Wednesday, February 12, 2014

RNO: How to Beat TFC

ESSU: How to Beat TFC
Toronto FC

Posted by Aaron Nielsen
February 10, 2014
Aaron Nielsen

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The opinion I've now formed, which surprises most who don't watch the MLS closely, is that Toronto FC should be one of the favourites this season and if they are not title contenders it should be regarded as an underwhelming campaign. Admittedly most Toronto-based sports fans follow the Blue Jays, Raptors and Maple Leafs first, where big price tag additions provide some promise, but most realistic fans know that a few additions will not guarantee success, and in the case of Toronto sports teams it usually leads to disappointment.
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When you look at the salary structure of MLS, the addition of 25 million dollars spent on transfers and salary that Toronto FC have added to their roster this off season, is equal to almost 25% of all the money spent via transfer and salaries for all the teams combined in the league for this upcoming season. Additionally, Toronto player personal costs this season will be twice as much as any other team in the league. In comparison, when Manchester City spent an enormous amount of money and won the English Premier League championship in 2012, they had overall player expenses of 273 Million US, although it only equaled a estimated 15% of money spent in the Premier League on player personal that season, and both Chelsea and Manchester United spent 2/3 of what City spent.
With the newest rumour of Julio Cesar joining the club and Matias Laba being loaned out, most likely back to Argentina, Toronto will have eight new starters with Julio Cesar in net, Bradley Orr and Justin Morrow joining Steven Caldwell and either Gale Agbossoumonde, Doneil Henry, or Nick Hagglund. The forward line will be Jermain Defoe and Gilberto, while the midfield will include Michael Bradley, Dwayne DeRosario, Jackson with returnees Jonathan Osario, Alvaro Rey, Reggie Lambe and Kyle Bekker.
Even with these amount of changes, the club should be encouraged, and in my opinion, sign other experienced MLS players who might be willing to take a pay cut for the chance of a ring. This could include recently cut players such as ex-LA Galaxy midfielder Colin Clark or Michael Stephens, ex-Red Bulls defender Heath Pearce or ex-DC United defender Brandon McDonald to name a few, as well as European based players with a background similar to Orr and Caldwell.
I will give credit to MLSE and the people in the media who anticipated these moves and agree that on paper Toronto should be one of the top teams this season. Part of the reason is using statistical modeling and analytics based on past performance. The standard of the league with projected analysis shows at least 50 goals should be expected from Defoe, Gilberto, Bradley, De Rosario and Jackson, and with contribution from others Toronto could lead the league in goals. In the back, a more experienced defender and goalkeeper should improve a defense to allowing closer to a goal a game, which would mean based on goal difference Toronto chould attain upwards and over 60 points this season, which would be more than any team achieved last season.
Perhaps a common question that will be asked in MLS this season is "How do you beat TFC?". Based on their current roster and despite the talent I still think the answer is quite simple. Give Toronto possession, defend in numbers, frustrate, press and hope to get a goal via a mistake or counter.
Through all the improvement I do have concerns, which shows up in advanced statistics, that there is a common thread throughout the Toronto FC lineup, including the new signees historical data from Europe, and that is an inability to create opportunities through possession. Defoe and Gilberto are traditionally counter attacking forwards, while De Rosario and Jackson are known for creating offense through individual play. Michael Bradley is known as a defensive midfielder, but the one season he was an offensive threat in Holland many of his offense came from working off the highly skilled play maker Danijel Pranjic, similar to the Diego Valeri and Will Johnson partnership in Portland the past season.
The reality is individual skill can lead to goals, but especially at BMO field, Toronto games could be frustrating with a lot of shots and opportunities, however, many games might turn out zero-zero or a one goal game. I wouldn't be surprised if Toronto are more successful and fun to watch on the road than they will be at home. At the end of the day when the games really count, coaching and performance analysis might have the final say in dealing with tactics and situations on the pitch. They will also be the ones to blame because at no point this season should Toronto FC be an underdog on paper, but as the sports cliché goes, championships are not won on paper.

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