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Chalkboard: Scouting Toronto FC

Toronto is more than just some Italian dude.

Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

System of play used:

(All other graphics all linked with words and/or sentences below.)

Offensive Organization

- Toronto FC usually lineup with either a 4-2-3-1 or a traditional 4-4-2 formation, but due to the absence of the injured Jonathan Osorio, they're expected to play a diamond variation of the latter system for the second week running.

- They're primarily a counter attacking team who like to utilize the pace and creative abilities of players like Sebastian Giovinco and Tsubasa Endoh on the break.

- With the 4-4-2 diamond formation, most of their attacks are constructed and go through the central areas on the pitch. They do use the wide players as an option when in possession, but only as an alternative plan when their preferred way of playing doesn't bring much success to them.

- Everything they do offensively comes through two players: Giovinco and Michael Bradley. The former is a menace who is at the heart of all things good up front while the latter is responsible for helping build those attacks from deep with his technical abilities (as he did against PortlandMontreal, and DCU). Anything they manage offensively usually involves at least one of them.

- Along with their pace and creativity, they also have power in their ranks with Jozy Altidore as the focal point of the attack as the leading centerforward. Altidore has yet to score this year, but his imposing strength and off-the-ball movement always makes him a threat in and around the penalty area.

- As a result of their nature of play to sit deep, they often play long balls out of the back, usually for Altidore to get on the end of and hold the ball up before bringing others into play. Will Johnson is a key example of this, as he often tries to initiate counters through this way whenever he gets some space and time on the ball (as he did against Portland and Montreal).

- Endoh is an all-round attacking player who can play in any offensive role and while, like Giovinco, he isn't the most fearsome player physically, he's got good technical skills which compliment the forward pairing and make him a dangerous weapon for TFC that may go unnoticed if too much time is spent worrying about the other two up front (which was noticeable against Portland).

- Their fullbacks, Steven Beitashour and Justin Morrow, usually aren't very participatory in their offensive ventures. Beitashour in particular is more conservative while Morrow isn't unwilling to get active on occasion and get some crosses into the box for others to get themselves on the end of.

Offensive Transition - after winning ball possession

- Seeing as their main approach is based on counter attacking, transitional play is a key and strength for this team.

- Without the ball, they usually set up with Altidore alone up front with Giovinco dropping a little deeper or drifting wide left. This leaves Endoh to either keep his position and allow Delgado to move wide right where they could form a 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-1-1 formation or he'll move out to the right side to make it a 4-3-3 formation. Tactically their approach can vary when they're not in possession so that their attacks can be more unpredictable when they do have the ball, which adds to their threat.

- With their long ball approach to initiate counters, they'll mainly aim for Altidore as he's the tallest, most powerful presence in attack in this area and he'll usually drift out to either the right or left hand side (as evidenced by where he received passes against DCUMontreal, and Portland) to create the option for his teammates and hold up the ball while he waits for others to come into play and attack the spaces behind the opposing defenders.

- If they don't go down the long ball route, they'll try to switch from defense to attack with quick circulated passes from deep and get the ball either to Giovinco, who's not only TFC's but the entire league's biggest threat in this situation, or to Endoh who will often try to get the ball to Giovinco in the end anyways.

Defensive Organization

- They deploy a four man defensive line that likes to sit deep and clean up any danger in front of them when their midfield gets bypassed on the rare occasions that it happens.

-In Damien Perquis and Drew Moor, they have two center backs who aren't very good passers or tacklers but combine good intercepting skills with strong aerial abilities to make up a good understanding with each other at the heart of the Toronto defense (as evidenced by the number of interceptions, clearances, and defensive recoveries between them against PortlandMontreal, and New England).

- Beitashour likes to keep his position more often than he likes to support the team offensively, partially because of Toronto's preference to attack down the left side anyway, while Morrow does at times leave space behind him when he occasionally goes on the overlap which Moor usually has to come out and cover for.

- They don't possess much pace at the back, but maintain high levels of concentration and positional discipline which can make them hard to breach for much of the time.

- They have three hard working midfielders sitting in front of the defense in BradleyJohnson, and Delgado, all of which contribute a lot to the defensive side of the game every game, with each having 3.4 tackles per game on average this year and similar numbers in terms of interception and clearance stats as well (as evidenced in the links above).

Defensive Transition - after losing ball possession

- They struggle defending when they push up and leave spaces in behind, as they're used to defending deeper and aren't well trained for situations when they have to commit their defensive line to a higher position than where they're normally positioned.

- They rely heavily on their ball retention and interception abilities in midfield from Bradley, Johnson, and Delgado to win balls back before opposing counters get into dangerous areas.

- Sometimes leave their left side more free to be attacked with Morrow occasionally over-committing on the overlap and no one covering for him without dropping out of position themselves and creating space elsewhere for opponents to exploit (as was the case against PortlandMontreal, and DCU).

Set pieces - Attacking

- Toronto like to send men forward for corners, with often between four and five that are inside the box to challenge for headers as well as between two and three more who stand just outside the penalty area looking for loose balls and rebounds.

- They put three men in and around the penalty area for direct free kicks in case of any second chance opportunities while their strategy for indirect free kicks is very similar to what they do for corners.

- Their set piece takers vary between Giovinco and Johnson, although as you'd expect, it's mostly the Italian who is at the forefront of every offensive play and contribution. Their routine is to either deliver the ball to the far post or send it in centrally towards the area between the penalty spot and six yard box, where most bodies are located and well positioned to challenge for headers.

Set pieces - Defending

- Toronto likes to fill their own box with as many bodies as possible depending on game situation, due to their lack of presence and aggression in this area.

- Most of the players who come back for corners position themselves just outside the six yard box and close to their goalkeeper, which makes it difficult to convert set plays into goals against them as they close down the biggest spaces.

- They deploy mainly a zonal marking strategy for defending set plays, although they do often leave two or three players, usually their tallest ones, with man marking assignments as their tasks.

Other observations

- Toronto spends most of their time on the ball in the middle third and rely heavily on Giovinco to provide the creativity on the attacking end, as a result of their lack of wide threat, especially when they play a 4-4-2 diamond formation.

- Due to their narrow approach, they often have problems picking out good passes to players in open spaces and avoiding the offside trap, especially against teams with high defensive lines.

- Toronto isn't among the tallest teams in the league on average with just four outfield starters in Perquis, Moor, Bradley, and Altidore as their only players who are at least six foot tall. What they lose through height and aggression they make up for with hard work and technical play with the different profile of players they possess in their ranks.

- The Reds take a very large portion of their shots (over 50% on average) from long range, mainly from central areas, because of their lack of consistent wide presence and play.

- They have several players who can fulfill more than one role so they're tactically flexible with possibilities to shift to at least three different formations like 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1, and 4-4-1-1 from their preferred diamond shape in Osorio's absence.