Winds of change are blowing through Canada after a season during which Toronto FC finished 13th in the Eastern Conference with only six wins and a negative 27 goal difference. Their 66 goals allowed were the second-worst in the league better than only FC Cincinnati -- not the best of company for a team that expects to compete for MLS Cup each year.
Chris Armas was fired only 11 games into the season after a 7-1 loss to DC United in July of 2021 and at the time Toronto only had one win. Armas' assistant Javier Perez then took the helm for the remainder of the season. While he did a better job with the team, even taking the Reds to the Canadian Championship final, they opted to move in a different direction at the end of the season and the clear out ensued.
General Manager Ali Curtis also departed the club leaving two large voids to fill. Leadership at Toronto felt that there was only one man for the job and that man was Bob Bradley. He departed LAFC at the end of last season when they finished ninth in the Western Conference missing the playoffs for the first time in their history. It was quite a nosedive from Bradley's squad that won the West and Supporters' Shield in 2019 before making it to the final of Concacaf Champions League in 2020.
"We are excited for Bob to get to work," said Toronto FC President Bill Manning when Bradley was hired as the head coach and general manager. "We are entering an extremely important offseason and know we have a team that needs a significant makeover. Bob has experience putting teams together and in getting them to perform at a high level. He understands the expectations and standards of TFC and is ready to take on this challenge."
Toronto's new look
Manning wasn't kidding about the makeover as the offseason has seen 17 players depart the club and the moves aren't done. As Jozy Altidore departed to New England, only Michael Bradley, Alex Bono, and Jonothan Osorio remain from playing in the 2017 MLS Cup.
Another designated player was shipped out as Yeferson Soteldo was sent to Tigres in a swap deal for Carlos Salcedo. Soteldo scored three goals and assisted six more for the Reds last season but struggled to acclimate to Canada. He had quite a few things to say about MLS after being asked about how he's adapting.
"Playing for Tigres is like a personal revenge for me after giving away a year of my career in Major League Soccer.", said Soteldo, "So here I am, I came to compete and I hope to reach the level I had prior to joining Toronto."
Damning words from Soteldo on his experience, but he was also expected to contribute more to the team after occupying a Designated Player spot. Hearing that, you can understand why a departure was best for both sides. Additionally, almost the entire defense was dismissed and Ritchie Lareya was signed by Nottingham Forest although Bradley would've liked to have him on the squad.
Salcedo, Shane O'Neill, and Lukas MacNaughton were added to strengthen central defense, but there are no recognized fullbacks on the roster. During his media day interview, Bradley did confirm that Toronto is in negotiations for Kemar Lawerence to return but there hasn't been movement there yet. The other major additions to the team are Jesus Jimenez and Lorenzo Insigne who will join in the summer. Jimenez will likely be the starting forward on the team but predicting a lineup right now is hard considering how fluid things are at the moment.
What to expect
Setting expectations is where things are tough for Toronto. Will they be better than last season? Probably but that doesn't mean that they'll be good out of the gate. Insigne will be one of the most talented players to ever join MLS but he can only help the attack so much joining when half the season is already out of the window. As Bradley helped build LAFC from nothing into a force in the Western Conference, the team clearly hopes he will repeat the feat in Toronto but he will need time.
MacNaughton joining from the Canadian Premier League is exciting as he can hopefully begin a pipeline between the two leagues. One of the best defenders in the league during his time with Pacific FC, he'll make quite a difference for Toronto's defense that needs the help.
Bradley favors a 4-3-3 formation that Toronto is pretty familiar with. Michael Bradley will slot in at defensive mid now that he won't need to play center back flanked by Osorio and Alejandro Pozuelo. They'd support a front line of Ayo Akindola, Jimenez and possibly Jacob Shaffelburg based on the current roster until Insigne joins. Defensively things are a mixed bag as the team feels incomplete from that aspect.
Bradley hasn't settled on if Bono or Quentin Westberg will be his number one between the sticks but that's a decision that'll need to be made soon considering the starting keeper will have a a lot of work to do. Bono took the majority of starts last year but based on those performances I'd give Westberg the nod even though he's not getting any younger.
To start the season, I'd expect the central pairing to be Salcedo and O'Neill but MacNaughton will push for plenty of minutes. Early on, Chris Mavinga may start at left back but right back is up for grabs if Lawrence doesn't return. It's also possible 18-year-old Kobe Franklin may get minutes but he doesn't feel like someone the team would be confident in out of the gate.
While the Reds have a good roster, they'll be lucky to make the playoffs as most teams in the East have improved. Things are moving in the right direction but even when Insigne joins, if Pozuelo can't stay healthy the team will still be lacking in attack. They're trying to court Andrea Belotti on a free transfer for the summer, but they'll be in the market for more additions as well. It's a roster build that will take time but at least it's moving in the right direction.