As injuries mount for Toronto FC, Michael Bradley settles in at center back

TORONTO – There is a tactical revolution going on at BMO Field. Or at least there might be if it was by choice and not by necessity.

For a second straight match, Toronto FC fielded a starting 11 that did not feature a single listed center back and was instead comprised mainly of midfielders and fullbacks. Even Sebastian Giovinco, as the lone forward, is hardly the stereotypical front man.

As with the second leg of the Concacaf Champions League final against Chivas de Guadalajara, Michael Bradley was drafted into the middle of the backline during Toronto’s 2-2 draw with the Chicago Fire on Saturday.

“Michael has been enormous in our ability to adapt to circumstances, whether in-game or injury,” Toronto head coach Greg Vanney said. “He's able to assume a lot of different responsibilities for us; that’s been huge.”

On Friday, his partner in the middle, Gregory van der Wiel, called Bradley “the perfect player.”

“He gives always the right example, has always the right mindset. He does it well in every position,” van der Wiel said. “He's the engine of the team; everybody sees that.”

And with Drew Moor, Chris Mavinga, Eriq Zavaleta and Nick Hagglund all injured – none were fit enough to be included in the 18 on Saturday — Toronto may need Bradley to man that position for a while longer.

Somewhat balancing the news that Moor would be out for longer than first feared, was the return of Victor Vazquez, who once more pulled the strings, helping to set up Jonathan Osorio's goal and scoring on a lovely chipped finish of his own.

“He's a key player, huge for us,” Osorio said of Vazquez. “Smart, creates a lot of danger for the other team. It's nice to have him back.”

The influence of Vazquez and the comfort on the ball that Vanney mentioned were plain to see through the opening 30 minutes, where TFC were dominant, scoring twice and having a third called offside with the aid of video review.

“For a good chunk of the match, we were very much in control of possession,” Vanney said. “Part of that is with Michael in the back it’s very difficult for teams to figure out how to initiate pressure on us. With Gregory [van der Wiel] next to him, there are a lot of guys who are very comfortable on the ball in a place where they can start our attacks as a group. And they've done a nice job of defending as a unit.”

That continued into the second half until momentum firmly tilted in the visitors' favor and Chicago escaped with a point. Whether it was CCL-induced fatigue or something else is a matter for debate.

“We played a final in Guadalajara, there were lots of emotions during that game, it was very intense,” Osorio said. “And then the travel and everything... it's tough.

“Guys are tired, but we’re warriors. We had the lead. Fatigue wasn’t a factor at the beginning of the game; we shouldn’t let it become an excuse just because we let it slip at the end.”