Ryan Nelsen

With Michael Bradley, Jermain Defoe, what would a Toronto FC starting XI look like

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We’re still two months away from the start of Major League Soccer’s season, but given the news Toronto FC made today, it’s impossible to resist taking pen to paper and imagining what Ryan Nelsen’s team could look like in March. Jermain Defoe is moving to BMO Field, as is U.S. Men’s National Team stalwart Michael Bradley. Add in the team’s other offseason acquisitions — Gilberto, Jackson, Justin Morrow — and the somewhat permeable state at the bottom of the Eastern Conference’s playoff picture and it’s difficult to tell a TFC fan they shouldn’t dare to dream.

Beyond the players, we know Nelsen has almost exclusively played a 4-4-2 formation since signing on in Toronto, preferring one defensive midfielder in the middle. With that in mind, here’s some blind speculation as to what a TFC starting XI could look like, provided Defoe and Bradley end up in Ontario.

[MORE: Report: Bradley to Toronto done, set to earn $6.5 million per season after $7-$10 million transfer fee]

GK: Joe Bendik – The 24-year-old acquired from Portland before last season made 33 starts for Nelsen, keeping the No. 1’s job from the eventually traded Stefan Frei. Recently re-signed, he’ll be back in goal this year.

LB: Justin Morrow/Ashtone Morgan – It look Nelsen a little time to warm to Morgan last season, but ultimately, the 22-year-old played the fourth-most minutes on the team. The former San Jose Earthquake will challenge his place in the starting XI, but Morrow’s flexibility could lead to significant playing time for both players. (This is where I’ll reiterate our caveats: It’s only January, this is very speculative, and Ryan Nelsen/Tim Bezbatchenko may have no idea who will be starting Mar. 7 against Vancouver.)

[MORE: Michael Bradley-to-Toronto: Take a moment to suspend your whys, consider how far MLS has come]

CBs: Doneil Henry, Steven Caldwell – Though Gale Agbossoumonde is lurking, the young U.S. hopeful is actually two years older than Henry, who is likely to start next to the veteran Caldwell.

RB: Mark Bloom? Ryan Richter? – This is the one position where it’s unclear what Toronto’s doing, leaving you to wonder whether Morrow may actually make his way over to this flank. A Canadian Press report from mid-December speculated the 26-year-old Bloom had inherited the spot, perhaps a second ex-Atlanta Silverbacks full back loanee ready to make an impact in Major League Soccer (along with Colorado’s Chris Klute).

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Brazilian Jackson, acquired from FC Dallas this offseason, is likely to hold town one flank in Ryan Nelsen’s 4-4-2.

LM/RM: Jackson, Reggie Lambe – Alvaro Rey and Jonathan Osorio are also options here, but Lambe’s 27 appearances hint he was one of Nelsen’s favorites last season, something that could give the 22-year-old Bermudan a leg-up on a starting spot. Jackson, acquired from FC Dallas, looks like an obvious choice for Toronto’s starting XI, provided he makes a smooth transition to his new team.

[MORE: Making sense of the “whys” surrounding Michael Bradley’s Toronto move]

CMs: Michael Bradley, Jeremy Hall or Jonathan Osorio (Kyle Bekker?) – How does Nelsen envision using Bradley? Is the U.S. international seen as a holder? Somebody who will typically be the deepest man in midfielder? Or will Nelsen craft a more expansive role for his DP midfielder? That may dictate whether Jeremy Hall, Toronto’s most-used field player in 2013, continues to be a regular in the starting XI. It’s also possible somebody like the 21-year-old Osorio (or, maybe Kyle Bekker) ends up partnering Bradley in the middle. This may also be a position when the opposition has something to say about who Nelsen chooses from one weekend to the next.

[MORE: Defoe to Toronto FC official… and maybe Michael Bradley, too? (or “How Taylor Twellman broke Twitter”)]

Fs: Jermain Defoe, Gilberto – Bright Dike and Dwayne De Rosario give Nelsen options, but the top of the depth chart is clear. Both Defoe and Gilberto’s track records hint they’ll be very successful Major League Soccer players, and while fans of the league have seen enough flame outs to know nothing is guaranteed, Toronto should be able to avoid their 2013 goal-scoring woes. Provided Nelsen loosens the reins (far from a given), TFC should drastically improve on the 30 goals they scored last season.

UCL wrap: Vardy gives Leicester lifeline; Juve wins

Leicester's Jamie Vardy, left, celebrates after he scores a goal during the Champions League round of 16 soccer match between Sevilla and Leicester City at the Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan stadium in Seville, Spain, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017. (AP Photo/Miguel Morenatti)
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Jamie Vardy‘s late goal helped dominated Leicester City make amends for a rough hour in Sevilla, as the Foxes took an away goal from Spain in one of two UEFA Champions League Round of 16 legs on Wednesday.

[ MORE: Man Utd onto Europa Round of 16 ]

Elsewhere, Porto nearly handled an early red card all the way to 0-0. Alas, Juventus.


Sevilla 2-1 Leicester City

Jamie Vardy’s late goal gives Leicester City hope after Joaquin Correa and Pablo Sarabia helped the hosts to a two-goal lead on Wednesday at the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán Stadium.

