If you somehow haven’t heard, Toronto FC have officially signed Belgian centre-back Laurent Ciman. The former MLS Defender of the Year will see some serious minutes in Toronto, who had issues at the back all year long thanks to injuries and poor form. Ciman will likely be starting regularly, relegating the likes of Drew Moor (if he is re-signed) and Nick Hagglund to bench/depth roles with the club.
With all of that in mind, I present to you five possible lineups that Greg Vanney may go with in 2019. As Waking the Red’s Chief Lineup Guesser, I have of course selected some lineups that Greg Vanney will certainly consider, but I have also added a few that are unlikely, but intriguing options nonetheless. Oh yeah, and a Christmas tree-shaped formation.
Option #1: A return to the 3-5-2 — The best lineup possible
After using the 3-5-2 formation for a lot of the 2017 treble-winning season, Vanney opted for a 4-4-2 for most of 2018, largely because of the lack of depth that Toronto had at the back. Gregory van der Wiel mostly played at centre-back last season, despite being a natural right-back. He was a solid option there for Vanney so I think that there’s a good chance he is asked to play there full-time next season, which would allow Auro to get consistent minutes starting opportunities. That is a stronger option than having van der Wiel play on the right and one of Moor/ Hagglund/ Zavaleta playing as the third centre-back alongside Ciman and Chris Mavinga. If Alex Bono and Justin Morrow find their 2017 form again and everyone stays healthy, Toronto FC has the potential to have one of the league’s best groups of defenders.
Ahead of them in the midfield, I think the best possible lineup sees Jonathan Osorio, Michael Bradley and Victor Vazquez get the starting roles, with Marky Delgado and Jay Chapman filling in as needed. Ahead of them, to the surprise of nobody, would be Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore. If one of those two is to get hurt, which is inevitable, Jon Bakero and Ayo Akinola are the only two current options to fill in, a group that will surely be added to before the season starts following the exits of Jordan Hamilton (who could still come back) and Tosaint Ricketts.
This is a scary lineup for opposing teams and is the formation that allows all of Toronto FC’s best players to share the pitch at the same time, something that rarely happened in 2018.
My ideal starting XI looks something like this:
Option #2: The 4-4-2 Diamond
If Greg Vanney wants to go more defensive than the option above, he can always stick with the 4-4-2 diamond formation that he used a lot in 2018. I expect him to primarily switch between the two depending on that game's opponents.
With Ciman and Mavinga as the two central defenders, Gregory van der Wiel can move back over to the right side, to compete for the starting job with Auro and recent signing Nick DeLeon.
The midfield, now with four players instead of three, can include Marky Delgado, who adds a bit of grit to the TFC midfield. This lineup would be a bit more defensive than the 3-5-2, but would still allow more attacking midfielders like Victor Vazquez and Jonathan Osorio to get forward and create goals. Liam Fraser is another player who could benefit from this formation, as it could give him more opportunities to get into the side.
With the addition of Ciman, a possible 4-4-2 could look like this:
Option #3: The 4-2-3-1 — Dropping Giovinco Into Midfield
This is an idea that plenty of fans have suggested since Seba arrived in Toronto, and after Jonathan Osorio’s breakout season in 2018, it might finally be worth a try. Keeping your standard back four and playing with two defensive midfielders would allow the two full backs to move up and down the wings as long as one of the midfielders drops back when necessary.
Before joining Toronto FC, Seba had played primarily as a second striker/attacking midfielder, so a return to that position might be worth a shot.
In attack, the trio of Giovinco, Vazquez and Osorio would be able to spread out across the pitch, working passes between themselves and unlocking defenses. Jozy Altidore has the physical ability to hold off most defenders, allowing one or more of the three attacking midfielders to push forward and take shots on goal. In the wide areas, balls could be crossed into the box to Jozy, also making use of his aerial ability.
A possible starting lineup with the 4-2-3-1 formation could look like this:
Option 4: The 4-1-4-1 — Moving Giovinco Out Wide
Giovinco also played on the wings during his time in Turin, so playing him on one side of the midfield could be another thing to consider.
With Michael Bradley anchoring the midfield, the central midfielders ahead of him can lead the attack, either staying narrow and playing the ball out wide to the wingers, or going through the middle themselves.
Toronto FC don’t have a lot of wingers at the moment. Auro can play higher up the pitch and cross balls into the box, but he has yet to display any kind of finishing ability, so he likely will be locked in at right-back.
Ayo Akinola is capable of playing as a winger, so a formation like this one would allow him to get more minutes and show off a bit more of his talent at the senior level. The same can be said of Ryan Telfer and Jay Chapman, who is seemingly so close to having a breakout season of his own.
A 4-1-4-1 formation using players currently on the roster might look like this:
Option 5: The 3-2-2-2-1 — The Christmas Tree
You heard it here first. The first (and likely last) 3-2-2-2-1 formation in recorded history.
In all seriousness, this lineup makes use of a lot of Toronto's best players, while also providing a balance of attacking and defensive capabilities.
Sort of a makeshift combination of all of the formations listed above, the 3-2-2-2-1 is both narrow and wide, attacking and defensive, and perhaps most importantly, kind of shaped like a Christmas tree.
Its arched branches of various types of allocation funds see a total of four wingers, ensuring that the two sides of the pitch are fully covered, while the 5 players in the middle of the park (the trunk, perhaps) make up a core strong enough to deny even the most attacking sides that MLS has to offer.
Jozy and the wingers higher up the pitch would focus on creating scoring chances, while the two central midfielders would be the link between the defenders and the attackers. The two lower wing-backs would defend the wings from opposing attackers, and provide help going forward when the front wingers get narrower to help out the striker.
It sounds ludicrous, but it might just work. I think it is probably best to save it for my Toronto FC save in Football Manager 2019, but if Greg Vanney wants to use, I give him full permission.
It would look a little something like this:
The addition of Laurent Ciman was a much needed one, and opens up a few different options for Greg Vanney to set up his side.
Adding another defender allows Gregory van der Wiel to return to his natural position, but it could also allow a return to a formation with three at the back, and more starts for Auro.
There are still some positions that could use some depth additions, striker and the wings in particular, but Bezbatchenko and co. have made it clear that they want to win in 2019, and they certainly seem to be on the right track.