It’s been a little while since I’ve subjected Toronto FC to an up-front tactical examination, but some of the obvious changes from the Aron Winter are coming to the surface. For one, the broad statistics are encouraging. While Toronto was always capable of producing shots, the shots-on-goal ratio has improved; more volatile is Toronto’s pass completion rate and possession stats, but Paul Mariner is a good enough manager to know these metrics don’t matter as much, particularly in a league like MLS where direct football tends to produce richer fruit than elsewhere in the world.
And that’s perhaps part of why the 4-4-2 formation has worked wonders for improving individual player statistics. Terry Dunfield’s game activity has improved dramatically since being shifted from his old role as the outside defensive midfielder in the 4-3-3. Ashtone Morgan has improved significantly as well; in the Winter days, he seemed to have trouble moving up in support in attack as a full-back. Now both he and Doneil Henry are working the channels very well indeed, allowing the striker more support in front of goal.
Torsten Frings however has been phenomenal, the lodestone of the team in the way he seemed to be at the very start of Toronto’s season. His distribution rate has been solid, and his defensive contribution has been important as well, relieving some of the pressure on the centreback pairing of Emory and Eckersley.
So is this some sort of tactical revolution from Mariner? Probably not. As has been pointed out on the Twitter, his words of encouragement to Andrew Wiedeman on his debut (“He said go in, work hard on defense, bring some energy and get a game winner”) revealed a man more concerned with the ineffable: determination, work, effort. Which might be good enough; the players are enjoying a freedom they haven’t enjoyed in months, if not years. It may not earn plaudits from the tactics nerds, but it’s good enough for MLS, and perhaps even an unlikely playoff run.