Wes Morgan gave away a penalty with an out-of-position challenge, but Correa’s take was poor and Kasper Schmeichel guessed correctly to snare the low shot.

Schmeichel then robbed Sergio Escudero, only to be burnt by Sevilla’s No. 17. Escudero swept a cross over the Leicester back line and a leaping Christian Fuchs, and Sarabia headed home for a deserved 1-0.

Fuchs’ dicey day continued in the 56th minute, as Sarabia had plenty of time for a strong attempt only to miss near post.

Substitute Demarai Gray injected some life into Leicester, and Danny Drinkwater forced Sevilla into conceding a corner in the 60th minute. The Foxes played it short to no success.

Moments later, Sevilla were up a pair through Correa. Ex-Man City striker Stevan Jovetic, on loan from Inter Milan, teed up Correa for the shot.

Vardy pulled back what could be a huge away goal for the Foxes, belting a Drinkwater square ball home in the 74th minute.


Porto 0-2 Juventus

Alex Telles’ 27th minute yellow card was his second for Porto in 74 seconds, giving the impression that Juventus would waltz back to Italy with the tie well in-hand.

Instead, Iker Casillas and Porto closed up shop to great success, and Juventus didn’t break through until the final 20 minutes. Marko Pjaca and Dani Alves netted two minutes apart to give Juve a solid foothold in the quarterfinals.

VIDEO: Manchester United dispatches Saint-Etienne, Mkhi injured

SAINT-ETIENNE, FRANCE - FEBRUARY 22:  Florentin Pogba of Saint-Etienne walks on the pitch next to his brother Paul Pogba of Manchester United during the UEFA Europa League Round of 32 second leg match between AS Saint-Etienne and Manchester United at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard on February 22, 2017 in Saint-Etienne, France.  (Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)
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Juan Mata‘s 16th minute service found Henrikh Mkhitaryan score the only goal of Manchester United’s 1-0 second leg Europa League Round of 32 win at Saint-Etienne, but the win came at a price.

Mkhitaryan left the match with a leg injury, casting him in doubt for Sunday’s EFL Cup final against Southampton at Wembley Stadium. Michael Carrick also left the game with an injury.

[ MORE: Two year bans for penalty protest ]

Krasnodar and Schalke also clinched berths in the Round of 16, which will be played March 9 and 16.

UCL AT HALF: Leicester trails in Spain, Porto down a man (video)

Sevilla players celebrate the goal of Sevilla's Pablo Sarabia, second left, during the Champions League round of 16 soccer match between Sevilla and Leicester City at the Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan stadium in Seville, Spain, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017. (AP Photo/Miguel Morenatti)
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Leicester City will be happy to get to halftime down by a mere goal, while Porto will be simply hoping to be alive after 90 minutes at home to Juventus.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores

That’s because Porto will play more than an hour down a man against The Old Lady.

Sevilla 1-0 Leicester City

Wes Morgan gave away a penalty with an out-of-position challenge, but Joaquin Correa’s take was poor and Kasper Schmeichel guessed correctly to snare the low shot.

Schmeichel then robbed Sergio Escudero, only to be burnt by Sevilla’s No. 17. Escudero swept a cross over the Leicester back line and a leaping Christian Fuchs, and Pablo Sarabia headed home for a deserved 1-0.

Porto 0-0 Juventus

It didn’t take long for Juventus fans to feel rightly confident, as Porto’s Alex Telles took a pair of yellow cards in 74 seconds.

LIVE: UCL last 16 – Leicester face Sevilla; Juve head to Porto

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 05:  Jamie Vardy of Leicester City applauds the crowd in defeat after the Premier League match between Leicester City and Manchester United at The King Power Stadium on February 5, 2017 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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Two more UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first legs take place on Wednesday.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores

Leicester City of the Premier League head to Spain to face Sevilla in the UCL last 16 despite Claudio Ranieri‘s men battling for survival in the Premier League. The Foxes, as always, are the big underdogs in Spain as Sevilla have won the UEFA Europa League in each of the past three seasons and Jorge Sampaoli’s side are battling for the title in La Liga.

As for Leicester, they’re just two points off the bottom of the PL as they haven’t scored in their last six outings and have lost five on the spin as well as being dumped out of the FA Cup by third-tier Millwall at the weekend. So yeah, Sevilla head into this game as the heavy favorites and will hope to take a healthy lead to the King Power Stadium with them in two weeks time.

In the other UCL clash on Wednesday FC Porto host Juventus as the Portuguese and Italian giants collide at the Estadio do Dragao. Porto finished behind Leicester in the group stage, while Juv battled it out with Sevilla and clinched top spot. Massimiliano Allegri’s men remain top of Serie A and will look to Gonzalo Higuain to deliver the goals away from home. It promises to be an intriguing tactical battle in northern Portugal.

Click on the link above to follow live commentary on both games, while we will have reaction and analysis on all of the UCL knockout games here at Pro Soccer Talk.


Wednesday’s UCL Round of 16, first legs

Sevilla vs. Leicester City – 2:45 p.m. ET
FC Porto vs. Juventus – 2:45 p.m. ET