2016 ASA PREVIEW: TORONTO FC / by Jason Poon

PPG: Points per game (PG), Poss: possession percentage, TSR: Total Shot Ratio, GF: goals PG, xGF: expected goals PG, GA: goals against PG, xGA: expected goals against PG, GD: goal differential PG, xGD: expected goal differential PG, Touch %: percentage of total team touches while on the field, Duels Won: failed tackle against, successful dribble, aerial 50/50 won, xAssists: expected assists per 90, xGoals: expected goals per 90.

By Jason Poon (@jasonhpoon)

Toronto FC had one goal in 2015, and that was just make the playoffs. Until that point, in their entire eight year existence TFC had never made it to the playoffs. And after an off season that included bringing in Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore to the club, making the playoffs was a must. Thankfully, the entry into the post season was expanded from five to six teams in 2015, and TFC managed to squeak themselves in and remove that wretched blemish of having never seen the playoffs from their club record.

In 2014 and 2015, TFC loaded up heavily on offense, bringing in the likes of Altidore, Michael Bradley and Jermaine Defoe to the club. But those transactions cost the Reds some vital balance to the squad and left their defense woefully exposed. All that has changed heading into 2016 as Toronto reloaded their defense this off-season, picking up former Colorado Rapids captain Drew Moor and Steven Beitashour from Vancouver to shore up the backline, added solid MLS veteran Clint Irwin to man the pipes, and picked up former Portland captain Will Johnson to dictate the midfield with Bradley.

The lack of balance from the 2015 Toronto side on defense kept them from making waves in the playoffs or securing a better playoff position. But now with a more balanced roster and excellent leadership to solidify the backline, Toronto's prospects heading into 2016 look incredibly bright. 

The Defense

As already stated, Toronto upgraded nearly every position on the defensive side of the ball with Irwin, Moor and Beitashour being added to the club. Toronto's goals against per game was second to last at 1.67, with only Orlando fairing marginally worse at 1.68. What's interesting is that as a team, Toronto's expected goals against (xGA) was only 1.12, good for 9th in the league, but their terrible defense and goalkeeping cost them several more goals and several points that they probably shouldn't have dropped.

The addition of Irwin, who played for one of the best defensive teams in the league last year, will certainly help. Irwin's goals minus expected goals (G-xGA) was a respectable -1.46 (good for 10th in the league), compared to Chris Konopka ( who was released) whose G-xGA was -0.64 and Joe Bendik (traded to Orlando) whose G-xGA was +5.69, so clearly Irwin is a significant upgrade. Not to mention he will be joined by Moor, who anchored the defense in front of him, so there will be a sense of familiarity there.

The Midfield

The engine and spine of the club remains largely unchanged. Michael Bradley will still pull the strings in the midfield, dictating tempo and setting up Jozy Altidore and Giovinco for the goals. Toronto declined the option for Jackson (thank goodness), who has the soccer IQ of a potato chip and will now benefit from letting Marky Delgado own the wings by himself.

Toronto did add Will Johnson to the midfield, giving them Jonathan Osario and Benoit Cheyrou as possible options to pair with Bradley.It remains unknown whether Johnson has fully recovered from his injury in 2015, but regardless of how much he can contribute on the field, his off field leadership could prove instrumental to a club that's just trying to last more than one game in the playoffs.

The Forwards

Nobody was deadlier than the Atomic Ant Sebastian Giovinco in 2015. The reigning league MVP ripped defenses to shreds with 22 goals and 16 games, making league history as the first player to ever register more than 20 goals and 10 assists in a single season. The Reds' attack is largely dependent on Giovinco's form and health. If Seba can stay healthy, then even if he cannot reproduce his god-like 2015 form, Toronto's offense still has a chance to generate goals. Without him, Toronto could be doomed. 

As a team, Toronto's xG's was 1.33, good for third in the league and a large part of that was due to Seba's incredible 16.55 xGs and his 7.12 xAs. But as you can see, his xG + xA numbers were well above his actual output, making us a little cautious about whether the Atomic Ant could replicate his offensive output in 2016. His strike partner, Jozy Altidore? Just a pedestrian's 6.17 xG. For perspective, Ricardo Clark had 6.34 xG and Benny Feilhaber's was 6.14. In other words, Altidore's xGs production was akin to central midfielders and he probably had a boost in his stats thank to playing alongside Seba.

Prognosis

Prior to the 2014 and 2015 seasons, Toronto splashed the cash heavily to upgrade the offense and bring much needed fire power to the Reds. This year, they've made some of the best off-season moves for any club by addressing their weaknesses (defense) with solid veterans who could do the job well, without splashing all the cash like they had done in previous years. If Giovinco can continue being an offensive powerhouse, or be remotely close to it, this club has a decent chance of not only making the playoffs but inflicting some actual damage in the post season. If not, Toronto should be better off defensively, but the offense will struggle to put the ball into the net and that joy of making the playoffs may just be a one-off experience for them.