It was the perfect start to the new season for Toronto F.C. with Jermaine Defoe hitting a brace on his debut for the club as they brushed aside Seattle by 2-1. But for Ryan Nielsen the work really now begins as he looks to put Toronto onto the footballing map once and for all. The team has invested heavily in the summer with a complete revamp of its first team squad. In has come some impressive name’s like Defoe, Michael Bradley, Julio Cesar and De Rosario to complement an already refurbished line up. Nelsen has built a solid experienced spine in Cesar, Steven Caldwell, Bradley and Defoe and is flooding his team with a mix of rising stars and established MLS players.
Against Seattle, the starting eleven looked solid enough from back to front. Justin Morrow, a pre season acquisition from San Jose Earthquakes looks capable enough at left back whilst Bradley Orr, a second half substitute against Seattle due to his slow recovery from illness, should make the right back position his own. Nelsen will look to captain Caldwell to nurture and sheppard rising star Doneil Henry at centre back as the duo look to complete a solid defence for Toronto. Brazilian Cesar will provide a much needed stable and reliable last line of defence as goalkeeper in this new look team. The capture of Cesar, even on loan, would have been the MLS signing of the year if Toronto hadn’t already nabbed that title with the double signing of Bradley and Defoe.
In the midfield, Bradley has a key role to play and his partnership with Jonathan Osorio in the centre of the park will be crucial to the team’s forward motion. Whilst Defoe will likely earn the plaudits for his goals, Toronto’s season hinges on whether Bradley and Osorio can form an effective working partnership and how quickly this happens. Against Seattle, there were early signs that this was a work in progress, with Bradley taking more of a leadership role. This was not unexpected given his experience versus his partners’ younger years but he needs to command the space and marshall his young companion more if Toronto is to flourish. Nelsen has the duo setup as cover for one another – if Bradley pushes forward, Osorio is to sit back and vice versa. But against Seattle this didn’t happen as much as needed and Toronto was duly punished for it when Seattle scored. With both Bradley and Osorio caught high up the pitch and out of position, a Dempsey inspired Seattle broke quickly with the US International striker latching on to the ball just inside the box to smash it under a diving Julio Cesar. Better teams than Seattle would have used this momentum to punish Toronto again but the Sounders looked dazed and confused by Defoe’s early brace. Toronto will need to be wary of this as the move forward in the season.
On the wings, Rey and Jackson were creative but looked and operated more as wide midfielders than traditional wingers. This could be a problem for Toronto as the season goes on, with a lack of out and out wingers at the club to create chances for Defoe. Nelsen may prefer to operate without them but he needs options and the ability to adjust tactics if needed, as teams start to get use to the way that Toronto will play this season. Letting Matias Laba leave may come back to haunt Nelsen in the long run. Up front, Toronto finally looks strong. Against Seattle Jermaine Defoe looked unstoppable. Whilst he limited his running to short bursts, he was effective in the game and showcased his finishing abilities with two superbly taken goals. With a revitalized De Rosario in support and Gilberto on his way back from injury, Toronto have what they have desperately sought after for years – a strike force to be feared. Keeping Defoe fit and free of injury will be key as well as maintaining his interest post this summer’s World Cup. Defoe is clearly out to prove to England boss Roy Hodgson that he can and should be part of his final squad and if he continues to score, it will be hard for Hodgson to ignore him. However if he doesn’t make the squad, motivation may be a factor and a Defoe that lacks conviction could spell financial disaster for Toronto. After a strong start, Toronto now head home and start preparations for Saturday’s game against DC united. The anticipation from the home fans will be another three points but with the season still stirring from its winter hibernation, have we really seen the true Toronto FC yet? Good or bad, they will interesting to watch this year.