Five reasons Toronto FC have gotten off to a slow start in MLS

Watching Toronto FC in regular season action so far this year has been more than a little confusing. The same side who has just gone toe-to-toe and come out on top against Tigres, one of the best teams on the continent, has been struggling against lesser opposition.

The reds have lost their first two games of the 2018 MLS regular season, and they have not scored yet in league play. The cause for concern is there, especially with the way they dominated last season en route to an MLS record 69 points.

But there are a few reasons for this slow start, some of which suggest it might take a few more games before things improve. Overall, though, it’s still early and despite incredibly heightened expectations at BMO Field, there is little to worry about.

Here are five reasons why Toronto haven’t’ quite looked themselves yet in MLS action:

 

  1. MLS/CCL hangover

Toronto FC sure has played a lot of soccer over the last few months, and eventually, that has to have some kind of effect on their performance. Between winning the MLS Cup final in early December and then starting up CONCACAF Champions League in late February, Toronto FC hasn’t had a lot of rest.

This year’s Champions League format change means that Toronto FC has played two more games than MLS teams would traditionally have played at this stage of the year. They aren’t the only ones dealing with the effects, as all three MLS teams who competed in the Champions League quarter-finals lost this weekend.

They also aren’t alone in feeling the last effects of a championship run. MLS Cup winning teams have historically struggled out of the gate, although Toronto is the first defending champion since D.C. United in 2000 to lose their first two games of the season.

  1. New players and a new system

 Toronto FC was able to do a very good job of maintaining the core of the team that won MLS Cup in 2018. However, in order to remain the class of the league, they needed to add talent to stay ahead of their rivals.

They mainly did so by bringing in two key players, midfielder Ager Aketxe and fullback Gregory van der Wiel. Not surprisingly, it has taken those two a little bit of time to adjust to their new team and league.

Aketxe has shown plenty of skill on the ball during his first few games for Toronto FC. However, TFC’s system relies on quick ball movement and when you don’t know your teammates’ tendencies all that well yet it is difficult to make that happen. This leads to giveaways and causes problems for Toronto.

Meanwhile, van der Wiel has been solid defensively in his early stages as a fullback at Toronto FC. But he was brought in for more than just that, and it will take time for him to realize how much space and time he has to move up his wing and attack. There were signs, however, that he is improving offensively during this past weekend’s match against Montreal. 

  1. Quality of competition

This might seem a bit counterintuitive, but Toronto FC was clearly pushed to play better soccer by a Tigres team that wasn’t in the least bit afraid of their Canadian rivals.

The same can’t always be said of their MLS opposition. The Impact did a great job of sitting back and forcing Toronto FC to break them down and TFC ultimately couldn’t.

Toronto FC players are all pros, but it must be a little hard to have the same level of excitement playing teams that they dominated last season. Any hints of this mentality won’t live long in the hyper-competitive Toronto locker room, but it might just be a factor in the early part of the year. 

  1. Victor Vazquez’ injury troubles

 Vazquez was arguably Toronto FC’s most important player last season, or at the very least it was a 1A, 1B situation with Michael Bradley. A lower back injury, however, has limited both his effectiveness and playing time so far in 2018.

Toronto count on Vazquez’ ability to break down other teams who sit back defensively. Aketxe was brought in to provide a similar role, but as mentioned above he is not nearly as comfortable with his surroundings yet. A lack of Vazquez was very evident in the number of chances Toronto created on Saturday.

He is one of the players that Toronto FC can hopefully use the current international break to get back to full strength.

  1. Bad fields

 Both teams play on the same pitch, sure, but a poor surface really hurts a team like Toronto FC who like to play the ball quickly and along the ground. That is what they have been handed in both of their games so far this season, with the BMO Field pitch feeling the effects of winter and the brutal turf at the Olympic Stadium in Montreal.

Playing on better fields as the winter (we all hope) starts to turn into spring will only help Toronto FC.

Mitchell Tierney
mitchelltierney@hotmail.com

Digital Content Manager - Homestand Sports