Sneak Peek: Near-miss ramps up expectations for TFC

Going one better is a simple objective for a losing MLS Cup finalist; transforming that concept into reality is the tricky part.

Opening day …
Projected XI –Irwin, Zavaleta, Moor, Mavinga, Beitashour, Bradley, Cooper, Morrow, Vazquez, Giovinco, Altidore.

Only the New York teams finished ahead of Toronto FC last season, but 2017 looks tougher with the entrance of big-spending Atlanta United and the previous two losing finalists -- New England (2014) and Columbus (2015) -- desperate to get back into the playoffs.

And lest Sebastian Giovinco feel tempted by the obscene amounts of money on offer from Chinese clubs, head coach Greg Vanney and his staff are aiming to build momentum with a fast start unlike the past two seasons, which began on long runs of road games necessitated by the expansion of BMO Field.
 
Faced with filling 30,000 spots for every game along with the steady dose of tough outings as is the norm in MLS, TFC will be tested by international callups -- Canada, Panama and the USA are all represented in the starting XI -- and the constant hammering of Giovinco. To add creative spark and lessen the burden on Giovinco, Spanish midfielder Victor Vazquez  is the key offseason addition.

In a 3-0 defeat of the other 2017 expansion team, Minnesota United FC, on Wednesday in wet, rainy conditions, Giovinco scored twice and Vazquez played 30 minutes of the second half in his first appearance for the team.

“He played very simple, very smart, got everybody the ball in the right places at the right time,” said Vanney of Vazquez, a product of the Barcelona youth academy who joined the team in Florida just this week. “He played a very savvy, simple game, which I appreciated on a day where as long as we did that, we were going to control the day.”

Adding Vazquez to the midfield utilized at the tail end of the 2016 season requires Vanney choose between Jonathan Osorio and Armando Cooper to pair with Michael Bradley, although he can rest any of the three assuming Vazquez strikes up a productive partnership with Giovinco and Jozy Altidore; they scored a combined 35 goals last season.

The other major offseason addition could be just as significant, assuming defender Chris Mavinga can avoid the disciplinary problems that dogged him in England and France the past few seasons. Like Justin Morrow, he is a left-sided player experienced on the outside as well as centrally and gives Vanney a viable alternative to Nick Hagglund, who finished 2016 in the left-sided slot in a three-man back line, but does not have a strong left foot.

The season again starts on the road but with “only” three games. (Eight-game away slogs opened the 2015 and 2016 campaigns.) The March 31 home opener is being billed as “Dawn of the Reds,” with ads featuring a hooded figure bearing a flaming torch, and there’s no doubting TFC fans see the start of a second decade in MLS as potential redemption for so many grim campaigns.
 
Who’s in …
GOALKEEPERS: None. DEFENDERS: Brandon Aubrey (Univ. of Notre Dame, SuperDraft), Chris Mavinga (Rubin Kazan/RUS, Transfer). MIDFIELDERS: Sergio Camargo (Syracuse Univ., Homegrown), Victor Vazquez (Cruz Azul/MEX, Free Agent). FORWARDS: None.
 
Who’s out …
GOALKEEPERS: Quillian Roberts. DEFENDERS: Mark Bloom (Atlanta United, Trade), Clement Simonin, Josh Williams (Columbus Crew, Re-Entry Draft). MIDFIELDERS: Will Johnson (Orlando City, MLS Free Agent), Chris Mannella, Daniel Lovitz. FORWARDS: None.
 
First five games …
March 4 --  at Real Salt Lake
March 11 -- at Philadelphia
March 18 -- at Vancouver
March 31 -- Sporting KC
April 8 -- Atlanta United
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