Coach Bob Bradley believes Toronto FC now have a framework in place to build on
Bob Bradley knew what he was getting into at Toronto FC.
A shrewd football mastermind with a vested interest in Toronto given that his son Michael has called it home since 2014, the veteran coach had watched the club from near and far.
He knew he faced a massive cleanup job last November following a dismal 6-18-10 season in 2021.
« I’ve avoided all year being specific about someone who’s gone and I’m not going to change that. But there was a lot to undo here, » Bradley Sr said.
An influx of talent during the MLS secondary transfer window has bolstered a roster that has undergone a massive overhaul. Some 22 members of last year’s first team have left.
The arrival of Italians Lorenzo Insigne, Federico Bernardeschi and Domenico Criscito as well as Canadian internationals Mark-Anthony Kaye, Doneil Henry and Richie Laryea — whose acquisition on loan from England’s Nottingham Forest was confirmed on Friday — added new momentum to the Toronto team.
But with just 11 games remaining, there may be too much work to do to get back into the MLS playoff table. Toronto (6-12-5) enters the weekend six points and six spots under the playoff line.
Finding an elusive first win on the road would help. Toronto has a chance to do that on Saturday when they visit Nashville SC (8-7-9).
Toronto is 0-7-4 away from home this season – the only team in the league yet to win on the road – and is winless in 19 consecutive games (0-13-6) since last July.
While Bradley has his first-choice attack with Insigne and Bernardeschi flanking Jesus Jimenez, he wants more from the Spanish forward at the top of the spear. Jimenez leads the team with eight goals, but seven of them have come in the first nine games of the season.
He hasn’t scored in his last six league outings and scored just one goal in the last 14.
“We talked to him about the fact that he needs to give us more,” Bob Bradley said bluntly.
Bradley also sounded the alarm this week about the workload of newly arrived Italians, particularly Insigne and Bernardeschi.
« They just haven’t had any training days. It’s still pre-season in many ways (for them). We’ve been pushing the limits every minute. They’re both doing it very well. managed and we’ve overcome it where they’re healthy, which is obviously key. Now we’re just finding a way to keep going.
Michael Bradley, who is enjoying a resurgent season at 35, joins Canadians Jonathan Osorio and Kaye in midfield. With Kaye yet to return to full training due to injury, the promising midfielder remains a work in progress.
On the back line, Criscito and Laryea form an impressive set of bookends at the back. Shane O’Neill and Lukas MacNaughton have proven to be welcome additions at centre-back, with veteran Chris Mavinga still finding his form in a bumpy season cut short by injury.
Henry is keen to impress with World Cup berths on the line for Canada. In goal, Alex Bono is a quality shot-stopper with Quentin Westberg a veteran option.
For Bob Bradley, the foundation is now in place.
« I think we’re close to a frame, » he said. « Then there will still be a lot to do to provide the right depth, to balance the team. There will still be a lot of things that will be looked at carefully at the end of the season. But I think when you put everything together, in good health now, the frame of the team is very strong. »
Bradley still has a Designated Player opening to fill.
Toronto is coming off a 0-0 draw against New England last Saturday and has won just one of its last seven league matches (1-4-2).
Sixth-placed Nashville was just over the playoff line in the West.
« It’s a solid team. Well organized, » said Bob Bradley.
Nashville posted its third straight 1-1 draw at the Portland Timbers on Wednesday with Canadian-born United States international Teal Bunbury, the son of former Canada international Alex Bunbury, scoring for the third game in a row. It was his 57th career MLS goal.
Nashville, which has led in those three ties, is winless in four (0-1-3). The third-year club have had only one longer winless run in their MLS history, going six straight (0-1-5) without a win in September-October 2021.
Toronto winger Jacob Shaffelburg joined Nashville on loan this week.
German attacking midfielder Hany Mukhtar leads Nashville with 12 goals. He leads the league in shots (88) and shots on target (48), compared to 234 and 94 for the Toronto squad as a whole.
Nashville is undefeated this season when it scores the first goal (7-0-7). In contrast, Toronto is 2-10-4 when it concedes first.
Nashville, which ousted TFC in the first round of the 2020 playoffs, is 2-1-1 all-time against Toronto.
DISCIPLINE: The MLS Disciplinary Committee on Friday fined Insigne an undisclosed amount for engaging in « inappropriate behavior » after Toronto’s July 30 game against the New England Revolution.
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This report from The Canadian Press was first published on August 5, 2022
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press