After Toronto FC claimed two wins in four days, the latter of which came with a reserve-heavy starting XI at Seattle on Saturday, head coach Greg Vanney was feeling punchy.
“I'd argue we're the deepest team in the history of the league,” Vanney told the Toronto Sun's Kurt Larson postgame. “That's my opinion.
“My toughest job this year is trying to keep the guys happy, because they all want to play and they're all worthy of playing.”
In the wake of this bold claim, we've decided to rank the deepest clubs in MLS. In judging, we've weighed both the sheer number of backups capable of plugging into the lineup without a hitch and impact available off the bench. Player versatility also factors in; starting quality squad players that can spell multiple starters offer coaches great flexibility. Here goes:
No. 5: Seattle
The Sounders aren't off to a great start, but that's not due to a lack of depth. They've been in every game, and might be near the top of the Western Conference if they were finishing chances (the champs are currently third-best in MLS in Expected Goal Differential).
Brad Evans has yet to see the field, while center back pillars Chad Marshall and Roman Torres have each missed three of nine games. Tony Alfaro has ably deputized in the middle, Jordy Delem has pitched in at right back and newcomer Gustav Svensson has manned multiple roles. In midfield, they have Alvaro Fernandez and Svensson to help close out games. Goalkeeper Stefan Frei also has a solid back-up in Tyler Miller.
The attack has been missing promising HomegrownAaron Kovar all season, but depending on how they approach a given game from the outset, Seattle always has either set-up man Harry Shipp or target talisman Will Bruin available in support of the regulars.
No. 4: Columbus
Gregg Berhalter is the obvious envy of MLS coaches when it comes to wing depth. Kekuta Manneh could start for almost every other team and rookie Niko Hansen has quickly proven himself capable of producing. And when needed, Justin Meram can slide over to cover the No. 10 role, opening a flank job.
Understudy striker Adam Jahn subsides on scrap minutes, but he did bag five goals in just 459 minutes last season. Mohammed Abu and (when fit) Dilly Duka provide midfield reinforcement, and the team has high hopes for youngster Cristian Ramirez.
The Crew SC defense was a grand disappointment last season, but things can change fast in MLS. Now, they can count on either rookie standout Alex Crognale or Designated Player Jonathan Mensah as central defense cover, while Waylon Francis and Hector Jimenez stood in out wide for the team's weekend shutout win over potent visitors New England.
No. 3: Portland
The Timbers edged out Columbus for this spot due to their balance of depth. They can rely on suitable fill-ins on every line.
When Fanendo Adi was suspended, Darren Mattocks stepped in with a game-winner. Dairon Asprilla can stretch defenses from the wing. Amobi Okugo and Ben Zemanski are around for support in defensive midfield.
Oddly enough, Portland have shown the most squad stretch on their oft-maligned backline. They've already had their projected starters in the back miss a total of 20 combined games, but have leaked one goal or less in six of 10 this season – and reports suggest that a prominent center-back signing is on the way this summer.
Lawrence Olum has started every game in place of Gbenga Arokoyo, who was lost for the season before Week 1, while newcomer Roy Miller shined when skipper Liam Ridgewell missed five games. When left back Vytas went down, teenage Homegrown Marco Farfan performed beyond his years in the role. Veterans Zarek Valentin and Chance Myers also offer fullback depth, while Jeff Attinella is a solid backup in goal.
No. 2: FC Dallas
It should come as no surprise that the league's last unbeatens, a team built on youth development and shrewd dealings, have one of the deepest squads in the league.
After all, they've streaked out of the blocks this season without reigning team MVP Mauro Diaz. His loss has been covered by veteran string-puller Javier Morales, while Victor Ulloa and Carlos Cermeno provide additional midfield support.
The wide defense, which has yet to benefit from Anibal Chala (an offseason DP signing) and Ryan Hollingshead due to injuries, still can turn to versatile old hand Atiba Harris, and youngster Aaron Guillen helped the North Texans blank Sporting KC in his lone start. Of course, FCD are also spoiled for choice with netminders Jesse Gonzalez and Chris Seitz.
The attack bench features former Rookie of the Year Tesho Akindele, who has 22 goals in 117 career MLS games and can operate anywhere along the front line and flank. There's also a squadron of teen attackers, led by Paxton Pomykal, with great promise waiting to be unleashed. And if Cristian Colman can finally start finishing his chances, the folks in Dallas will have a solid argument for taking the top spot.
No. 1: Toronto FC
It says here Vanney's claim is correct. Just look at Saturday's MLS Cup revenge win at Seattle. Cool wing customer Raheem Edwards has been a revelation, while Armchair Analyst Matt Doyle rightfully lauded Jay Chapman for covering the absence of Victor Vazquez.
While ace wingback Justin Morrow moved to central defense, new recruits Jason Hernandez and Chris Mavinga helped post the clean sheet. Instead of replacing Sebastian Giovinco with another forward, seasoned French midfielder Benoit Cheyrou was put to good use in his first start of the campaign.
That's not the extent of their depth, either. It must also be noted that Armando Cooper and Jonathan Osorio, a pair of key regulars on TFC's march to MLS Cup last year, came off the bench against the Sounders. Buzzing forward Tosaint Ricketts did the same, while Alex Bono made way in goal for Clint Irwin after backstopping consecutive victories.
When Cooper or Osorio get starts, as they will, Marky Delgado becomes the impact midfielder off the bench (although with the team perfect through his first three starts of the season, that shift may wait a spell). On top of all that depth, Vanney has promising youngsters like Tsubasa Endoh, Jordan Hamilton, Sergio Camargo and Ben Spencer all waiting in line for chances.