Much of Toronto FC’s 2022 season – one of dramatic change – seems to be about summertime additions, when Italian national team forward Lorenzo Insigne arrives on a league-record Designated Player deal after captaining Serie A’s Napoli. Further signings appear needed as well to recapture their glory days.
But the Reds earned some positive news Saturday evening at D.C. United, snatching a 2-2 draw behind Canadian international midfielder Jonathan Osorio’s 89th-minute equalizer. They had also leveled in the first half through homegrown forward Ayo Akinola, enough to spoil the occasion at Audi Field.
That all snapped a five-game losing streak for TFC, a morale lift amid an otherwise challenging stretch.
“It means a lot to the group that they are fighting through this and they get a little something today. They needed that,” said head coach Bob Bradley, who joined in the offseason from LAFC. “You know, football, when you're around a long time, you can go through a stretch where it seems like no matter what you do, you can't get things turned around your way.
“The ability to keep guys going and engaged and working hard is a challenge. It's probably the biggest challenge that you ever face as a coach.”
Toronto are still winless in their last six matches, and beforehand had gone on a 3W-0L-1D run that suggested their club’s turnaround may be arriving quicker than expected. But with so many youngsters littering the starting XI each week, and with nearly 20 departures from last year’s squad, ebbs and flows are inevitable. Injuries to those like Osorio have taken a toll, too.
The rewards are particularly impactful for someone like Akinola, who’s recovered from a torn ACL and scored his first goal since July 3, 2021 – a 7-1 drubbing at the Black-and-Red that resulted in Chris Armas’ dismissal from Toronto last year and Javier Perez seeing out the year as manager.
“It just shows you the resiliency that we have as a team, the mental toughness; that when we are down, we can come back, tie the game or even win it,” said the 22-year-old Canadian international, who's re-signed on a U22 Initiative deal. “The mentality from last year to this year definitely has shifted. You know, when situations like this happen, how we come back when we're down, how do we find the resiliency and hard work, how do we prevail to go back. For us personally, I think it can help us with momentum.”
Toronto now turn to their Canadian Championship campaign, a Tuesday evening quarterfinal meeting with CPL side HFX Wanderers (6 pm ET | OneSoccer). They’ve won the competition a record seven times, with the victorious club raising the Voyageurs Cup and booking a Concacaf Champions League spot.
That opportunity represents a path forward in Toronto’s new era, which is sure to get a boost when MLS’s Secondary Transfer Window opens July 7 and carries through Aug. 4. Moves then should dictate how viable an Audi MLS Cup Playoffs bid is, provided they stay afloat in the Eastern Conference these next six weeks.
“I mentioned at the beginning, this group has faced some challenges and there's never been any part of the situation other than trying to say, this is how you become a good team,” Bradley said. “This is the work. It's hard work, I promise you.”