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MLS Season Preview: Toronto FC begins MLS Cup defence

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That pre-season felt longer than usual.

2017 MLS Cup - Seattle Sounders v Toronto FC Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

The winter has been long and dark, but now the August light dawns. Just like it is all over the world, the soccer season is beginning for Toronto FC, a mere eight months after they won the 2017 MLS Cup back in December.

It’s kind of weird for the 2018 MLS season to be starting so late, but it’s definitely for the best as the league transitions to football’s traditional winter schedule. The gap also gave TFC plenty of pre-season warmup games, and now it looks like they’re starting to really sharpen up with the season set to begin next Sunday at home to New York City FC.

The Reds have, of course, had some competitive games to tide them over in the meantime — the Canadian Championship began last month, and who could forget the distant memory of the CONCACAF Champions League? Thankfully, there’s been plenty of time since that ended for pretty much all of TFC’s starters to recover from that campaign before the MLS season begins.

All around SB Nation, we’re rolling out soccer season previews to get you set for the coming storm. Without further ado, here’s what you have to look forward to with TFC in 2018.

Who are Toronto FC?

The defending MLS Cup and Supporters’ Shield champions, that’s who. They’re entering their 12th season, having entered the league in 2007 as MLS’s first Canadian club. There have been a lot of lows since then, but recently things have been on an upward trajectory as the silverware has continued to flow and fans have continued to pack BMO Field every night.

They have a star-studded roster, with 2015 MLS MVP Sebastian Giovinco leading the charge offensively, along with his strike partner Jozy Altidore, who delivered Toronto to the promise land in December by scoring the winning goal in the MLS Cup Final. Captain Michael Bradley is the backbone of the club’s transition game, providing a seamless link between the backline and the attacking talents of players like Victor Vazquez.

Canadian midfielder Jonathan Osorio has been filling the net in preseason as well, so keep an eye on him to continue that form into the games that really matter.

What was broken in 2017?

Not a lot. The Reds set an MLS points record with 69. They could’ve maybe used some extra depth at forward, in case of an injury to either Jozy Altidore or Sebastian Giovinco, and there are some concerns over a lack of centre-back depth — they have five capable centre-backs, but if all five of them go down to injury at the same time, what will TFC do?

What did they do to fix it?

TFC added a little extra help on the right side, bringing in right-back Gregory van der Wiel, who has a top-notch European pedigree and the ability to slot into a more central role if every centre-back gets injured. They’ve also added Auro Jr., who can play either at right-back or on the right wing in a 3-5-2. A few names have unfortunately skipped town for TFC since the 2017 MLS Cup Final, including Nicolas Hasler and Raheem Edwards (both with the Chicago Fire now), and Steven Beitashour (who signed with Los Angeles FC as a free agent).

How will they line up this year?

A lot of Toronto FC’s money was made in a 3-5-2 formation last year, although Greg Vanney has shown a tendency to like to mix that up. He moved to a 4-4-2 diamond in the MLS Cup Final, and that worked out splendidly. Regardless, here’s what things might look like if all of the Reds are healthy:

In terms of competition, TFC have lots of it this year. New York City FC looks strong again, although they’ve only ever scored three playoff goals so ideally the Reds could take them in the postseason. Atlanta United is poised to make a splash again as well, and they managed to draw TFC 2-2 in a preseason match on the weekend.

TFC are entering the season hot, undefeated in their last five warm-up games (two of which were real, competitive Canadian Championship ties — weird for it to start before the MLS season, eh?).

It’s a long road to the playoffs for Toronto FC, but it starts on Sunday when they take on NYCFC. Let’s see if they can storm out of the gates and put some points on the board early...