Toronto FC 2023 MLS SEASON PREVIEW | Projected XI, Key Questions & Predictions
It's showtime for Toronto FC.
With a full preseason under the belts of the “Italians”, also known as Italian internationals and 2020 Euro Champions Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi, Toronto has big ambitions of success in 2023.
After missing the playoffs for back-to-back editions for the first time since 2014, TFC has not messed around this offseason, as they look to return to the glory days of 2017.
With a diminutive Italian set to lead the charge in front of a sold-out BMO Field, they’ve got that half figured out - now, they’ll look to rack up the wins to match that.
- MLS: 9W-7D-18L (34 PTS)
- 13th in Eastern Conference (no playoffs)
- Canadian Championship: Runners-up
3 Key Questions:
1) How far will Italian magic carry Toronto?
It was a magical summer of soccer in Toronto.
After a nightmare start to the season, in came Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi for a fast-and-furious late push toward the playoffs. While they came up quite short in their quest, they made what was projected to be an ugly end to the season, well... actually kind of fun. Paced by Insigne's six goals and two assists in just 11 games, along with Bernardeschi's eight goals and two assists in 13 matches, the Italian duo were everything the doctor ordered for Toronto, who became a team to be feared once they settled in (just like the Tigers in Kicking and Screaming.)
TFC is banking heavily on the two improving on that early success now that they've had a full offseason under their belts. Considering that those numbers came off the back of a full European season, logic suggests that they could be even more potent in 2023. Insigne was on pace for over 18 goals and six assists, while Bernardeschi was on track for over 20 goals and five assists. That's a terrifying proposition for defences to have to deal with, frankly.
Therefore, it's no secret that any success Toronto has this year will come from their Italian contingent. Arguably, there might be no better duo in MLS (history?), and in a league where star players dictate success, that gives TFC an edge on a lot of opposition teams. Sure, the difference between TFC winning silverware and fighting for their playoff lives will be decided elsewhere in the squad, but Insigne and Bernardeschi will be expected to at the very least make TFC competitive on their own.
That’s huge, as it buys the club time to allow things to gel, and for a team that can't afford to let that process interfere with results, that alone could play a huge part in any successes they may find in 2023.
2) Can this squad stay fit and healthy all year?
While Toronto FC has done well to build their squad around the Italians – with the likes of Richie Laryea, Mark-Anthony Kaye, Adama Diomande, Raoul Petretta, Matt Hedges, Sigurd Rosted and Sean Johnson all serving as good upgrades to their start-of-2022 team – there's one question mark surrounding each and every one of them: Aren't you guys a little old?
They're not ancient, by any means, but it's worth noting that Toronto FC's projected starting XI has an average age of 30. In MLS, a league that is getting younger by the years, it's not an approach we've seen from many teams, who have tended to go younger, not older, as the years have gone along.
Especially in a league that is quite physically demanding in style of play on the field and its scheduling and travel off of it, this surge in experience could also come with risk of longevity for TFC. When healthy, this squad will be among the best in MLS, but you can only wonder if they might be too old to stay on the field for a majority of games.
That's the gamble that Bill Manning and Bob Bradley are making with this squad. Knowing that the Italians might not be around forever, they want to maximize their value while they're still on the cusp of their primes, and their roster moves have reflected that. It's not about the future; it's about winning, today. If it pays off, MLS Cup and Concacaf Champions League and FIFA Club World Cup dreams will be dreamt.
But... for how long?
3) Can young charges step up when needed?
This question ties into the last point, but the flip-side to Toronto FC's big gamble in investinig in older players for more immediate results is that their overall squad depth beyond their starting XI faces a tall task toward success.
This is a rather young and still-inexperienced group on the bench, a stark contrast to their preferred XI, and TFC will be relying on a lot of youngsters to take a step up from last year.
That's not a bad thing, as there's a lot of potential in that group, led by the likes of Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty, DeAndre Kerr and Kosi Thompson... but it's also a group thin on numbers.
Therefore, TFC are going to have to hope that their group can stay relatively healthy, and that the youngsters can grow into roles where they'll be able to push the veteran group onwards.
But so far, early returns are mixed. In pre-season, for example, TFC often went with their veteran unit to start games, before bringing in the youngsters, who often got hit heavily with goals when they came on.
TFC is going to need to hope that their charges can pick up the pace quickly, because if not, that lack of depth could prove costly, especially if the miles start to catch up to this older team.
Player to watch: Jonathan Osorio
Fresh off a career year, Osorio was excellent when healthy for TFC in 2022, and while his season didn't end off as he would’ve hoped as he battled a head injury over the last few months, he still finished with an impressive 9 goals and 4 assists from midfield, and attracted interest from abroad as he jetted off to Qatar to play in the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
He's back home armed with a new contract and will try and pick up where he left off before that injury. Given that most of the attention will be on the Italians in games, TFC will be very successful if they can get scoring from elsewhere in their lineup, and while a lot of that load will fall on their new striker Adama Diomande, Osorio has proven in the past that he can chip in from midfield while being one of Canada's most clutch performers. This has to be a big year for the team's future captain – luckily, as he proved in 2017 and 2018, we know Osorio can step up and do exactly that.
Toronto will do well if… they stay healthy. For a team that is very top-heavy and short on depth, they'll need their big guns to stay on the field and produce, as an injury crisis could send the team into a tailspin. If they can do that, they’ve got the firepower to really cause problems in the Eastern Conference, and push back into the playoffs.
Toronto will struggle if… Michael Bradley takes a step back at the no. 6 position. Arguably the lone question mark in their starting XI, the 35-year-old has lost his speed a bit over the years, and while he’s done well to overcome that, TFC continues to ask him to do a lot in his role. In a position that is so key in modern soccer, especially on a team that wants to score a lot of goals, TFC cannot afford to have him take another step back, because if not, they will feel the ramifications on both sides of the ball, something that could make their whole system fall apart.