Decoding the Major League Soccer: Rebuilding without illusions – Toronto FC’s comeback?

We provide an exclusive glimpse into xvalue’s comprehensive Opponent Analysis Report, featuring data from Toronto FC’s 2024 season. This report offers a complete overview of the team’s performance, providing valuable insights for football professionals.

Club overview: from a poor start to the treble

Toronto FC was awarded a spot in the MLS in 2005, however they would make their debut only in 2007, becoming the first Canadian team to join the MLS.  Despite a poor start in the MLS which would see the club towards the bottom of the table, they started to gain traction among fans and built on from there. The particular nature of the MLS took away all problems tied to poor results which would usually emerge in other systems, such as pressure from fans following a relegation and the financial impact of being relegated just to name a few. The Canadian Championship was founded in 2008 to award a spot in the CONCACAF Champions League. In its first years, Toronto would win 4 consecutive Canadian Championships from 2009 until 2012.

After failing to qualify for the playoffs once again in 2010, the club ownership (Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, MLSE in short) decided to make significant changes to the club and appointed Jurgen Klinsmmann to oversee the restructuring process. Paul Mariner was appointed as head of Soccer and Aron Winter was designated as the new coach in the aspiration of transitioning towards a 4-3-3 possession-based system inspired by Ajax. The transfer market window thus featured significant changes to the roster. Despite a run to the semi-fina m ls of the 2011 CONCACAF Champions League, results in the MLS continued to be poor and would culminate in the 2012 season where Winter would resign after 1 win and 9 losses in the MLS. Things wouldn’t change with Mariner in charge as the Canadian club languished in last place.

In 2013, MLSE opted for a different strategy opting towards ambitious, high–profile signings such as the one of Michael Bradley from Roma and Jermain Defoe for a reported fee of £6M. Defoe would become the highest-paid athlete in the league. Despite finishing with their highest point tally, the Canadians failed once more to qualify for the playoffs. However, during the transfer market, they would replace Defoe with Altidore and most importantly, sign an Italian player who would turn their fortunes around: Sebastian Giovinco.

In his first season, Giovinco would make an unbelievable impact, finishing the season with the most goals and assists in the league. This earned him the MVP award in 2015. His performances carried Toronto to their first playoff appearance, however, they were defeated 3-0 by Montreal in the first round. The next season would see them reach as far as the MLS cup final, losing to the Seattle Sounders 5-4 on penalties.

The 2017 season was the culmination of the club’s journey, as they finished the regular season with 69 points (an MLS record) to win the Supporters’ Shield. In the playoffs, they would take their revenge on Seattle defeating them in the final 2-0, thus claiming the MLS Cup. Their victory in the Canadian Championship against Montreal completed the treble, becoming the first MLS team to complete a domestic treble.

The next season, however, saw a significant drop in form in the MLS as the club failed to qualify for the playoffs. However, Toronto did manage their best ever result in the CONCACAF Champions League, where they were defeated in the final by Guadalajara on penalties.

During the 2019 and 2020 season, the club would have its final seasons of strong results reaching the final of the playoffs in the first and finishing second in the MLS in the latter. Giovinco left the club with Alejandro Pozuelo taking his place.

At the end of the 2020 season, head coach Vanney stepped down from his job as head coach and technical director of the club. Ever since his departure, the Canadian club would fail to reach the same results as numerous managers succeeded one another with a 26th place finish being the best result. The lowest point was reached in the 2023 season as the club ended up with the wooden spoon.

Economic perspective

While it is clear that making the right choices in appointments (player, coaches and staff) is the key factor towards achieving success, it must be said that Toronto has always enjoyed a strong economic position. To put things into perspective, Toronto has had the highest payroll in Major League Soccer for numerous years (estimates made by Capology) and has always been in the top 3 ever since 2014. Such expenses should have been translated into more consistent performances (despite the swinging nature of results in football). While the designated player rule obliges clubs to alter transfer market strategies, increasing the impact of a handful of signings, It is also true that elaborate, data-driven processes could lead to getting advantage on the pitch. On top of that, as Toronto holds more “fire power” this should only function as leverage to acquire the best possible targets. A perfect example of this decision-making process was covered in the last newsletter, where we examined the success story of Union-Saint Gilloise.

2024 seasonal performance

During this season under Herdman, Toronto is currently sitting in 5th place in the Eastern Conference (9th overall), in stark contrast to last season’s wooden spoon. This is a clear improvement from last year, however, the underlying data shows that the team’s overall performance is in line with the average of the league. Shown here is our Opponent Analysis Report. Click on the image to explore the services offered by

Tactically, Toronto doesn’t resort to pressing as they rank among the last teams for most pressing metrics: 

The same stands for through balls, cutbacks and crosses. This suggests that they seek to create danger in more central areas and through short passes. This image displays our Opponent Analysis Report. To learn more about the services of, click on the image.

Toronto are mainly adopting a 3-4-2-1 system as suggested by the image below: 

Player focus: Federico Bernardeschi

While Lorenzo Insigne is the highest paid player at Toronto (and the third in the league according to Capology), it is Federico Bernardeschi who is standing out in the current season. He tops his team’s rankings in most advanced metrics (xG, xA, xOVA, SGA, shots on target). The graph below shows the Italian’s importance in ball progression (both in passes and ball carries), while the heatmaps are clearly more dense in the areas which Bernardeschi usually covers. Also the graph regarding penalty box entries (shown previously) really shows the centrality of Bernardeschi. Shown here is our Player Report. Click on the image to explore the services offered by

Here below we compare the polar charts of Bernardeschi (on the left) and Luciano Acosta on the right. Despite some small differences it is easy to see that they are two top performers who have a rather similar creative output. With Acosta being considered a top player in the league, it is only consequential that Bernardeschi is closing in on that status.

Both players are comparable as they both belong to the Chance Creator cluster. These are players that, as the name suggests, focus on creating goalscoring opportunities for their team whether it be through visionary passing or through ball carrying. By using player clusters we are able to adopt a more just perspective when evaluating players focusing on their functions on the pitch rather than their position.

However, while they are clearly top performers, there is a Chance Creator who outperforms them. Can you guess who?

Final remarks

In this newsletter we have given an overview of Toronto FC, from their foundation to the current season. We have also focused on Federico Bernardeschi, who has been the team’s standout player so far. We have used numerous graphs and charts from our analytics platform and from our advanced team reports to back up our tactical considerations with data. We have shown how important it is to back-up financial commitment with coherent and incisive strategies. We believe that Toronto is taking steps in the right direction, however, they still need to optimize their decision making and club strategy in order to reach the heights of their treble campaign in an increasingly competitive MLS.

Clubs should really start to incorporate data in their decision-making processes to complement and aid their strategic decisions. In our view, clubs who fail to do so will eventually be left behind in an increasingly competitive environment. Our mission to drive and foster innovation in football analytics aims to do just that by providing tailored services such as detailed match reports, match previews, consulting services and much more.

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Stay tuned and don’t miss out on the latest updates and insights from Soccerment. We’re here to bring you closer to the heart of football analytics, helping fans and professionals alike understand the beautiful game on a deeper level.

Warm regards,

The Soccerment Team