TFC Republic Weekly: November 21-27 lookahead
Toronto FC is starting to make some roster moves this off-season, but it still has plenty of important work to do.
Welcome to the latest edition of TFC Republic Weekly, a free email newsletter that will land in the inbox of both paid subscribers and free members of TFC Republic every Monday.
This newsletter will look at what's in store over the next seven days for Toronto FC, and set up their schedule of games for the week.
You'll also get a glimpse of what to expect at TFC Republic in the coming days.
So, without further ado...
Toronto FC starting to make off-season moves
After being relatively quiet this off-season, Toronto FC has started to make some roster moves ahead of the 2023 MLS campaign.
In the last two weeks, TFC confirmed the permanent transfer of Jacob Shaffelburg to Nashville SC and traded Luca Petrasso to Orlando City. Those deals netted the Reds a combined $600,000 in General Allocation Money (GAM), a hefty sum of salary cap space for them to play with and reinvest in new players.
Then last Thursday, Toronto added some goalkeeping depth when they selected Tomás Romero during the first stage of the MLS re-entry draft. Romero has a previous connection with TFC coach Bob Bradley, as he signed with LAFC in 2021. As a rookie that year under Bradley, he made 18 MLS appearances for LAFC. This year, he went on loan with Las Vegas Lights of the USL Championship.
At the international level, Romero has represented El Salvador at the youth level. He earned his first cap with El Salvador's senior team in a friendly against Ecuador last November. Romero is expected to fight for TFC's backup goalkeeper position.
When looking at the current state of Toronto FC, there are four positions that it needs to upgrade before the 2023 MLS campaign: goalkeeper, centre back, left fullback and forward. The void at left fullback is a new wrinkle following the recent retirement of Domenico Criscito and the trading of Petrasso to Orlando City.
Filling these roster holes before the start of the 2023 MLS regular season is the key. TFC really needs to have all these newcomers in place by the time they hold their pre-season training camp so that they can start to integrate into the team, thus giving the Reds a much better chance to hit the ground running once the MLS campaign begins.
Toronto can't afford a repeat of this year where it essentially was treading water until the summer when the Italians arrived, and Canadian internationals Mark-Anthony Kaye and Richie Laryea were also brought aboard. That's not a recipe for success – especially for a team that has missed out on the playoffs for two straight seasons.
CanMNT vs. Belgium on Wednesday
This is it. The moment we've all been waiting for. After a 36-year absence, the Canadian men's team will play its first game at the FIFA World Cup when it takes on Belgium on Wednesday (2:00 p.m. ET) at Ahmad bin Ali Stadium in Al Rayyan.
Concerns about Alphonso Davies' hamstring injury, and questions about the fitness of midfielder Stephen Eustáquio and goalkeeper Milan Borjan have been somewhat quelled after the trio took part in the team's training session on Sunday. Belgium, on the other hand, looks like it won't have the services of Inter Milan striker Romelu Lukaku, its top scorer in qualifying, as he is dealing with an injury.
Belgium enters the World Cup with momentum after going unbeaten through the qualifiers with six wins in eight games and out-scoring the opposition 25-6. The core of the team that reached the semifinals four years ago remains in place, and coach Roberto Martinez can call upon players who rank amongst the best in the world in their positions, including goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and midfielder Kevin De Bruyne.
Belgium is No. 2 in the current FIFA rankings, well ahead of No. 41 Canada, and boast a number of players who feature on a regular basis in the UEFA Champions League. Canada cruised through the Concacaf World Cup qualifiers without too many problems, but Belgium and Croatia (its second group opponent) represent a major step up in class for the Canadians.
“You see what these top guys are doing week in and week in the Champions League. You see what De Bruyne or [Luka] Modrić does, and it’s honestly mind boggling how they manipulate the ball. As a defender, this is a great challenge and it’s something we cherish. We want to test ourselves against the best forwards, the best midfielders in the world. We want to show that Canadians belong, that there’s some good players here, and that we’re not just a hockey country. We’ve got some stereotypes to break,” Canadian defender Alistair Johnston told TFC Republic.
Belgium and Canada have only met once before, with the Europeans earning a 2-0 win in Ottawa in an international friendly on June 8, 1989.
CanMNT vs. Croatia on Sunday
It doesn't get any easier for Canada after the Belgium game, as it'll face Croatia on Sunday (11:00 a.m. ET) at Khalifa International Stadium in Al Rayyan.
Croatia, No. 12 in the world, might not be as stacked as Belgium, but the World Cup finalists from four years ago are a quality side the boasts several marquee players, including Real Madrid midfielder Luka Modrić, who at age 37 is showing little signs of slowing down.
Croatia’s biggest strength is its midfield, with experienced campaigners Modrić, Marcelo Brozović and Mateo Kovačić having more than 300 caps between them. Dangerous winger Ivan Perišić has 115 caps to his credit, providing Croatia with even more experience and quality further up the pitch in coach Zlatko Dalić’s preferred 4-3-3 formation. The young centre back duo of Joško Gvardiol and Josip Šutalo have shown a lot of promise, helping to solidify the team’s spine.
"They have unbelievable quality. Luka Modrić is still pulling the strings there and they have so many top-level seasons pros who have World Cup experience," Alistair Johnston told TFC Republic.
But there are concerns between the posts, as Croatia doesn’t have a clear-cut No. 1 goalkeeper. Dominik Livaković has been tabbed as the starter almost by default, as none of the team’s shot stoppers are what you would consider top-class goalkeepers. The Croats also lack an established goal scorer up front who can take on defenders and serve as the main reference point in attack.
It'll be interesting to see what kind of starting 11 and tactical approach Canadian John Herdman uses for this game. Should Canada earn a result against Belgium, will Herdman go against his nature and become more conservative in his approach? Or will he throw caution to the wind and simply go for it?
This will be the first ever meeting between Canada and Croatia.
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Stories to look out for at TFC Republic
When the Canadian men's team faces Belgium on Wednesday it'll officially mark its return to the FIFA World Cup for the first time in 36 years. Canada made its World Cup debut in 1986 in Mexico when it bowed out after the group stage following three consecutive shutout losses. Suffice to say, the current Canadian side bears no resemblance to that team, but the 1986 squad was special. I'll have a feature story looking back at Canada's original World Cup team in the coming days.
Other stories that will be published later this week include:
- My weekly TFC random thoughts column.
- Peter Galindo's weekly analytics and tactical feature focuses on Canada at the FIFA World Cup.
- In-depth pre- and post-game coverage of Canada's game vs. Belgium at the World Cup.
- In-depth pre- and post-game coverage of Canada's game vs. Croatia at the World Cup.
- The latest instalment of our Toronto FC Flashback series.
- Another edition of reader mailbag.
- And much more!
TFC Republic mailbag
TFC Republic will feature a regular reader mailbag column where I answer questions from subscribers about Toronto FC and Canadian soccer in general.
I'll answer the best questions submitted to me by TFC Republic readers, so feel free to drop me an email at email@example.com. You can also reach out to me via Twitter and Facebook.
(Top photo courtesy of torontofc.ca)
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