The Reds are officially eliminated from Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs contention, closing the door on a season that began with lofty expectations and significant roster turnover, with nearly 40 players combined coming and going from the offseason through the summer.
"It's been disappointing. Really disappointing. It's been a hard year," midfielder and captain Michael Bradley said postgame.
The former US international was solemn in his post-match press conference, taking extra time to measure his words when rehashing 2022. When his father, Bob Bradley, took over as Toronto head coach and sporting director following a historically successful stretch with LAFC, expectations were raised.
When Toronto signed Italian superstars Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi as Designated Players, Toronto were thought of as a potential dark-horse contender for raising MLS Cup. Moves to add Canadian internationals like Mark-Anthony Kaye, Doneil Henry and Richie Laryea further strengthened the squad, while Italian left back Domenico Criscito arrived as well.
Making the postseason proved to be too tall a task in the Reds' first year under Bradley. Despite flashes of attacking brilliance, Toronto won just three matches since the start of August. Down the stretch, they conceded four goals in three consecutive games, an unceremonious and brutal way to be eliminated.
"You hurt yourself over and over in the same ways, in the latter part of the year where we thought we could put together a run," said Bob Bradley, ruing the defensive mistakes that allowed Orlando to score four times at Exploria Stadium.
"It's easy to see that we still make mistakes in key parts of the field," the American coaching legend added. "In this stretch, in this last period, we've talked about our goalkeeping; it hasn't been as good as it needs to be if you're going to make a real run. And then the number of guys that you can count on every game that keep up with the game, make the right choices, make the right plays, compete at the highest level... we still need to add to the group."
While Toronto have enhanced their roster significantly, including reportedly making Insigne the highest-paid player in MLS history, it's still early in the new project and a third DP spot will likely be used in the winter. Perhaps the issues ran deep enough that a single season was never enough time to turn things around. But missing the postseason for a second straight year is still painful.
"You know it's not going to be easy to get into the playoffs, to do the things that we would like to," said Michael Bradley. "But the frustration of certain things, the disappointment in certain moments, we've let that get the better of us."
While their shot at the postseason is over for now, Toronto's season is still ongoing. Both Bradleys bristled at the idea their campaign was over, and were quick to point out there are still two matches (Sept. 30 vs. Inter Miami CF; Oct. 9 at Philadelphia Union) left to keep building.
"We're going to train and try to play two good games. Try to continue to use every opportunity, every training session to try to keep moving this thing along," said Bob Bradley. "The building of a team doesn't start at the beginning and then end at some point in a season or after the season. It keeps going."
The younger Bradley agreed.
"We're not to the offseason yet," he quickly interjected after being asked about plans for the offseason.
"We have two more games to play. After that, then there will be plenty of time to do everything – look at ourselves in every possible way. But we're not to that point yet. Again, the work that's being done right now, while it's not going to pay off in terms of the success we would like this season, we still absolutely believe that the work to become a really good team is ongoing, every single day. We're going to use every moment we have to try and keep pushing ourselves forward."