Toronto FC started off their 2019 campaign on the wrong foot on Tuesday, as they losing 4-0 to Independiente in Panama. MLSsoccer.com’s Bobby Warshaw and Matt Doyle discussed what this means for the team’s 2019 season.
BW: Hey Matt, I presume you’re selling your Toronto FC stock after last night’s loss? I’ll take it off your hands.
MD: I didn’t sell my remaining TFC stock – I shoved it into the blender and set that thing to 11. I couldn’t get rid of it fast enough.
And I know what TFC fans are going to say. They’re going to say “just wait til our new DP gets here, and wait til our new TAM signing gets here, and we were playing without Jozy, and it’s just the first game for a bunch of new faces, and we’ll be better soon!”
And that last part is kinda right – they’ll probably be better than this soon. But the new DP and TAM players, and the new faces aren’t going to change the fact that this is a team that just can not defend. Laurent Ciman has had his share of defensive struggles over the last two years, which is not a secret:
This clip shows my two biggest issues/worries with LAFC. Slow to close & unable to win the ball through central midfield, and Ciman's penchant for playing hero ball with low-percentage defensive gambles. #MTLvLAFC pic.twitter.com/hYzbXwJnRJ— Matthew Doyle (@MattDoyle76) April 21, 2018
But Toronto FC signed him, and only him, to bolster what was the East's second-worst defense last season. On top of that, too many other players who were around in 2016 and 2017 have regressed hard since then.
They’ll be better than they were last night. But not all that much better. It feels like last year’s CCL run was their last gasp as an elite group.
BW: I’m going to let you keep talking because you keep driving the price down. Anything else you want to add?
MD: I have serious questions about Toronto's roster construction. But that's on the front office, and Ali Curtis just got there. That'll take time.
What head coach Greg Vanney and his staff (and obviously the players) are responsible for is the on-field part and it's not just the older players whose level has dropped. Marky Delgado in 2018 was a shadow of the player he’d been in 2016 and 2017, and he started 2019 with one of the most ineffectual performances I’ve ever seen from him. Eriq Zavaleta was a starting caliber CB in 2016 and most of 2017 – he fell off a cliff in 2018. Alex Bono has dipped. Jay Chapman hasn’t improved. Ashtone Morgan is not what he was in 2015. I can see the same trendline forming with Auro.
When that many guys are trending in the wrong direction, there's some serious soul-searching that needs to happen. It just feels like something's broken and I think Tuesday's result, performance and body language from the players are symptomatic.
BW: Damn. I’m actually not even going to offer you any money. I’m taking those certificates for free.
MD: TALK TORONTO OFF THE LEDGE BOBBY SUNSHINE!!!!
BW: I hear everything you said, and I want to parse it.
You wrote, “this is a team that just can not defend.” You cite Ciman as an example.
I can’t disagree with you on the original premise — TFC gave up the second most goals in the East last year (without Ciman), and then the four last night (with Ciman). As to whether a team can improve, it’s important to think about it like this: Are they lacking talent, or is the talent underachieving? It appears to me that you are suggesting that their defensive issues are a lack of talent.
I disagree with that part. Laurent Ciman is 33. Is 33 too old to play center back? No. Have his physical skills deteriorated to the point that he can’t be an elite defender? No. He put together a few excellent performances in 2018 for LAFC; it seems to me that his poor performances have come when he’s made poor decisions defensively opposed to any larger issues. But if he cleans those moments up, then he — or Chris Mavinga or Auro or Justin Morrow or Michael Bradley — could still put together a Best XI season.
I’m not letting them off the hook for their poor performance; I’m trying to diagnose the issue. It feels like it’s more about underachievement than it is absolute inability. That makes me feel much better than if the players just weren’t good enough (which is the case for most non-playoff teams).
The bigger issue is in the attack — they flat out did not have enough talent on the field against Independiente to be a team that can compete for trophies. A labored attack puts extra stress on every other part of the field. As you mentioned, they should have reinforcements coming.
Take a look at this potential starting XI.
That’s a pretty solid team. How many teams have more overall talent across the 11 positions than this?
Now, to speak to your “broken” comment. You’re right, players like Delgado, Auro, Bradley and Chapman look like they've regressed. I don’t have an explanation. But here’s the thing: Teams look broken until they don’t. Seattle felt broken at the beginning of 2018. Portland felt broken for half of 2015. Dallas were broken in 2018 and then led the West for most of 2019.
A new player, a big win, a tactical adjustment… there are multiple ways to galvanize and fix a team. This team could be really dangerous if they get it together.
You’re not wrong to say Toronto is in big trouble. But you’re wrong to say they can’t find a way out.
MD: That was good crisis intervention Bobby, I’m impressed. That said, I look at that lineup and see maaaaaybe three guys in the top five in the league at their respective positions (Mavinga and Jozy – if they stay healthy, which is a massive “if” for both – and presumably the new DP). I see others that are much closer to the bottom five based upon a 12-month sample size.
And you’re right: teams that are broken sometimes fix themselves midseason. But that’s the exception to the rule – Seattle were a great story last year because that doesn’t happen often.
The truth is this: Teams that are broken tend to stay broken. And that certainly looked to be the case in Game 1 of Toronto’s 2019 journey.