keep this up
They are playing at a record pace, but Toronto arguably hasn’t even been at its best yet this season. There are several players who have another gear to go into, including Sebastian Giovinco (even though he is TFC’s joint-top scorer), Armando Cooper and Jonathan Osorio. Their past play suggests they are better than this and could improve going forward.
Meanwhile, the Redd have rarely been able to play their best XI so far this season due to a combination of fixture congestion, injuries and international play. A simple way to measure that is the fact that there has already been eight games this season in which Toronto hasn’t started all three designated players.
Finally, there is evidence to suggest that Toronto’s once two-dimensional offence, built around Giovinco and Jozy Altidore, is continuing to diversify. So far this year, the rest of the team (16 goals) has combined to outscore the two strikers (14). That wasn’t the case either last year or in 2015, with Vazquez, Justin Morrow and Tosaint Ricketts chipping in with three goals each.