How Toronto FC Tanked With The Most Expensive Squad In MLS

Toronto's gone from the best team in league history to missing the playoffs in a matter of months.

One year on from capturing the Supporters’ Shield, setting an MLS regular-season points record and finishing with a convincing MLS Cup victory over Seattle, Toronto FC is in very serious jeopardy of missing the 2018 playoffs entirely. With only 27 points from 27 games and one of the league’s worst defensive records, a November spent watching instead of defending the Cup is probably deserved.

So what happened to Toronto in 2018?

#1. Failure To Push Forward (Mentally/Personnel)

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Toronto’s performance in the 2018 CONCACAF Champions League encapsulated everything great about the club’s 2017 MLS season while also serving as a false harbinger of things to come. In a domestic league that offers almost zero value with regards to watching your team play away, TFC somehow compiled a winning record on the road in 2017 (7W-4L-6T), making it the only MLS side to do so.

This was followed by an historic march to the CCL final that included admirable second-leg performances in both the Estadio Universitario (Tigres) and the Azteca (America). The Reds even managed to turn their final deficit around in the second leg at Estadio Akron (Chivas) before losing on penalties. As outlined by Michael Bradley in his open letter to the city of Toronto, it was a team mentality based off playing hard “week in and week out. No nights off. No tossing points away. No coasting through the hot summer months.”

Fast forward to today and Toronto’s just another worthless road side (2W-8L-4T). Bradley’s rallying cry is now a sad echo of what it once was: “Everybody is included, we have not had enough people who understood how hard it was going to be, what it was going to take to navigate through another season where we had to play every week like our lives depended on it.” 

The team just hasn’t pushed forward. The big-name offseason acquisitions of former PSG and Netherlands defender Gregory van der Wiel, Athletic Bilbao’s Ager Aketxe and Sao Paulo’s Auro made little-to-no impact.

Aketxe was handed a $1.3 million contract, but he’s now back on loan at Cadiz after appearing in 11 matches and tallying one assist. Van der Wiel hasn’t come close to justifying his salary of $835K and Auro has effectively been sidelined by injury since Week 16. Which brings us to …      

#2. A Decimating Injury List Leading To A Terrible Defensive Record

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While Toronto leads the league with a total payroll of over $26 million, the club still faces the same issues with depth — especially on the defensive end — as the rest of the league. Last season, the club was anchored in defense by Chris Mavinga, Drew Moor and Eriq Zavaleta. 

Moor has missed 16 games with a hamstring injury this campaign. Mavinga’s missed 20 games with a collection of muscle injuries. Zavaleta missed a few with a thigh injury. Add in other extensive injury layoffs to defenders Nick Hagglund, Justin Morrow, Ashton Morgan and Auro, and you can see why Toronto’s struggled in the defensive third this year.

Toronto conceded just 37 goals last campaign. They’ve already shipped 52 in 2018 (the same amount as Minnesota United and already eliminated San Jose). Toronto’s on course to set a new club record in terms of defensive fragility, and this is the primary reason why a turnaround over the final seven games of the season seems like such a fantasy. 

#3. Bringing Us To The Big Names …

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To continue the injury thread, star striker Jozy Altidore missed 12 games after undergoing foot surgery back in May. While the original prognosis was four to six weeks on the sidelines, it took longer for the USMNT forward to return to action. 

And so after scoring 17 goals and adding six assists in 31 regular season appearances last term, Altidore has five goals and zero assists in only nine matches this season. With Altidore out of the lineup, the rest of Toronto’s vaunted attackers have been negatively affected.

Sebastian Giovinco will almost certainly fail to match last year’s output of 17 goals and seven assists (he’s currently got 10 goals and six assists). After stunning the league last year with his brilliant playmaking ability, Victor Vazquez’s own output has dropped from 10 goals and 11 assists to just six and three, respectively. 

The decimated defense has also seen Bradley deployed as an emergency center back on seven occasions this year, and yeah, you’re obviously not going to get the most out of him back there.

With seven games remaining, TFC trails Montreal for the sixth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot by nine points. It’s plausible that they make a run, but all the evidence points to a side that’s a far cry from the 2017 version — you certainly shouldn’t expect anything but more of the same throughout September and October.

The most meaningful fixture left for Toronto is probably the gimmicky 2018 Campeones Cup match against Tigres at BMO Field on Sept. 19.   

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