Toronto FC preview: Notable additions, biggest question mark, season prediction
Lorenzo Insigne and Co. will hope to qualify for their first MLS playoff berth since 2020.
Calling Toronto FC’s 2022 season difficult would be misleading; it was downright horrible. Struggles with injuries and a backline that was bleeding chances saw the club end the year 14th in the Eastern Conference — ahead of only a historically bad D.C. United side. As the most successful club in Canadian soccer history, this was simply an unacceptable outcome and Toronto has gone to great lengths to strengthen its squad and re-establish itself as a playoff team.
Overview of last season
Simply put, Toronto had the second-worst defence in Major League Soccer last season — once again only ahead of D.C. — and that’s really all you need to know about their year. They had trouble building out from the back and finding the midfield, they consistently found themselves in trouble on the counterattack, and lacked a consistent anchor in the back line for the majority of the season.
They were more promising going forward but faced constant setbacks as the squad just couldn’t seem to stay fit for an extended amount of time. That constant squad rotation led to a certain unfamiliarity, which led to a spotty and inconsistent offensive output that was only salvaged by the sheer will of players like Federico Bernardeschi, Jonathan Osorio, and Jesus Jimenez.
As previously stated, Toronto did not mess around when it came to their signings. By bringing in three new defenders as well as adding depth to their attacking lineup, Toronto has made a statement this offseason and efficiently addressed a lot of the issues that plagued their 2022 campaign. They still have some holes in the lineup, especially in the midfield, as they will have a lot of work to do in order to regain possession in games.
Matt Hughes, Sigurd Rosted and Raoul Petretta all bring renewed life to Toronto’s depleted backline, especially due to the lack of a strong ball-winning midfielder that features in the club’s best eleven.
There is also the arrival of goalkeeper Sean Johnson on a free transfer from New York City FC, who brings a breadth of high-level experience and is a former MLS Cup Champion — exactly the kind of mentality the club needs if they want to return to their winning ways.
Biggest question mark: Sean Johnson
MLS is a tricky and very unpredictable league and having a strong, reliable presence between the sticks is one of the most undervalued assets in a team. Someone like Sean Johnson brings both championship pedigree and an aura of quasi-invincibility that is rare amongst keepers, having accumulated 14 clean sheets last year — second-most in MLS, and earning a trip to the 2022 World Cup with the United States National Team.
This Toronto squad is far removed from its all-conquering side of 2017, with only a handful of players still with the club. That is why bringing in players who have found success in winning environments is a crucial consideration when rebuilding this squad. There are still questions surrounding Johnson’s decision to leave NYCFC, but if he can replicate his scintillating form from the Big Apple, I don’t think anyone will give it a second thought.
Biggest X-factor: Lorenzo Insigne
Arguably one of the biggest signings of last year, Lorenzo Insigne is another high-profile, world-class talent who has come to ply his trade in MLS, but it didn’t exactly go according to plan. Insigne only featured in 12 games since his arrival in July, contributing six goals and two assists in that span. He drew comparisons to club legend, Golden Boot winner, and 2015 MVP Sebastian Giovinco due to his stature and technical proficiency.
While injuries hampered his integration into the squad, Insigne is only 31-years-old and still has a few good years ahead of him, assuming he can steer clear of injury trouble. If it all plays out well, the collaboration between Insigne and fellow Serie A arrival Bernardeschi could make form one of the most potent attacking duos in the league.
It is understandably difficult for Toronto fans to be excited about a team that has only won 15 games in the last two years. The club has made every effort to become a serious player in the East once again, yet there are still question marks about whether or not the midfield is adequately manned, as it still lacks an elite and proven ball-winner.
They won’t be challenging Philadelphia for the top spot in the conference, and definitely won’t be playing for the Supporter’s Shield, but a very impressive off-season has now made them a capable playoff team with the experience and talent to surprise a lot of people and make a run in the postseason.