After a season of failure, Toronto FC are primed and ready to bounce back fast in 2022.
The Reds finished 13th in the Eastern Conference last year, very swiftly parting ways with head coach Chris Armas after just 15 games. Javier Perez steadied the ship somewhat, but now Bob Bradley is in charge and targeting a return to TFC's glory days.
So, here's everything you need to know about Toronto FC ahead of the new MLS season, including tactics, key players, and predictions.
How did Toronto FC perform in 2021?
Put simply, 2021 was a complete disaster for Toronto FC.
The Reds finished 13th in the East with just six wins from 34 games, with the undoubted low point coming in their 7-1 defeat to DC United in July - a result that cost Chris Armas his job.
Javier Perez did a respectable job as interim boss and even took them to the Canadian Championship final, but they lost 1-0 to CF Montreal and, thus, forgoed their spot in the Concacaf Champions League.
Given the high standards at BMO Field, there really isn't anything to gloss over last season for supporters, who have eyes fully focused on 2022.
Toronto FC transfers
- Lorenzo Insigne (from Napoli, free transfer)*
- Carlos Salcedo (from Tigres, undisc.)
- Jesus Jimenez (from Gornik Zabrze, $795k)
- Lukas MacNaughton (from Pacific FC, $195k)
- Shane O'Neill (from Seattle Sounders, free transfers)
- Greg Ranjitsingh (free transfer)
- Deandre Kerr (from Syracuse, free transfer)
- Luka Gavran (SuperDraft)
* Lorenzo Insigne will join Toronto FC on July 1 when his Napoli contract expires.
- Richie Laryea (to Nottingham Forest, $1m)
- Marky Delgado (to LA Galaxy, $400k)
- Liam Fraser (to KMSK Deinze, free transfer)
- Jozy Altidore (to New England Revolution, free transfer)
- Omar Gonzalez (to New England Revolution, free transfer)
- Tsubasa Endoh (to Melbourne City, free transfer)
- Rocco Romeo (to Valour FC, free transfer)
- Julian Dunn (to HamKam, free transfer)
- Kevin Silva (to Pittsburgh, free transfer)
- Yeferson Soteldo (to Tigres, undisc.)
- Auro Jr (to Santos, loan)
- Nick DeLeon (released)
- Eriq Zavaleta (released)
- Erickson Gallardo (released)
- Patrick Mullins (released)
- Justin Morrow (retired)
Bob Bradley: Tactics and style of play
Unless he's forced into a tactical change due to injuries and suspensions (like last year with LAFC), Bob Bradley will always line up in a 4-3-3 formation.
Full-backs are expected to push forward, protected by a deep-lying No.6, while dual No.8s will progress the ball, support the attack, and defend in equal measure.
Room is made for the full-backs by the inside forwards cutting onto their stronger foot, while a central striker will create space for his fellow attackers and be Bradley's primary goal threat. And every single player in a Bob Bradley team must want and be comfortable with the ball at his feet.
If everything comes off as planned, TFC could be a great team to watch this season, especially later on once Lorenzo Insigne arrives.
Toronto FC predicted XI (4-3-3): Bono; Marshall-Rutty, Salcedo, Mavinga, Lawrence; Bradley, Osorio, Pozuelo; Achara, Akinola, Nelson.*
*We expect Lorenzo Insigne to take one of the inside forward berths upon his arrival.
Who are Toronto FC's key players?
While Toronto's midfield and attack could be devastating, they remain weak in defense. That'll mean an even bigger responsibility is placed on the shoulders of off-season arrival Carlos Salcedo.
The Mexico international is an impressive signing for TFC and will slot straight in at center-back, fulfilling all of Bradley's defensive and possession requirements. But with a distinct lack of full-backs on the roster and a battle ahead for that other center-back spot, it'll be up to Salcedo to provide leadership and continuity. It's a big ask...
Given he was the 2020 MVP, last season was one to forget for Alejandro Pozuelo, who registered just one goal and four assists across 19 appearances. Of course, he did miss a number of games through leg injuries, hampering his form.
But the hope is those worries are all behind him now and the Spaniard can focus on returning to the playmaking and attacking wizardry that saw him notch nine goals and nine assists during the 2020 season.
With or without Insigne, there's a large amount of responsibilities on Pozuelo's shoulders in the final third.
Of course, we can't preview Toronto FC's 2022 season without talking about Lorenzo Insigne, one of the most high-profile (certainly the highest-paid) signings in league history.
At 30 years old, Insigne is still at the peak of his powers, fresh from helping Italy win the European Championships just last year. At club level, he's already in double figures for combined goals and assists in Serie A play alone for Napoli this season - a Napoli side in the thick of a Serie A title race, no less.
Insigne is absolutely perfect for Bradley's system, with his love for cutting inside, creating chances, and scoring goals exactly what the American expects from his wide forwards.
Toronto may have to slug it out until Insigne arrives, but just watch them go after that.
Toronto FC 2022 season prediction
There's surely no way on Earth Toronto FC will be as bad as they were in 2021. Not for a very, very long time.
But there are still some giant holes in their defense as we stand, even with the signing of Salcedo. The Insigne cavalry charge should be enough to push them over the Playoff line toward the end of the season, but expect a lot of pretty soccer with very inconsistent results beforehand.
Once they're in the Playoffs? Well, anything could happen with the attacking talent TFC have.
Prediction: 6th in the Eastern Conference