Toronto FC’s issues around the opposition’s box was on full display in a scoreless draw with Sporting Kansas City. Greg Vanney’s men haven’t scored a goal from open play against 11 men since last year’s second leg conference final triumph, and their profligacy around the box is developing into a noteworthy concern.
The first half, however, was a rarely intriguing tactical battle at this level that witnessed both sides negate the oppositions threat in contrasting manners. TFC preferred to press higher up the pitch with Tosaint Ricketts and Sebastian Giovinco closing down the centre-backs, while Victor Vasquez or initially Michael Bradley pushed forward to limit Ilie Sanchez’s time on the ball.
TFC wing-backs Steven Beitashour and Raheem Edwards also aggressively stepped higher to prevent the Sporting KC full-backs from receiving space to drive forward, whereas the midfield battle was fairly scrappy. Meanwhile, the shuttlers encountered difficulties retaining possession and gaining ascendancy in central areas due to the aforementioned congestion, which therefore stifled the creative players from both sides.
The away side, on the other hand, retreated into a 4-1-4-1 out of possession with the wide players sitting narrow, and striker Dom Dwyer remaining goal-side of TFC captain Michael Bradley. It was another ploy to force the TFC centre-backs to build attacks, whereas Bradley’s inability to alleviate Dwyer’s pressure ensured the Reds were deprived creativity in deeper midfield zones.
This was essentially a major issue for the hosts with Giovinco starved of service over lengthy periods, and Jozy Altidore’s capability of dropping into the midfield zone to link play was required. Likewise, the intent to mark out Bradley has been successfully utilized by all TFC opponents this season, thus forcing the hosts elsewhere to move forward.
Peter Vermes’ men struggled going forward due to TFC’s pressing and were unable to launch proper counter-attacks. But similar to TFC, the midfielders couldn’t link play with the attackers, and the ploy to push the wing-backs forward to provide natural width – wide forward Soony Saad and Gerso Fernandes moved centrally to combine with Dwyer – backfired due to Beitashour and Edwards’ defensive discipline.
Nonetheless, TFC created the better chances in the first half through width from the left flank, and Giovinco’s diverse movement to pull the away side out of position. It took nine minutes for Giovinco to drop beyond half to receive the ball and combine with Edwards down the left and the move resulted in Vasquez locating Beitashour unmarked in half space, but his pull-back for the aforementioned Italian was scuffed. Another move following a rare Bradley switch of play saw Edwards identify Giovinco between the lines, but once again Beitashour’s great positioning was wasted following the right wing-back’s pass behind an unmarked Vasquez.
The Reds main threat involved Edwards – an academy product enjoying his first full start for the club – driving down the left flank. The left wing-back bamboozled Graham Zusi with a clever turn and played a pass to Giovinco in a pocket of space, which led to an opportunity that Jonathan Osorio scuffed wide of the net. Afterwards, Edwards play Ricketts free down the left channel, but the Canadian international’s poor decision-making halted a promising move.
Another variation of TFC’s dominance down the left occurred in the latter stages of the first half when Edwards moved to an advanced central position to drag Zusi with him, while Nick Hagglund stormed forward down the left channel. This was risky due to Gerso’s threat in transition, but it also pegged the attacker into his own half away from the isolated Dwyer. These positional alterations eventually witnessed Hagglund sneak past Gerso to cross the ball to Osorio in the six-yard box, but the TFC midfielder skied his shot over the net.
Although Sporting KC improved in the opening 15 minutes of the second half via high pressing – it led to a poor Bradley pass that nearly resulted in a Dwyer winner – TFC still found joy through Edwards down the left flank. However, the TFC homegrown product wasted a golden opportunity and was unable to connect his crosses with teammates.
Conversely, with the away side tiring throughout the second half, the TFC midfield suddenly gained control of the game, whereas Giovinco began to receive passes between the lines before charging towards the box. Vermes’ men posed a few saves from Alex Bono in the final half hour, yet TFC were unable to test Sporting KC keeper, Tim Melia, despite ample territorial dominance.
In another match this season where a narrow back-line left the Reds perplexed, Vermes’ approach can be classified as an efficient defensive scheme several MLS teams may adopt on their travels to BMO Field this season. In truth, it limits TFC’s option to utilize their pace on the counter-attack, and with no players capable of building attacks from deep in the current setup, this appears a logical method to disrupt arguably the best offence in the league.
Abandoning the system that provided last year’s success would be extreme, but it’s certainly time to consider instilling flexibility to a rather bland Reds attack.