With their home opener just days away, TFC closed out their 8 game extended road trip on Sunday afternoon in Portland with an unfortunate loss. It was a loss that could’ve easily been a victory had it not been for the performance of a lifetime from one Jake Gleeson. A road trip of that length is no easy task to overcome, let alone for a second year in a row. I’m sure under these circumstances, it’s a great opportunity for players to have some introspective, but it also teaches us, those who follow the league and the club, a lot about what they’re made of.
Sitting in 3rd place in the Eastern Conference by a single point, Toronto’s 11 road points are a reminder of just how much this club has changed over previous years. Considering the bar was set fairly low at 8 points, the prospect of the Reds sitting atop the conference with 14 points was a very real possibility on Sunday morning, one that many fans would’ve been ecstatic about. But what have we learned about this team? Let’s dive a little deeper.
Clint Irwin is Underrated.
The former Colorado Rapids goalkeeper made his way to Toronto this offseason and was tasked with bringing veteran leadership, organization, and an overall solid skill set to a notoriously weak position in Toronto. So far, he’s been all that and more. He doesn’t make the flashy stops of a Nick Rimando, but he shouldn’t have to. He makes the saves he’s supposed to make and he’s in the positions he’s supposed to be in. He understands game management. He knows when to play a ball long and when to play it short. These are characteristics that not all TFC keepers have shared, and it’s showed. This isn’t an argument that he’s the best in the league, but should he be in the conversation of being in the upper echelon? Absolutely. His 27 saves, 3 clean sheets, and stingy 7 goals against, in 8 road gamesno less, deserves to be recognized as a significant accomplishment.
It only took 10 years, but Toronto has learned how to defend.
For the better part of TFC’s 10 MLS seasons, defending has been optional. Toronto’s management has had more important things to worry about, like high priced European strikers and stop gap defenders. But it finally dawned on the people in charge that there’s an entire league, chalked full of defenders with significant experience and understanding of the workings of MLS that will do more for less.
Enter Steven Beitashour and Drew Moor.
The veteran pair was brought in to compliment Justin Morrow and Damien Perquis and they have done just that. There’s history and chemistry. Moor and Irwin were a dynamic duo of sorts in Colorado in addition to the former Quakes all-star tandem of Morrow and Beitashour.
The solid chemistry around him has been reflected greatly in Perquis’ game as he seems much more settled and calm. It’s amazing what you can do when you have someone with a little bit of experience beside you.
The back four have played excellent, and a large part of that credit must also go to Michael Bradley who has settled in nicely as a defensive ball winning midfielder now that Will Johnson arrived to shoulder the midfield burden. Bradley’s position is such that the less you hear about him, the better it means he is playing, and TFC fans should be happy with that.
Giovinco is a Legend.
What more can be said about Seba that hasn’t already been said? The little Italian is on the brink of legend status…as if he wasn’t one already. Sunday afternoon against Portland could’ve very well been his worst game as a Red, but yet he still managed to put up an assist. He’s incredible. His 6 goals have him tied for 2nd in league scoring and with just 1 more he will surpass Toronto native Dwayne De Rosario as the clubs all-time leading goal scorer. Considering it’s taken the Atomic Ant just over one season to do so is both remarkable and an indictment of just how much the club has lacked a bonafide goal scorer throughout their history. The team’s success or failure this season has hinged and will continue to hinge almost solely on how well Giovinco plays and produces, but that’s no surprise.
Just as it was a year ago, the summer months of the 2016 season will be the biggest test for Toronto FC. The prospect of losing Giovinco, Bradley and Altidore for an extended period to national team duty for the European Championship and Copa America Centenario is close to a certainty and must be prepared for; not to mention the CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers later in the season. The club has built up some depth in the form of some young and talented Canadian players, but it may not be a good enough substitute. If this team hopes to improve on last season’s playoff knock out appearance, summer sixteen will certainly be the biggest test and could be the “straw that broke the camel’s back.” With TFC as tight up against the cap as many speculate they are, it’s difficult to imagine them bringing in reinforcements, let alone the rumours swirling about Marco Borriello.
A brand new BMO Field, fully equipped with canopy roofing, awaits its team’s arrival on Saturday evening and it’s sure to be an atmosphere like never before. A team and stadium reborn and a re-Tinvigorated fan base craving victories could be a recipe for success the likes this club has never seen.