Toronto FC

Toronto FC 2019 Season Preview by Jared Young

Canadian Pastoral

 Perhaps the best novel by the late great author Philip Roth was American Pastoral. Roth introduced us to a character nicknamed  “The Swede” who followed a legendary athletic career as a youth with equal success as an adult, and lived a life that anyone would admire. From this contented perch the reader then watches as idealism and bad luck bring his idyllic life to ruins. It’s an unforgettable story of how the American dream can swallow itself and quickly turn tragedy.

 As I prepared to write this preview of Toronto FCs 2019 season this story kept resurfacing in my mind. Both are a riches to rags stories with no clear answers, and ones that grapples with the trade off of maintaining the status quo versus continuing to push. Not a year ago Toronto FC was on top of the soccer world in North America. They had just completed the greatest season in MLS history (yes, it still is) and were taking down Liga MX giants on their way to another height in winning the CONCACAF Champions League. They were achieving things like no MLS team before them. And then something happened….

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A Tale of Two Central Defensive Midfielders by Eliot McKinley

Michael Bradley and Wil Trapp share several obvious qualities. They are both captains for club and country. They are both smooth passing defensive midfielders, and they both possess excellent heads of hair. Another similarity is that they rarely shoot or score goals, each collecting only one goal over the last three seasons. Coincidentally, both of those goals are what we could enthusiastically describe as "wonder-goals." Bradley's long-distance chip for the US national team in a World Cup qualifier against Mexico at the Azteca (a goal not remembered as fondly as it deserves due to the rest of qualifying) and Trapp for the Crew to win a match in stoppage time against Orlando City this past summer. However, one difference between these two players was how each responded to the confidence boost that came after scoring a once-in-a-career goal.

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Little Things from Week 22: A Healthy TFC, the Galaxy defense, and Adi's Farewell by Harrison Hamm

By Harrison Hamm (@harrisonhamm21)

Gregory Van Der Wiel and Toronto FC

Toronto FC started their 3-0 win over the Chicago Fire playing a 3-5-2, finally with their best players (Jozy Altidore, Justin Morrow, Victor Vazquez, Chris Mavinga) back. They played fairly well in the first 45 minutes, for the most part stopping Chicago’s attack and avoiding sloppy mistakes at the back. But it was still 0-0 at halftime.

All three goals came after Greg Vanney pulled wingback Ashtone Morgan for center midfielder Marky Delgado, switching the formation to a 4-4-2 diamond. With this change, they were able to get Jonathan Osorio on the ball in the attacking third (he scored the second goal) without sacrificing distribution deeper in the formation. Delgado could shuttle, Michael Bradley could stay home, and the fullbacks could hug the touchline.

Gregory Van Der Wiel, who was the right-sided center back in the first half and the right back in the second, had tried to fill the Delgado role from his center back position. It was an interesting tactical gamble from Vanney, who likely hoped that Van Der Wiel could step into midfield and let Osorio stay forward, keeping the various benefits that the 3-5-2 allows.

Van Der Wiel is an efficient passer — he completes seven percent more passes than expected, and his score is 56.2 — but he doesn’t break lines or distribute the way that Delgado does. Pushing defenders into roles like this is consistent with the Guardiola inverted full-backs trend, and it was a worthy experiment from Vanney. Credit for adjusting in the second half.

The Dutchman’s pass maps from each half (first half is on the left) reflect the change in tactical positioning:

Van Der Wiel 1st half

Van Der Wiel 1st half

Van Der Wiel 2nd half

Van Der Wiel 2nd half

TFC looked really good in the second half, as good as they’ve looked since the CCL final. Hard to say whether they can sustain it, but with their next two games at Atlanta and at home against NYCFC, they’ll have to.

The LA Galaxys defending

Excluding own goals, the LA Galaxy have given up 32 goals on 32.2 xGA, a below-average figure, if not at the futility level of MLS’s worst defending teams. They give up 14.4 shots per game, the worst of any current MLS playoff team.

There’s no doubt that the Galaxy’s defense is a prevalent weakness. No game passes without “what were they thinking” moments out of Michael Ciani and Jorgen Skjelvik.

They’ve settled on a 3-5-2 as their preferred formation, trading defensive solidity (they weren’t going to have much anyway, a known fact that probably went into the thought process) for attacking firepower. All four of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Giovani dos Santos, Ola Kamara and Romain Alessandrini can plausibly play together in this set-up, the only alignment that comes close to getting them all together.

They risked that alignment against LAFC and survived long enough to storm back in the last 10 minutes for a wacky 2-2 draw. They risked it again — albeit with Chris Pontius (a natural winger, of course) in for the suspended Alessandrini — on Sunday against Orlando, and they produced a 4-3 win that lacked any viable defending.

The game against Orlando revealed a lot of the Galaxy’s defensive weaknesses. They were often disorganized and struggled to put pressure on Orlando’s attackers around the box. Defending from the front was always going to be a problem for this LA team, and that major weakness only compounds weaknesses deeper in the formation. They looked a lot better after Servando Carrasco came on as a sub.

