aNewDomain — Toronto FC didn’t only manage to lift the Major League Soccer cup for the first time last year. It also scooped up the Supporters’ Shield and the Voyageur’s Cup, and a new MLS points per season record.
But can Toronto hang onto the cup this year? Here are the teams who have the best chance of toppling it in coming months.
What goes up
Toronto’s performance last year was almost flawless. With Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore in top form, the team scored more goals than all its opponents put together. And it ended up with the second best defensive record of the season, too, with a total of 12 shutouts.
Team leadership set out to emulate the dominance of teams like the LA Galaxy in previous years. In so doing, it aced the transfer market by replacing key figures with energetic young talent, most noticeably Spanish playmaker Ager Aketxe, who has the potential to one day replace Victor Vazquez as the creative fulcrum of the side.
So far, though, the team’s greatness in 2017 isn’t carrying over. Its first match, agains the Columbus Reds, ended up in a shock 2-0 home defeat. True, Columbus is a good side, and it pushed Toronto hard in the Eastern Conference final last year. But given that Toronto lost only once at BMO field last season, this was a hugely significant loss.
And Columbus is just the first of many competitive challenges Toronto will face this year.
New York City
In recent months, MLS fans have been backing Patrick Vieira’s New York City FC to win the MLS Cup and most sports betting companies see it as Toronto’s primary challenger. The 2016 expansion side has had two successful campaigns under the French legend, but it’s spent a ton of money and the pressure is on to deliver this season.
It isn’t too far away, either. New York finished last year with the second-best record in MLS. If it weren’t for an inexplicable slump at the business end of the season, it might’ve mounted a serious challenge.
And now, with the addition of such players as Jesus Medina and Anton Tinnerholm, New York has a roster that most teams would envy. New York’s two coming clashes with Toronto will take place on June 24 and August 12.
Few teams have made the kind of impact that Atlanta managed in its first season. The Five Stripes set attendance records and scored freely in an entertaining 2017 campaign and as if its attacking line-up wasn’t already formidable enough, the team’s added Darlington Nagbe and Argentine star Ezequiel Barco.
The problem for Tata Martino’s side could be away from the final third. Without Carlos Carmona, the United midfield looks a little lightweight. Though it is in theory capable of blowing opponents away, whether it are able to sustain a season-long challenge is anyone’s guess. But if it gets on a roll, the team will be hard to stop.
Los Angeles FC
While veteran-packed Seattle and a regrouping Dallas are sure to come after Toronto in 2018, the main challenge from the West could come from expansion side Los Angeles FC.
Mounting a play-off challenge in an expansion year has proved to be a tough ask but it has the right man for the job in Bob Bradley, who pulled off this feat in 1998 with Chicago Fire. The franchise spent big on a solid core that includes Mexican Carlos Vela, young Uruguayan talent Diego Rossie and established MLS stars Benny Feilhaber, Walker Zimmerman and Laurent Ciman.
Bradley will have his side well organized, and by the time the team travels to Toronto on Sept. 1, it may have established itself as serious contenders for the MLS Cup.
Beyond these three challengers, we can also expect Columbus to once again offer stiff resistance in the East, despite the off-field uncertainty, while Portland, New York Red Bulls and perhaps even a resurgent Galaxy will be striving to catch up. Toronto have the roster and the experience to defend its title, but the signs are the team will have to work even harder this year if it wants to remain on top in MLS.
For aNewDomain, I’m T.E. Wing.