2017 MLS & TFC Preview: New Teams, New Players, New Season! Will Toronto FC Go All The Way This Year?
The 2017 season is upon us! After a super short off season (apparently the shortest ever for MLS), it’s time to once again agonise over the ups and downs of your team, banter with fans from other teams and of course spend large swaths of your free time (either at the stadium, at the pub or wherever) watching your team with your friends. YAY! The off season (especially a quiet one) is difficult to deal with; rumours abound, you don’t really know how individual players are faring, you’re not sure which formation or tactics will be used by your coach – and of course the stress of not getting to watch your team (live streams of varying quality from training camps don’t count). But that’s all over now – MLS 2017 is here!
There are lots of story lines for this season:
- Former NASL team with Minnesota United FC, and brand new franchise Atlanta United FC both joining the league this year – will the Loon Army and Adrian Heath be able to evolve into a competent MLS side*, will Atlanta be able to live up to the insane amount of hype?
- Will the LA Galaxy be able to regain the lustre they lost last year in the post Bruce Arena era?
- Will the Red Bulls be OK after the loss of Dax McCarty?
- How will NYCFC bounce back after their disastrous playoffs (psst, David Villa’s going to go on a tear)
- Can Seattle be as good as last year now that they have Dempsey back?
- Will DC United make their last season at RFK one to remember?
- Will Chicago manage to be good?
There’s so much more as this is MLS but those are the ones that are top of mind as of this writing. There are keeper questions for the Rapids, scoring questions for the Union, and of course which Conference will reign supreme? For the last few years the Western Conference has been lording it over the Eastern Conference; this season there may be a turning of the tables with several of the Eastern teams looking in solid shape – plus you know, that team from Toronto…(If you want to read a comprehensive preview of the entire league then check out SBNation’s excellent work here)
Can TFC repeat last year’s success? Well that’s the real question isn’t it? Or the only one that really matters if you’re a follower of our site and podcast – you don’t come here for the witty thoughts about the Western Conference. So what off Toronto FC this year? For the second year in a row they didn’t go all crazy during the off season cutting and signing players; they’ve retained much of the core that got them to the MLS Cup last season (NO, WE STILL DON’T WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT), and have added pieces that on paper make a lot of sense (welcome Chris Mavinga and Victor Vazquez). They signed both Armando Cooper and Tosaint Ricketts to deals – both players making an impact after being brought in last summer – and rewarded a number of first team players with new contracts, along with TFCII players Raheem Edwards and Ben Spencer (both forwards).
Sounds delightful, no? Well TFC could still have an issue at the back; while Drew Moor was incredible last season and managed to marshal a young/inexperienced backline with Eriq Zavaleta and Nick Hagglund through the playoffs, if he gets injured (IF! I said if!), they’ve so little depth to replace him. Chris Mavinga has been brought in to help bolster the back (but will not be available tonight), Clement Simonin was released (again) and umm, well it’s a concern. Yes I have to be concerned about something, it’s my way.
In the last couple weeks leading up to the start of the season I reached out to some of our blogging brethren for their thoughts on Toronto FC and the upcoming season, my thanks to those that responded to my questions – here’s a selection of their responses:
Thoughts on competing against Toronto FC this season:
New England would love to forget the hat trick some guy named Giovinco scored on them last August, and with two games in quick succession in June (Gold Cup break included) I dare say the Revs and TFC will be rather sick of each other midway through the season. I personally loved the moves that Toronto made last season on the defensive side of the ball, with Steven Beitashour and Drew Moor rounding out an already talented roster and getting TFC into MLS Cup for the first time.I’m not sure exactly what the best way to beat TFC is, obviously limiting Giovinco would be nice but it’s not always possible. With a revamped backline and a new holding midfielder in Xavier Kouassi the Revs should have all the pieces in place to deal with a team like TFC but thankfully the Revs will have a few months of games to build chemistry with their new players.
Ben Bromley from Black & Red United: I hate Sebastian Giovinco. The tiny Italian always seems to score against D.C. United, even if he hasn’t been playing well for weeks. He’ll always find some way to beat us, so shutting him down is goal number one.Christian Polanco from The Cooligans: From an MLS perspective, I think all teams are going to have a tough time with Toronto this season. The squad is largely unchanged and they have a strong foundation. From an NYCFC perspective, I think we should be terrified. NYCFC still have lots of defensive holes and after witnessing the 5 goals TFC scored against NYCFC at Yankee Stadium, I’m still dealing with some trauma.
John Richan: Cannot wait! Toronto FC and the Montreal Impact have one of the hottest rivalries in MLS right now. The sour taste of the playoff defeat will certainly stick with the Impact for a while and the fact these two teams do not face each other in league play until the end of August does not make it any easier on the players or supporters. Although it will not be easy, IF Montreal can win the Voyageurs Cup this summer it will help offer a small measure of revenge. Montreal is a team that is side that values participation in the CONCACAF Champions League and knocking TFC en route is often a requisite. There is no doubt TFC are going to be a dangerous team in MLS again in 2017, however as we saw in MLS Cup they are certainly beatable.
Kip Kesgard from the Rose City Soccer Show: They are. TFC is one of the stronger clubs I see out East & they didn’t exactly lose much from their core roster that advanced to MLS Cup. When you have play makers like Giovinco and Altidore, you will always be very dangerous. I expect them to be in the hunt as long as they don’t have serious injuries and Bradley can replicate his play from 2016.
