I bought Shane O’Neill because I think he will start at center back for Toronto and play every minute of every game this upcoming season. Toronto is a team on their way up and their defense will steadily improve for the next couple of years.

The Past

Shane’s involvement (or lack thereof) with the Sounders always confused me. This last season, he was mostly a “closer”. Schmeltzer would sub him in at around the 60 minute mark in games where Seattle was ahead and he would go in there and make hard tackles until the final whistle. Arreaga and Yeimar were preferred over him to start most of the time – I felt that he was the victim of an overabundance of riches at CB for Seattle.

The Present

Shane has just been signed by Toronto FC. Not only was he signed, he was the first signing that new head coach Bob Bradley made.

TFC is an interesting story that only gets more interesting with every passing week. They had a terrible year last year. This offseason, it became clear very quickly that management wanted to turn things around in a big way. They hired former USMNT coach Bob Bradley and gave him the freedom to make major changes to the lineup, including the dismissal of two starting CBs in Gonzalez and Dunn. The pace of change in Toronto almost makes me think of them as an expansion team… they may have been around for a while, but I would imagine that their mindset is not too dissimilar from the mindset of Nashville SC, who over the past two years created a successful team out of thin air.

What did Nashville SC do right? Well, the headline-grabber is Mukhtar. Nashville took to heart Bruce Arena’s advice that your DPs absolutely have to be your best players in the MLS. So too is Bradley. Whether Insigne and Belotti end up being the best players in MLS is up in the air, but it’s clear that this is Bradley’s intent.

Ok, what else did Nashville do right? Zimmerman. Nashville built a successful team from the back. I’m not sure how the timeline looks of how the team got put together but it’s clear that Zimmerman was on the radar of the Nashville coaching staff from the start, and he was one of the first signings the club made. It sounded like he wasn’t extremely stoked to leave LAFC but the Nashville coaching staff were over the moon to get him. He’s a team-oriented, tough CB who they thought could anchor the team during tough times.

Who else is a team-oriented, tough CB who can anchor a new team during tough times? Shane O’Neill. O’Neill is the Zimmerman of Toronto FC. The only difference is that TFC is spending buckets of money on the Italians so they needed a cheaper option. O’Neill isn’t as skilled as Walker, but it’s close (he used to play forward), and he is certainly as tough and as team-oriented. Another difference between Zimmerman and O’Neill is O’Neill didn’t come off of a successful season in Seattle… if I were him I would be disappointed to play third fiddle to Yeimar and Arreaga. My guess is he has something to prove and this is the opportunity he’s been waiting for.

The Future

Successful MLS start-ups are typically multi-year projects. Toronto will be no different.

Toronto has a good not great first year as Insigne and maybe Belotti adjust to MLS (which is absolutely a different kind of soccer than Europe). Shane puts up a bunch of double-doubles, some triple-doubles and triple-triples, but not a lot of clean sheets. The second year, however, TFC adds more depth to their lineup and figures it out on defense – Shane’s numbers continue to improve, making him one of the most valuable defenders in the MLS. He’s there through 2024.