Toronto FC is the hottest team in MLS at the moment. After an unlikely come from behind victory in Columbus on Wednesday night to complete their first 5 game win streak in franchise history, it’s leaving some to wonder how things seem to be going so right for the Reds so far. The team has been largely untouched since being MLS Cup runners’ up in 2016 besides the additions of Victor Vazquez and Chris Mavinga. So what’s been the catalyst for this unprecedented run?
First, let’s take a look back to this same point in 2016. After 11 games, TFC had a record of 4 wins, 3 draws and 4 losses with a goal differential of +2. Not bad by all accounts for a team looking to rebound from a disappointing 3-0 loss to rivals Montreal in their first ever playoff appearance. Especially not bad considering the team had played 8 matches on the road with only 3 played at home after BMO Field got its latest make-over.
Fast forward to the present. The Reds sit atop the league table with a stellar record of 6 wins, 1 loss and 4 draws and a goal differential of +8. As far as games played at home versus away, the split is much more even; 6 away and 5 at home. Having got off to a worrisome start however, picking up just a single win from their first 6 games which I nearly predicted exactly I might add, this 5 game win streak TFC finds themselves riding on seems slightly out of place. But is it really?
The keys thus far have been scoring, health and consistency.
If we look back to 2016 once again, take a look at who was scoring all the goals. I’ll give you a hint, his name rhymes with Gebastian Siovinco. The Atomic Ant had 8 goals through TFCs first 11 matches, impressively following up from his 2015 MVP award winning season. The next best was Will Johnson with 2. This season, things are a bit different. It’s Jozy who leads the charge with 6 goals, followed by Seba with 5, Morrow and Ricketts with 2 each, and Victor Vazquez contributing a goal and 8 assists. The fact that the scoring has been spread around as much as it is allows TFCs attack to be unpredictable and difficult to defend against.
The 2016 season was marred early on by several injuries to significant players, especially to all 3 DPs. This season, knock on wood, things have been fairly smooth allowing coach Vanney to rotate the squad when needed as opposed to doing so without a choice. If we’re being honest here, it’s Jozy’s good health and production that has been the main catalyst for success so far in 2017; and with Seba dealing with nagging injuries, that’s massive. Not only has Altidore been able to carry over his incredible playoff scoring form into this season, he’s clearly managed to get the monkey off his back that held him off the score sheet for the first 20 games of 2016.
TFC has been one of the most consistent teams in the league in terms of formations and team systems, and it’s paying dividends. Love him or hate him, Greg Vanney is proving his naysayers wrong, one at a time. As frustrating as it’s been at times for some to see coach Vanney’s unwillingness to deviate from his preferred setup despite injuries, it’s taught the Reds how to play in an effective system. It’s the reason why Vazquez has 8 assists already. It’s the reason Raheem Edwards is a star in the making. It’s the reason why defenders are interchangeable. The team understands that they’re all accountable to one another and everyone has to pull their weight for the team to be successful. It makes them hungry. Not just for personal success, but to get back to where they feel they deserve to be as a team, and that’s to compete and hopefully win a championship.
So the fact that the Reds are red hot shouldn’t be much of a surprise. One could argue that they could’ve been just as hot in 2016 if not for their first 8 games being on the road. They’re doing exactly what they were built to do, and that is to get wins. Veterans are leading and the youth that proved itself in 2016 is contributing at a high level in 2017. But the caveat to all this is that the season is still very young and anything can happen between now and game 34. Let’s not forget that cups aren’t won based on a teams’ first ten or eleven games. As long as this isn’t the best we see from TFC in 2017, big things could be in Toronto’s future.
Clearly, there are a number of reasons why things are going right for Toronto right now. The team is in magnificent form and shows no signs of slowing up. An upcoming match against Minnesota FC seems like the perfect opportunity to keep the good times rolling, but this is Major League Soccer, and that means that they’re just as likely to concede six and make this whole article obsolete.