42 percent of Orlando’s attacks came down their left side, attacking right-sided center back Dave Romney. Central defenders in a three-at-the-back have to defend in space, meaning they have to possess some measure of athleticism. Romney doesn’t fit the bill. Mohamed El-Munir (usually a left back!) roasted Romney on numerous occasions:

Amidst all the defensive incompetence in Carson, they still managed to give up just 0.91 xG, per Ben Baer, though our model showed them giving up 1.54 xG. They also only gave up 1.61 xG to LAFC. They’re bad, even if recent numbers favor them, but the attack is sparing them a surplus of attacks to blunder.

Adi’s final Timbers goal and the value of emergency defense

As you’ve heard plenty about by now, Fanendo Adi scored in his final appearance as a Portland Timber. His goal proved the difference in a 2-1 Timbers win over the Dynamo, and it exposed more Dynamo defensive weakness:

Houston inexplicably played a five-at-the-back formation against the counter-attacking Timbers. (Wilmer Cabrera’s conservative nature is losing the Dynamo points.) Sebastian Blanco brilliantly dragged Adolfo Machado out of his center back position on this play, forcing wingback Andrew Wenger to step to Blanco and unlock a cheeky give-and-go between Blanco and Zarek Valentin.

Blanco’s first touch in the box was a bit sloppy and forced him to scramble, giving further advantage to the numbers-heavy Dynamo. They shouldn’t have let the Argentine through to begin with, but they had everyone marked by this point. No goal should have been scored from this position.

However, Machado went sliding in on Blanco and missed badly, allowing him time on the ball at the edge of the six-yard box. Blanco’s slip pass to Andy Polo pinged around until Adi managed to have the ball bounce off him into the net. An ugly goal if there ever was one. But emergency defense is a skill, and Houston have decidedly lack that skill.

Earl Edwards Jr. is a weekly starter

This save was lost in the Zlatan show, but Orlando’s Edwards Jr. made the best save of the week on Ola Kamara:

Getting the top-hand to that shot is difficult, and probably the only way he could have saved it. He’s taken Joe Bendik’s job and run with it.

That’s it for this week, check back again after the post-All-Star Game weekend

Expected Narratives: Seeing Reds by Ian L.

xN is our weekly look at what you can expect to read, write, and discuss about Major League Soccer this week. We take a look at each prospective narrative and rate it based on its strength and whether or not it has any actual merit.

Last week, I asserted that if Toronto failed to secure three points this week that the talk of the league would be whether or not last year’s all conquering heroes would even manage to make the playoffs this season. Unsurprisingly, they failed to acquire those three points, surprisingly nobody is really talking about it all that much. Well, since I’m CNO (Chief Narrative Officer) of this league now (self appointed, the term is lifelong meaning it remains until such a time as I die or get bored. Smart money on the latter.), I’m going to go ahead and make it a narrative because a) it’s important and b) I can’t really think of another thing to write about this week. I mean I guess we could cover VAR again, but NAH.

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MLS PScore Update: Why tactics should be tied to a team's budget by Jared Young

Those of you that have been hanging around American Soccer Analysis for a while might recall a metric that measures a team’s tactical proactivity. Despite efforts to come up with something catchier, it’s been dubbed “PScore”, and the goal is to develop a simple way to examine the aggressiveness of teams from both an offensive and defensive point of view. In essence it separates the bunker and counter teams from the Liverpool-esque possession oriented teams, and also calls out the teams with no discernible identity.

PScore has undergone many tweaks over the years but now it’s been scored consistently for MLS covering the last three seasons. The following is a look at how the league is shifting tactically at a macro level and also how specific teams have been evolving over the years. 

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Toronto FC 2017 Season Preview by Aaron Nielsen

After years of ineptness Toronto FC finally has become a competitive club in MLS. Never afraid of spending the money, the Canadian side's results on the field never reflected the club’s ambitions for making the playoffs. They finally made it for the first time in 2015 and followed that up in 2016 by hosting the MLS Cup Championship game, though they lost to the champions Seattle. Toronto FC's success relied and will continue to rely on their three DPs: Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley. The three players have a combined salary of over $20,000,000 per season and Toronto FC will be dependent on them if they expect to repeat their success in 2017.

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Playoff Preview: Toronto FC v Philadelphia Union by Coleman Larned

Toronto FC and Philadelphia Union enter the playoffs in undesirable form and have experienced opposite trajectories in the regular season.

After a stale first half of the season, TFC has regained talented players from injury (welcome back, Jozy & Giovinco!) and have lost only three times since mid-season. This form tailed off as they closed out conceding six goals in three games. 

The Union began their campaign proving most people wrong by winning with an up-tempo, athletic, well disciplined style. But the wheels fell off around mid-season and the Union are historically bad for a playoff team.

More after the jump.

