Can Toronto Overcome Its Poor Start to the 2021 MLS Season?

Toronto FC produced a great run in the 2020 MLS campaign, finishing in second place in the Eastern Conference. The club finished only behind the Philadelphia Union, but could have snatched the top spot if not for a poor run of form late in the campaign. Greg Vanney’s men suffered three defeats in their last four games, including a 5-0 hammering at the hands of the Union.

As a result, Toronto had lost momentum and form heading into the post-season. It was evident from their performance as they crashed out in the first round of the MLS playoffs in extra-time to Nashville SC, who were playing in their inaugural campaign. The defeat was a bitter pill to swallow for Vanney and his men considering that Nashville finished five places below them in the Eastern Conference. Toronto was then dealt a further blow when Vanney left the club at the end of the season, becoming the new manager of the Los Angeles Galaxy.

Rebuilding the Team

The opportunity to secure their second MLS Cup evaded Toronto, bringing an end to Vanney’s tenure and the most successful period in the history of the club. However, with the core of the team remaining in place, they would have been hopeful of making another playoff surge after strengthening their roster for the 2021 season.

Chris Armas was announced as the successor to Varney after a three-season tenure with the New York Red Bulls. Yeferson Soteldo was signed for a $6.5m from Brazilian side Santos, the fourth-highest transfer fee paid out by Toronto behind only Jermain Defoe, Michael Bradley, and Alejandro Pozuelo. Kemar Lawrence and Dom Dwyer were also signed by the club.

Toronto lost the services of Pablo Piatti to Elche, while Laurent Ciman ended his illustrious career after the defeat to Nashville. However, their respective departures were offset by the new arrivals, handing Armas a talented side to put the disappointment of the previous term behind them. Injuries late in the term had cost Toronto, but their retooling increased the level of their depth and quality in the ranks. Therefore, it was not a surprise to see the club heavily tipped to return to the playoffs.

Slow Start

Unfortunately for Toronto, they have failed to match those expectations in the opening month of the campaign, experiencing their worst start to a term since 2012. Armas and his men won only one of their opening six matches, beating Columbus Crew 2-0 on home soil. In that period, they suffered three defeats, including a surprise 4-2 loss to CF Montreal on the opening day of the term. Injuries have once again loomed large even in the early stages of the campaign.

Reigning MVP Alejandro Pozuelo has been out for a period of time along with Soteldo. Jonathan Osorio has also been missing for the Canadian outfit, while Jozy Altidore has struggled for fitness and form. Although the club has been without key players in the final third, their primary issues have come out at the back where they have shipped goals too easily.

Toronto did concede the most goals in the top five in the Eastern Conference in the 2020 campaign. The trend has continued into the 2021 season, conceding 10 goals after their opening six games. Without their playmakers at the other end of the pitch, Toronto has to become more resolute at the back to ensure that their campaign is not over before it truly begins. You can follow their progress here at torontoguardian.com to see whether there could be another MLS Cup run.

Can Toronto Improve?

Toronto has the capability to make a run up the Eastern Conference, and backing them now could be a fruitful bet to make, considering that their odds will never be longer. The best betting sites compiled at Asiabet.org will provide competitive value on Armas’ team to qualify and win the MLS Cup. For th more sceptical among us, there are betting bonuses available that can make those wagers risk-free options if the club fails to progress up the standings. However, they do appear a prime candidate for improvement once their injury situation resolves itself and the players become accustomed to life under Armas.

Pozuelo’s return will be key as the midfielder was nothing short of outstanding last term. His nine goals and 10 assists saw him rightfully crowned as the MLS MVP. He can unlock any defence in the league, and his presence on the field eases the pressure on all of his teammates. Toronto needs him back, but only when he is 100% fit and can maintain his standards over the entirety of the season.

Soteldo may take time to adjust to life in the MLS, but Armas will be hoping that he can hit the ground running. Should the Venezuelan have the same impact as Pozuelo, then the club should have no problem shifting through the gears during the middle stretch of the season. Altidore’s form will also be crucial, especially if he can flip a switch to rediscover his form from 2017 or even the 2019 campaign when he scored a goal every other game.

There’s no need for Toronto to panic despite their poor start. Once their key players return to fitness and their optimum form, they should be able to muster a surge towards the post-season at the least.

 

 

About Joel Levy 2098 Articles
Editor-In-Chief at Toronto Guardian. Photographer and Writer for Toronto Guardian and Joel Levy Photography