It’s hard to imagine a more catastrophic season. Toronto’s insanely expensive Designated Player pairing underdelivered on the field and reportedly poisoned the locker room. The cadre of MLS vets signed in the offseason – Matt Hedges, Sean Johnson, Mark-Anthony Kaye, Adama Diomande, Víctor Vázquez – moved the needle not one iota, and some are already gone.
None of the high-upside youngsters developed. None of the imports impressed. Neither of the remaining club legends, Jonathan Osorio and Michael Bradley, could do a damn thing to prevent this team from having what I think is the worst season in club history (apologies to the 2012 group, but relative to expectations, 2023 is worse).
Formation & Tactics
It was supposed to be 4-3-3 with a heavy emphasis on positional play, and I guess you could say it actually was that for most of the year (even after Terry Dunfield took over for Bradley in an interim role).
But positional play is supposed to unbalance opponents with coordinated, dynamic movement on and off the ball, and boy did TFC come up short in those particular areas. They moved the ball so, so slowly – I think turgid is a good descriptor – that they were never attacking scrambled backlines. Because of that, they created few good chances and scored fewer.
American Soccer Analysis has the Reds dead last in the value of passes they received this year, and one of the worst teams in their database going back a decade. That matches the eye test.
Here it is, the one time all year things worked like they were supposed to:
I genuinely do not think there was another one.
From June 21 to Aug. 26, the Reds lost 10 straight games across all competitions. They were outscored 23-3 during that stretch. At one point they were shut out in six straight.
It’s as low as anybody’s been this year.
The biggest disappointment is no one’s played their way into the “revelation” discussion. Toronto is an incredible soccer town and has a treasure trove of talent – just look at how many players on the Canadian men’s national team come from the 6ix and its suburbs. Those are all from within the TFC homegrown territory.
And yet this club does not push young players into meaningful minutes or significant roles. While Bradley was culpable and paid the price, club president Bill Manning has set the culture with his endless thirst for veteran European imports.
Over the past three years literally none of those imports have been successful. Meanwhile domestic players like Lukas MacNaughton, Jacob Shaffelburg, Jacen Russell-Rowe, Ali Ahmed and Kamal Miller all were either with TFC or could’ve been had by them for a song, and all are contributing significantly to winning elsewhere.
This club’s sitting on the mother lode and the front office has steadfastly refused to pick up a shovel, let alone dig.
Five Players to Build Around
- Sean Johnson (GK): Was poor this year before his injury, but he’s a veteran with what should be a couple of good years left.
- Deandre Kerr (FW/RW): The one slightly bright spot this year has been the play of Kerr, who’s always moving off the ball and occasionally scoring goals because of it.
- Latif Blessing (AM/W): We know he can be a high-level MLS player. We just haven’t seen it in Toronto.
- Jahkeele Marshall-Ruty (RW/RB): If not next year, then probably never, right?
- Osorio (CM): Still putting in the work.
Manning and Herdman, presumably with some input from new GM Jason Hernandez, will probably have to tear down and rebuild something like the entire roster. It likely starts with figuring out what they want to do with Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi, who both seem destined to head elsewhere this winter. Both have been… poor.
Most folks with an ear to the ground expect Michael Bradley to retire. Veteran center forwards C.J. Sapong and Adama Diomande are on fairly expensive deals, and it’s not clear if either will return.
So there should be room to maneuver. But there’s constantly been room to maneuver over the past few years and TFC, with Manning’s hand firmly on the wheel as per reporting from The Athletic, have gone wrong at every turn. Bear in mind that while this first-team roster was constructed, the front office has been gutted. Jack Dodd was the last holdover from the group that put together those great 2015-19 teams under Tim Bezbatchenko (many of whom have gone to work for Bezbatchenko with the Crew), and he was hired away by Portland in the spring to become the Timbers’ technical director.
“I’ve been president for eight years, and we had a lot of good years. … I look back on my own experience and what I have learned over those years. I wouldn’t be in this position if I didn’t win in my career. I’ve been fortunate enough to have some trophies and multiple teams that have won. Losing humbles you and it is not fun. But I have such a conviction to turn this around,” Manning said this summer when Bob Bradley was let go.
“I bear great responsibility and it’s difficult. But there’s nothing more I want to do than raise this team up again to win some trophies. You have to visualize things. Failure is part of life. I’ve done a lot of self-reflection. And it’s easy to feel good about yourself when you’re winning. I will always bet on myself.”
Fair enough. It’s just that it’ll take a huge wager this winter, and the last few rolls have come up snake eyes.