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Giovinco Shoots Too Much (No, Seriously, He Does) by Alex Brodsky

After winning MVP on the back of arguably the greatest offensive season in league history, Sebastian Giovinco is certainly in the running to defend his crown. His 0.96 non-penalty goals and assists per 96 minutes ranks 6th in the league among players with at least 600 minutes. The Atomic Ant has constituted nearly all of Toronto FC’s attack this season, scoring or assisting on all but one of his club’s 14 goals. There is one aspect of his game, however, that is holding his team back: the man loves to shoot from just about anywhere on the field. TFC have seen few returns from Giovinco’s predilection for long shots - he’s only scored once in 50 attempts from outside the box.

Despite Giovinco’s best efforts, TFC’s overall attack has underwhelmed. They currently rank 11th in MLS with 1.36 xG per game. This mark, combined with their vastly improved defense, will surely get them into the playoffs in a weak Eastern Conference but won’t help them meet their loftier ambitions. If they truly want to become MLS Cup or Supporters Shield contenders (which many pundits tipped them for during preseason) they’ll need to drastically improve their offensive output after the Copa America break. That improvement starts with Giovinco’s shot quality.

More after the jump.

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Toronto FC: Road Warriors by Matthias Kullowatz

By Matthias Kullowatz (@mattyanselmo)

Team xPoints
TOR 73.8
SEA 52.2
MTL 52.0
SJ 50.6
NYRB 49.1
NE 47.9
COL 47.5
VAN 46.1
CLB 46.1
SKC 44.5
FCD 43.1
LA 42.5
ORL 42.2
POR 41.6
RSL 40.1
DCU 39.2
PHI 38.6
NYC 38.6
CHI 38.0
HOU 37.1

I thought my computer had spit out an error when it told me Toronto FC was the best team in MLS. To the right you can see the power rankings that I was too scared to publish in their typical location without an accompanying article. These are the number of points teams would be expected to earn if the 34-game season started today and each team played a balanced schedule. Toronto may or may not be one of the best teams in MLS, but here's why the computer thinks so.

After last weekend's 1 - 0 win in Philadelphia, Toronto finally completed its seven-game road trip to start the 2015 campaign, a difficult way to start the season which was necessitated by construction to expand BMO Field. That type of road trip typically only happens in MLB or the NBA if the rodeo is in town. The model gives teams bonuses when they have played fewer than half their games at home, assuming that, had they gotten more home games, their expected goals stats would be better. 

While it's a bit crazy to think that Toronto will break the MLS points record with more than 70, it's not crazy to think that maybe they're even better than you, our readers, thought when you ranked them second in the East. Toronto is, after all, fifth in the league in expected goal differential (xGD) despite the fact that--as mentioned before--it hasn't played a single home game. 

Let's play around with some more-intuitive math. In the past five seasons, home teams have outscored away teams by an average of 0.41 expected goals, and this season Toronto has outscored its opponents by an average of 0.18 expected goals per game. If we give Toronto a 0.82 xGD swing, weighted over 3.5 games, then their xGD jumps to 0.59. That would rank them first this season, and either first or second in each of the previous four seasons. 

Toronto is an outlier in both not having played any home games, and having played fewer games than most teams overall. This tends to break regression models. You might notice that the Montreal Impact is also toward the top of the rankings, and not surprisingly, they have played just one home game (25%) and only four total games. Small sample sizes, relative to the rest of the league, are more likely to create outlying results, and that's why the computer is insanely high on those two Canadian clubs. That said, Toronto has put together a very impressive season thus far, even if it doesn't look like it in the standings, and I think it justifies our readers' beliefs that Toronto would be good in 2015. 

 

ASA 2015 Season Previews. Every daNG one of them! by Drew Olsen

By Drew Olsen (@drewjolsen)

In preparation for this weekend's games (they're actually happening!), we've been writing two team previews per day for the last two weeks. Going in reverse order of 2014 finish, ASA and our (very) small band of writers have published 20 articles, covering each team's 2014 season, their offseason changes, and their prospects for 2015. If you haven't read them all yet, AND WE KNOW YOU HAVEN'T, then you can catch up here.

Eastern Conference

Chicago Fire by Mike Fotopoulos
Columbus Crew by Harrison Crow
DC United by Jared Young
Montreal Impact by Harrison Crow
New England Revolution by Drew Olsen
New York City FC by Drew Olsen
New York Red Bulls by Harrison Crow
Orlando City by Harrison Crow
Philadelphia Union by Jared Young
Toronto FC by Jason Poon

Western Conference

Colorado Rapids by Harrison Crow
FC Dallas by Jason Poon
Houston Dynamo by Harrison Crow
LA Galaxy by Sean Steffen
Portland Timbers by Drew Olsen
Real Salt Lake by Matthias Kullowatz
San Jose Earthquakes by Tom Worville
Seattle Sounders by Harrison Crow
Sporting Kansas City by Matthias Kullowatz
Vancouver Whitecaps by Drew Olsen