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2023 Player Preview: Kevin O’Toole

A surprise starter in the final seven games of the 2022 season, will the wingback from Princeton get more minutes this year?

Not a bad way to end your first game with the Senior Team at Yankee Soccer Stadium.
Photograph courtesy NYCFC.com

Kevin O’Toole

Position: Left Fullback
Age: 24
2022 MLS Season: 6 appearances, 6 starts, 540 minutes
Key Stat: Those 6 appearances plus the start in the Campeones Cup and the US Open Cup, all of them good

What went right in 2022:

Going into 2022, Kevin O’Toole was not a name that anybody had pinned on the depth chart as an “impact player” who was going to help lift New York City FC a trophy. But that’s exactly what he did in only his second-ever appearance for the NYCFC Senior Team when he put in a strong performance against Liga MX champions Atlas FC in the Campeones Cup. Appearing in front of a big Yankee Stadium crowd that was, in all honestly, a healthy mix of home supporters and rival fans, our guy Kevin from Montclair, New Jersey, stepped up and delivered a hell of a performance.

Not only were his bombing runs down the left side an important part of winning the cup, it was enough to win the confidence of the gaffer, Nick Cushing. Just 48 hours after the 24-year-old ran himself ragged against Atlas, he was back in the starting lineup again in the Hudson River Derby against the New Jersey Red Bulls, beating a team that he represented at the youth level.

Again, O’Toole was selected for a big match. And again, O’Toole delivered. He started every match for the remainder of the season, and rode that starting position all the way through to the Eastern Conference Finals, where the Pigeons were ultimately felled by the Philadelphia Union.

How did this player with the exceedingly regular guy name of “Kevin” become basically undroppable by Cushing at the most critical point in the season? Well, his dynamism, confidence, composure, dribbling skills, and work rate are all surely key components. He offered something a bit different than what Malte Amundsen had been providing at left wingback and seemed comfortable in a back-five. To put it plainly, NYCFC started winning games when then switched to Kevin. You can read into that all you’d like.

What to improve:

Truthfully, it’s a bit difficult to provide constructive criticism to a player you’ve only seen play a handful of times, so I’d preface this paragraph by saying you should take all of this with a hearty grain of salt. But O’Toole appears to be a very attacking-minded wingback. When NYCFC are playing a back-five, and three out-and-out center backs are handling most of the defensive duties, the wingbacks are free to do what Kevin appears to do best: Get forward and make things happen.

Given the current state of our roster, it’s not abundantly clear if that’s the formation Cushing will play moving forward. I think NYCFC could very easily move back into a 4-2-3-1, which the team used for much of last year. If O’Toole wants to remain a regular starter as he was at the business end of last season, he may need to round out the defensive side of his game. Especially if he is going to oust Amundsen for the left-back spot, as Malte is solid defensively.

This means O’Toole must demonstrate the ability to play a bit more cautiously while picking his moments to get forward and join the attack as he won’t have the same license to maraud forward into the opponent’s final third. Additionally, he’ll have to get stuck into some challenges, track runners at the back post, and subdue some of the most skilled right-wingers in the league one-on-one in wide areas.

None of those things are particularly easy to do, but he could very well possess all of those abilities in abundance. Maybe we just haven’t seen it yet.

What to expect in 2023:

It’s hard to predict what the 2023 season will hold for O’Toole. Could he be a key starter in an NYCFC side that rock a five-back, get into the playoffs, and make a run in the MLS Cup Playoffs? Absolutely. Could he end up making limited appearances as a backup to Amundsen in a back-four? Also, absolutely.

It’s completely dependent on formation, the signings the club will make, and the form of both O’Toole and Amundsen. Still, I think the upside for O’Toole is significant this year. Given the way Cushing talks about him in press conferences, the flashes of brilliance he’s shown on the pitch, and the rich vein of form in which he ended last season, Kevin could emerge as an exciting fullback all of us will enjoy watching — if he receives regular playing time in the right system.

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