Opta Spotlight: Big chances doomed Toronto during 2012

Over the next three weeks, MLSsoccer.com will take a look back at the 2012 season that was for all 19 clubs in Major League Soccer, starting with Toronto FC and ending with the Supporters' Shield-winning San Jose Earthquakes. You can find the schedule and comprehensive reviews for each team here.

2012 record: 5-21-8 (23 points); 36 GF/ 62 GA (-26 GD)

2012 Toronto FC statistics

2012 in Review: Toronto FC

Q&A with Toronto FC head coach Paul Mariner

Armchair Analyst: TFC still reliant on Frings


2012 Toronto FC Average Position

See that enormous gap in the center of the park? It's no wonder that Toronto allowed a league-worst 62 goals in 2012.

Now, this chart is obviously a bit skewed by the tactical switch from the 4-3-3 to the 4-4-2 that accompanied Aron Winter's dismissal and Paul Mariner's foray into the coaching box. Still, it's clear TFC need some defensive balance, as well as a better delineation of duties in the midfield, where cluttered is a kind description. Improving the depth and talent in those areas, all over the field really, should be first on Mariner's to-do list this offseason.

2012 Toronto FC Passing Matrix (Download HERE)

If TFC's passing matrix is any indication, the ball and the attack ran through three players in 2012: Terry Dunfield, Luis Silva and Ryan Johnson.

Dunfield led the team in passing by an enormous margin (962 completed, more than 200 better than the next closest), and he was where buildup – and possession in general – started and ended for Toronto. If he could get the ball to the feet of Silva or Johnson, Toronto were in business, as that duo developed a strong partnership in the opposing half.

If he couldn't, or those two were off, TFC were generally doomed, especially without goalscorer extraordinaire Danny Koevermans, who, you guessed it, enjoyed his most productive passing partnerships with the trio.

1) Toronto were more direct, and effective, under Mariner

Completing almost 1,500 fewer passes and experiencing a five percent drop in accuracy would be a red flag for most clubs. Not so with TFC.

In fact, they were better at creating chances in 2012, despite a dreadful start, than in 2011. Much of that has to do with the switch to a 4-4-2 that emphasized more direct play rather than the punchless 4-3-3 employed by Winter.

Instead of pinging the ball around in the back, Toronto were happy to look for an outlet in the opposition half, resulting in more passes near their opponent's goal. Consider this: TFC recorded just 192 flick-ons in 2011 vs. 441 during the 2012 season, plus crosses, corners and lay-offs all jumped considerably.

2) Koevermans was a revelation, but finishing must improve in Toronto

TFC scored 36 goals each of the past two seasons, but they were much worse in big-chance situations in 2012 – and that's with Koevermans putting away chances at a prodigious rate.

They converted 15 big chances in 2012, two more than in 2011, but suffered nearly a 20-percent drop in conversion percentage (56.52 to 38.46) because of a tendency to miss the target and bail out the opposing goalkeeper (11 off-target in 2012 as opposed to two in 2011). Toronto's goals-to-shots ratio also dropped in 2012, despite creating more attempts across the board.

Sure, some of that has to do with the absence of Koevermans, but with the Dutchman's health in the balance and the book still out on Eric Hassli, it's clear Mariner needs to bring in a few more players with an eye for goal.

3) It's time for a defensive overhaul ... again

I hate to harp on big chances, but it was truly a dreadful year in Toronto when it came to conceding clear-cut opportunities.

Despite conceding only three more big chances than in 2011 – 54 to 51 – and fewer shots almost across the board, Toronto allowed 30 goals, 12 more than they had the year prior. That's a combination of poor goalkeeping and defending, and it's not going to cut it if new president Kevin Payne wants to find a way to send this club to the playoffs.

Random nugget: Toronto FC took two penalty kicks in 2012. Both were off target.