Toronto FC returns home from Calif. with big holes left to fill
Toronto FC players take a break at the team's training camp in Toronto, Tuesday, Jan.15, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Neil Davidson
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, February 13, 2019 2:48PM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, February 13, 2019 4:40PM EST
Toronto FC left the California sunshine Wednesday for its wintry home and final phase of a tumultuous training camp.
"Some changes along the way, some things that have played themselves out, I guess," coach Greg Vanney said by way of understatement. "But the camp itself has been good."
"The guys have worked hard and, despite everything's that's kind of transpired, focus-wise have been fantastic," he added.
Toronto opens Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League round-of-16 play on Feb. 19 in Panama against Club Atletico Independiente de la Chorrera. The return leg is Feb. 26 at BMO Field.
The club kicks off MLS regular-season play March 2 in Philadelphia.
As the hunt for new attackers to replace Sebastian Giovinco and Victor Vazquez continues, Vanney has been hard at work refining what he has in camp. Expect a different-looking TFC this season with more attacks coming through the wings.
He has been playing a 4-3-3, with two attacking midfielders behind a centre-forward.
"A little bit more now of what you see from a Man City or some of the other teams, (like) Liverpool," he explained. "But we want our wingers to be aggressive. We want our attacking midfielders to get into the (penalty) box."
Toronto has been linked to KRC Genk playmaker Alejandro Pozuelo, a 27-year Spaniard, as a possible designated player target. Argentine striker Jonathan (Jony) Menendez, a 24-year-old currently with Independiente of Argentina, also has been linked to a loan move.
Giovinco (Al-Hilal FC) and Vazquez (Al-Arabi SC) departed for greener grass in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, respectively. Dutch defender Gregory van der Wiel was sent home after an altercation with Vanney and is awaiting a move elsewhere. Defender Nick Hagglund went home in a deal with FC Cincinnati while backup 'keeper Clint Irwin is back with Colorado.
Newcomers include forward Terrence Boyd, winger Nick DeLeon, defender Laurent Ciman and midfielder Griffin Dorsey, Toronto's first-round draft pick.
Toronto FC 2 winger Jacob Shaffelburg, a 19-year-old from Port Williams, N.S., has impressed in camp. Vanney cites his speed, aggression and fearlessness.
"Nothing has really fazed him," he said.
"We'll be patient with him but as the same time he's shown a capacity that is unique," he added.
In pre-season play, TFC beat UC-Irvine 4-0, lost 3-1 to Los Angeles FC and 5-1 to the USL Las Vegas Lights before split squads drew 1-1 with the Los Angeles Galaxy and Orange County SC.
On Tuesday, Toronto wrapped up play in California with split squads playing Club Tijuana to a 0-0 draw and beating the Colorado Rapids 2-0.
An earlier game against Japan's Vissel Kobe was cancelled due to poor weather.
Camp has not been perfect with captain Michael Bradley, midfielder Marky Delgado and goalkeeper Alex Bono spending time with the U.S. national team and midfielder Jonathan Osorio (hernia) and striker Jozy Altidore (ankle) working their way back from surgery.
"It's really been just this last week that we've had most of the guys in and available," said Vanney.
Osorio has seen some pre-season action and Vanney expects him to be ready for Champions League play. Altidore, while farther along than expected, has yet to play meaningful minutes.
"Hopefully by start of MLS season and maybe even the second leg (against Club Atletico Independiente) he might be able to get into the game. We'll see. But he's making the progress right now that we want him to make and he's feeling good," said Vanney.
Toronto can draw on a 35-man roster for the Champions League, meaning it has spots open to register any new acquisitions during the tournament. "Hopefully sooner rather than later," said Vanney.
After winning the Canadian Championship, Supporters' Shield and MLS Cup in 2017 with a then-record points total, Toronto made the final of the 2018 CONCACAF Champions League and retained the Voyageurs Cup as Canadian champion. But it slumped to 19th in league play with a 10-18-6 record.