Toronto FC entered the 2018 season eyeing a dynasty. With one of the league's most talented cores still intact and a number of highly regarded new faces joining the club, the 2017 MLS Cup champions had every reason to expect greatness. A run to the Concacaf Champions League final only furthered those expectations, even if that run was accompanied by a slow start in league play.
The problem was that slow start never sped up. Toronto FC never kicked it into gear. The points, ultimately, never came. TFC inexplicably missed the playoffs in 2018, a year highlighted by decimating injuries, missed opportunities and, by and large, frustration.
Now heading into 2019, TFC is, in some ways, a team in transition and, in others, a group looking to make one more push. Gone is the biggest star in club history, Sebastian Giovinco, but the core of Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Drew Moor, Justin Morrow and Jonathan Osorio remains the same.
The loss of Giovinco will loom large, even if the team does manage to sign a big replacement in the weeks to come but, with several key pieces still in the fold, TFC will be aiming to bounce back from what certainly was one of the most stunning falls from grace in MLS history.
How did Toronto FC perform in 2018?
2018 finish: Ninth in the Eastern Conference (10-18-6), missed playoffs.
After starting the season with just two wins in the opening nine matches, Toronto FC never actually found itself. By late summer, it was apparent that the playoffs were distant, thanks to injuries to key contributors all throughout the season. When all was said and done, TFC, which set a points record in 2017, finished with the 19th-best record in MLS.
Toronto FC's key offseason losses
No matter which way you look at it, this TFC season will be defined by how the team handles the departure of Sebastian Giovinco, who publicly blasted the club on his way out the door. The Italian, the club's all-time leading scorer and a perennial MVP candidate, wanted a long-term deal at 32 and the club was unwilling to budge. The Giovinco era is over.
TFC also dealt with another public criticism from another soon-to-be departure in Gregory van der Wiel, who hit out at the club and coach Greg Vanney on his way out the door as well. That loss is a little bit easier to take as the Dutch international never truly found his footing through what was certainly a different TFC season than any expected.
Victor Vazquez is also gone, as TFC loses its top No.10, albeit an aging one, while defender Nick Hagglund was traded to FC Cincinnati. Add in departures of veterans like Clint Irwin, Tosaint Ricketts and Jason Hernandez as TFC looks to get a bit younger this season.
Toronto FC's key offseason additions
Laurent Ciman, for the time being, is TFC's big offseason signing as the club has brought in the Belgian international to be the team's defensive anchor. Ciman has plenty of experience in MLS having played for the Montreal Impact and Los Angeles FC and is, on his day, a Best XI-caliber defender. At 33, Ciman is very much a short-term solution, but a very good one that should provide a bit of stability to a team that had little in 2018.
Another familiar face joining the fray is former U.S. national team striker Terrence Boyd, who makes his first foray into MLS. Boyd has been plagued by injury-riddled seasons in recent years but, if healthy, should provide a solid partner or backup to Jozy Altidore.
There's also MLS veteran Nick DeLeon, former TFC winger Tsubasa Endoh, homegrown Noble Okello and draft pick Griffin Dorsey, but make no mistake: TFC's season will be defined by the Giovinco replacement that is not yet on the roster.
Full Toronto FC roster entering 2018 season
Goalkeepers: Alex Bono, Caleb Patterson-Sewell
Defenders: Auro, Laurent Ciman, Nick DeLeon, Julian Dunn, Chris Mavinga, Drew Moor, Ashtone Morgan, Justin Morrow, Ryan Telfer, Gregory van der Wiel, Eriq Zavaleta
Midfielders: Jon Bakero, Michael Bradley, Jay Chapman, Aidan Daniels, Marky Delgado, Griffin Dorsey, Tsubasa Endoh, Liam Fraser, Noble Okelo, Jonathan Osorio
Forwards: Ayo Akinola, Jozy Altidore, Terrence Boyd, Jordan Hamilton
Toronto FC's projected starting lineup
It's hard to judge TFC too much before their money is properly spent but, with Concacaf Champions League looming, they'll have to go with what they have.
Bradley and Altidore certainly remain the most important pieces, although the latter faces a race to get fit due to an injury. Osorio and Delgado also remain vital, with the former proving to be one of TFC's major player in the club's run to the CCL final a year ago.
In defense, there's the option to go 3-5-2, and that's certainly a possibility when Moor, Mavinga and Ciman are in full force. The three veterans should be comfortable enough in the system, giving TFC a few different looks.
Up top, Boyd provides valuable depth for Altidore, while Ayo Akinola and Jordan Hamilton look to take the next step and become legitimate impact contributors this campaign.
TFC's national TV coverage
TFC has no scheduled national TV games airing in the USA.