Martin Bihl from Last Word on Soccer, and writer of all things NYCFC: Do I consider them to be MLS Cup contenders? Yes. I do. Sure, I considered Columbus and New England contenders last year, and look where that got me. But I think they’ll be back in the thick of it for a couple of reasons. First, they’ve gotten the playoff monkey off their backs. Second, I think Giovinco will play with anger because he wasn’t awarded MVP. Third, another season for the moves TFC made – especially on defense – to coalesce. And fourth, it’s MLS. Almost everyone is a contender.
Alexis Guerreros from The Cooligans: Yeah, they went last year. I hope to whoever is listening that the final isn’t back in Toronto this year as I’m just now starting to get feeling in my pinky toes again after last years Antarctic themed MLS Cup.
Martin: I’ll give you two (besides the obvious Giovinco, who, if you care about beautiful soccer, you have to watch). Tosaint Ricketts and Jozy Altidore. Ricketts because he showed a lot of creativity and spark in the playoffs, and I’ll be interested to see if that was just a passing thing or an indication of things to come. If it’s the latter, TFC will be a nightmare for the rest of the league. And Jozy because when he’s good, he’s good, but he’s MLS’s Tony Romo and with World Cup qualifiers and CONCACAF champions league on top of MLS, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him come up lame at some point. Because that’s what he does.
John Richan from Mount Royal Soccer: As an Impact supporter, the big three at TFC have haunted the Impact for the last number of seasons: Bradley, Altidore, and Giovinco. To take this one step further the Impact have not been able to handle the size of Altidore and Bradley effectively. This mismatch was on full display in the second-leg of the Eastern Conference Final when Altidore obliterated Hernan Bernardello in the first half, kncoking him out of the match. Giovinco on the other hand is most likely the top player in MLS and cannot be ignored by anyone – ever.
Jake: Jay Chapman – I guess we’re all wondering if he’s the guy that will play next to Bradley in whatever formation TFC is trotting out. If Chapman is going to have a breakout season as far as minutes goes, odds are he’s going to be a positive influence for Toronto overall. I don’t think I have a lot of questions about the backline or the attackers for TFC, but the midfield aside from Bradley could be a question mark and Chapman is a good solution. I’d also like to see new international left back Chris Mavinga, especially if Toronto is going to keep that 3-5-2 setup with wingbacks as widemidfielders.
Christian: Obviously the DPs are on everyone’s radar, and so is Victor Vazquez, but I would have to say my favourite player to watch on TFC is Armando Cooper. After seeing how much effort he gives and how much he got under David Villa’s skin in the playoffs, Armando kind of reminds of N’Golo Kante of Chelsea. A pesky defensive midfielder who is aggressively marks the opposing team’s best player. Plus, he got David Villa to kick him during a game and not receive any consequence, so clearly he’s doing something right.
Yes, fear us! No really, fear us – please? We could get used to being a contender on a somewhat regular basis; makes a nice change from all the laughingstock stuff.
FIRST KICK 2017:
Now to tonight’s First Kick match against Real Salt Lake (4:30pm ET, Rio Tinto Stadium, TSN). As is tradition TFC start the year on the road – though not for seven or eight matches for a nice change of pace – against that team from Sexy Sandy. As we discussed on the show earlier this week, RSL are one of those teams that you’re never sure of – perennial playoff contenders they seem to have lost some of their lustre the past couple of years. Jeff Cassar has kept them in the hunt for both MLS and CCL (where they’re vikings), but they don’t seem as intimidating as they once were.
Both teams are facing injuries and missing players for tonight’s game: RSL are depleted at the back with Aaron Maund (yes, that Aaron Maund) and Justen Glad both out (injury & international play), expect to see new signing David Horst back there, most likely with Chris Schuler. There were also concerns earlier in the week as to whether or not the dreaded wonder Kyle Beckerman would be healthy for this match – I expect him to play but it would be super helpful for Toronto FC if he didn’t.
Missing for TFC are new signing Chris Mavinga (he’s just returned from France after his daughter’s birth), Ashtone Morgan (out until April at least), Jay Chapman, Jordan Hamilton, Mo Babouli and Sergio Carmago. The biggest loss are the defenders as we’d hoped to see Mavinga alongside Drew Moor – but it’s only the first game so perhaps a bit too soon to fret.
I expect a patient game from both teams – RSL will look to stifle TFC’s offense and attacking capabilities, while Toronto will have their hands full with the combo of (new young DP) Albert Rusnak and former Red Joao Plata – Rusnak has turned heads with his ability on the ball and maturity during the pre-season and Toronto FC fans are well acquainted with the pint-sized Ecuadoran. It’ll be up to the fullbacks Justin Morrow and Steven Beitashour to limit their access but also Michael Bradley will have to be the strong presence in the midfield as he was last season. Even though both teams are capable of scoring a lot of goals I think this one is a 1-1 draw.
Oh and my 2017 predictions?
Western Conference Winner: FC Dallas
Eastern Conference Winner: TFC
Supporters’ Shield: FC Dallas
MLS Cup: TFC
It’s early days but yes, I seem to have some of my optimism back – I reserve the right to change my mind as early as 6:30pm tonight. Here’s hoping for another great season fellow TFC fans, we’ve been through more than most these past ten seasons, it would be nice to get to enjoy a bit more success. See you online/at the put/at the stadium – @ me (or us) if you want to chat team stuff or just chat. The VMP crew will be watching the game together tonight so give us a follow (The Vocal Minority) for updates and random tweets.
*Editor’s note: this was written before the debacle that was the Loon’s 5-1 loss to the Timbers.*