Where does Toronto FC go from here?
The Reds announced Monday morning they’ve parted ways with head coach and sporting director Bob Bradley, giving the reins to academy coach Terry Dunfield on an interim basis.
The decision arrived roughly 19 months after Bradley was appointed after helping build LAFC from scratch, and he departs with a 14W-26L-19D overall record as they sit second-from-bottom in the Eastern Conference table. Barring a second-half surge, the 2023 season may be Toronto's third straight without an Audi MLS Cup Playoffs appearance.
Naturally, minds wander to who could take over in Toronto long-term.
“You almost need someone that’s bigger than the club to come in to be like, ‘I’m making these decisions. I actually don’t even care who you are,’” said Kaylyn Kyle on Extratime. “Or you need someone that can be able to just man-manage players. Tactics aside, be able to man-manage these players.”
Kyle was speaking to a reported challenge of the Bradley era in Toronto: rifts between the manager and both Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi, their star Italian forwards who arrived last summer as Designated Players and are among the top five highest-paid players in the league (per MLSPA salary figures).
As Bradley and club president Bill Manning executed a vision to reconstruct Toronto’s roster, Insigne and Bernardeschi have become the centerpieces following their Serie A days at Napoli and Juventus, respectively. A host of other veterans, often with Canadian or US national team experience, were also brought in. So were players Bradley previously worked with at LAFC, plus some international imports. Academy products were given a trial-by-fire experience at times, especially in 2022.
Even though the strategy hasn’t worked out, often as injuries took their toll, could it with the right coach?
“The ceiling with Toronto could be really high,” said David Gass. “It’s a similar reason why Gonzalo Pineda would go [from Seattle] to Atlanta, because if you do well in Atlanta you can do well in a different way than other MLS teams. Toronto has money, it’s a massive city, it’s a great market, it’s easy to attract players and the fans care – you’re relevant in the market when you’re good.”
As possible candidates, Gass and the Extratime crew rattled off a host of managers with MLS experience, ranging from former Portland Timbers and Columbus Crew boss Caleb Porter to current Colorado Rapids manager Robin Fraser (an ex-TFC assistant). Given the club’s Italian influence, Andrea Pirlo and Gennaro Gattuso were floated as well. One more was ex-NYCFC boss Patrick Vieira, who reportedly was a candidate ahead of 2021 before TFC appointed Chris Armas.
Whoever comes in, Kyle doesn’t think a hire is imminent.
“This year is a wash for Toronto,” Kyle said. “I think they’ll have Terry until the end of the year. Doesn’t matter win, lose, draw. And then at the end of the year, they’ll be working their magic behind the scenes trying to get the best situation. And it doesn’t make any sense to rush this considering the position that they’re in.”
Underlining everything is the win-now approach Toronto took when building their roster, according to Andrew Wiebe.
“It wasn't a strategic long-term plan,” said Wiebe. “It was a, ‘Hey, push all the chips into the middle right now,” and if you win you big, and if you lose you lose big.”
And it speaks to a broader challenge, according to Tom Bogert: "This isn’t a quick fix."