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Scouting Report: Diving into Toronto FC ahead of the season opener

It will be cold on Saturday as FC Dallas hosts Toronto FC.

MLS: Canadian Championship-Toronto FC at CF Montreal David Kirouac-USA TODAY Sports

Toronto FC. Michael Bradley has been the face of the franchise since he signed for the team eight years ago. However, the arrival of his father gives them a new identity as Bob Bradley moves from southern California to Canada’s largest city.

After finishing near the bottom of the Eastern Conference in 2021, the Reds have reshaped their roster more than anyone who isn’t Charlotte or Miami. Eighteen players from that roster are gone. Jozy and Omar Gonzalez left for New England. Richie Laryea has gone to Nottingham Forest. Yeferson Solteldo has returned to Liga MX to play for Tigres. Mark Delgado was sold to LA Galaxy. They needed to change, and the team cut much of the dead weight.

To replace them, Toronto signed Lorenzo Insigne. The much-heralded Italian international arrives this summer and Toronto will hope to still be in the hunt when he debuts. The Reds also finalized the deal that returns former Real Salt Lake center-back Carlos Salcedo to MLS and fills a hole in the back line. In addition, Toronto re-signed Ayo Akinola (who missed much of last season with an ACL tear) to a U22 Initiative contract as well as two other homegrowns. And this week they’ve added 23-year-old Kadin Chung from Pacific FC. In fact, the consistent message around the team seems to be that no one develops young talent like Bob Bradley, and Toronto’s season hinges on how well that youth develops. The transition to a new generation is a process.

In six preseason games against MLS competition, Toronto went 2W-1D-3L.

Preseason Results

1/29 LA Galaxy 5-4 Toronto FC
1/29 LA Galaxy 5-4 Toronto FC
2/2 LAFC 1-2 Toronto FC
2/9 Toronto FC 2-1 Austin
2/12 Chicago 1-0 Toronto FC
2/16 Toronto FC 1-2 Houston
2/19 Toronto FC 1-1 Sporting KC

Again, it’s preseason and I found very little information in regard to line-ups (and even less video), so take the results with a grain of salt, but so far the team seems middle of the road – what we would expect from a team integrating new players. And hopefully, this makes the opening match a good test for Dallas.

Player Notes for Toronto:

Ayo Akinola: after tearing his ACL a year ago, Akinola will be depended upon to lead the line. Toronto’s success may depend upon how far Akinola’s recovery has progressed.

Alejandro Pozuelo: limited to 15 games last year because of injuries, Pozuelo is still the primary chance creator for Toronto.

Carlos Salcedo: Tell me if this sounds familiar – last year, Toronto’s center-back pairing struggled with injuries and diminished performance brought on by age. Enter 28-year-old Mexican international Salcedo to stabilize the backline.

Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty: the talisman of Toronto’s youth movement. Watch him while you can. After making 11 appearances last season, the 17-year-old right back (and former attacker) trained with Arsenal, Liverpool, and Club Brugge during the break. The rumor is that Toronto wants $20 million for the phenom.

Michael Bradley: The Captain. Despite being in his mid-thirties now, Bradley led Toronto in games played as well as minutes. He doesn’t cover ground the way he did eight years ago, but he’s still one of the best passers at his position.

Jacob Shaffelburg: The 22-year-old homegrown left back had three goals and three assists in eleven starts (20 GP). Look for him to get forward in the attack.

Predictions:

4-3-3 (from Matt Doyle at MLS)
Jayden Nelson (HG) – Ayo Akinola – Ifunayachi Achara
Alejandro Pozuelo – Jonathan Osorio
Michael Bradley
Jacob Shaffelburg (HG) – Chris Mavinga – Carlos Salcedo – Jakheele Marshall-Rutty (HG)
Alex Bono

Like Dallas, Toronto has a lot of ifs: If Akinola can find his previous form... if Mavinga (and Pozuelo [and Bradley]) remains healthy... if Marshall-Rutty (and other homegrowns) makes the next step. The depth pieces are unproven.

While he doesn’t have a Carlos Vela, I expect Bob Bradley to push the tempo. The outside backs will push up. Canadian international Jonathan Osorio was the leading scorer for the squad last year (tied with Jozy at four) - expect late-arriving runs from the midfielder. Pozuelo and Michael Bradley, clearly, are older, so it remains to be seen how coach Bob Bradley will adapt his preferred tactics. If Michael Bradley (and the outside backs) pushes forward in the attack, there will be ample opportunity for Dallas to attack center-backs.

Injury Report:

N/A

Time/Forecast:

Toyota Stadium, Frisco TX

4:30 PM

Cold. The high on Saturday is supposed to be 39 with a strong chance of precipitation. I’m fondly remembering my playing days... and those cold winter afternoons... when I played Indoor at Inwood.