By Brian Maurer
Ben Bender against Toronto FC last season (photo courtesy of Charlotte FC)
Last Season Recap
Charlotte FC lost to Toronto FC in both of their games last season. The Crown lost 4-0 against Toronto FC on the road, and 2-0 at home. Forward Federico Bernardeschi, specifically, seems to really enjoy playing against Charlotte FC as he scored in both games.
Toronto FC’s season overall was very underwhelming as they were one of the worst defenses in the league (66 goals against). Their big summer signings were not able to help them move up the table as they finished 13th in the Eastern Conference.
The key changes that Toronto FC made to their roster this winter was a complete revamp of their backline. Toronto FC signed free agent Matt Hedges to lead the defense. Sean Johnson was signed as a free agent to upgrade their goalkeeper position. They also made transfers to add two more defenders from abroad, Raoul Petretta and Sigurd Rostad. Further up the field they added depth by trading for midfielder Brandon Servania and forward Adama Diomande.
Players to Watch
Federico Bernardeschi - The winger is easily the biggest impact player for Toronto FC. His influence is even more important with Lorenzo Insigne’s early season injury. So far this season he has two goals and two assists.
Matt Hedges - Hedges is one of the key offseason signings Toronto FC made this winter as his role is to reduce Toronto FC’s defensive liabilities. His presence looks to be having an impact as Toronto have only allowed two goals in their past four games.
Michael Bradley - Bradley continues to be the connector in the middle of everything Toronto FC are trying to do during their build up and progression. Last season he also scored a surprising brace against Charlotte FC. Cutting off Bradley’s passing lanes will be a key in limiting how Toronto FC distribute and progress the ball into attacking areas.
Toronto FC’s Starting IX
Toronto FC played with a rotated lineup this past weekend because of multiple key players getting called up for international duty. This is how they lined up last weekend against the San Jose Earthquakes:
Toronto FC's Week 5 lineup (graphic found on MLSsoccer.com)
Regardless of their rotated lineup their direction of attack will remain the same. The vast majority of their attacks come from the right hand side where Bernardeschi combines with the midfielders, striker and fullback. The aim of lots of this right hand side combination play is to set up Bernardeschi with shots as he cuts inside. Here is the passing network from Toronto FC’s most recent game as well as their zones of control breakdown:
Toronto FC's passing network from their Week 5 game (graphic found on MLSsoccer.com)
Toronto FC's zones of control* from 2023 season (graphic found on theanalyst.com)
Outlook for 2023
Toronto FC is currently sitting in 10th in the Eastern Conference. The success of their season is dependent on how well their defense can improve, and whether they are able to find contributors amongst their depth pieces as their roster is very top heavy.
The challenge for Charlotte FC this week will be to not let the crowd influence their play like it did last time they traveled to Toronto. They will also need to be aggressive in the attacking third and try and take advantage of a defensive unit that has several new pieces trying to gel.
*For the zones of control blue symbolizes areas on the field that Toronto FC had at least 55% of total touches. Red represents areas where Toronto FC's opposition have had at least 55% of total touches.