The difficult climb back to MLS respectability begins for a battered and battered TFC

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Toronto FC head coach and sporting director Bob Bradley admitted after Sunday’s 4-0 thrashing by the Philadelphia Union that he could use a “strong drink.”

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But then, after the disappointment of the last game of the regular season wore off, it would be time for some “sober” reflection and clear thinking regarding what went wrong this year. And there were many.

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“I think we have to take a hard look at everything,” Bradley said. “I think we’ve got to step back now, look at everything, figure out what’s possible in terms of how we continue to (improve) and (acquire) the right type of guys — guys who love football, guys who are excited about what we’re trying to do in Toronto. Guys who love to compete, guys who come every day excited, good teammates… We tried to raise the bar this year, but I look at everything carefully and say we have a long way to go.”

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With a 4-0 loss at Subaru Park on Sunday afternoon against first-place Union, the Reds ended the season with five straight losses and a record of 9W 18L 7D, ending the season in second-straight MLS Eastern Conference second-to-last place. And missing the playoffs again. As was the case in 2021, TFC’s defense was horrendous, allowing a club-record 66 goals for the second straight season. The Reds have recorded just three clean sheets in 34 MLS games in 2022.

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Bradley and TFC president Bill Manning will face the music at a media conference this week, and the pair will no doubt acknowledge that big changes need to be made to the roster – with improvements particularly at centre-back, forward and goalkeeper. And increasing overall depth everywhere else.

From afar, it’s relatively easy to see what went wrong in 2022. Bradley, who has had success at almost every level of club and international football, was brought in to steer the good ship TFC back on course after a disastrous 2021 campaign that saw two head coaches hired and then fired.

But almost from the start the Reds ran into trouble. Early injuries to key players and young replacements failing to carry the load hurt the team’s playoff chances early. During the off-season, there were hot reports that the club would sign two or three big players from the top leagues in Europe. And Manning ended up signing a trio of Serie A standouts – forwards Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi and left-back Domenico Criscito.

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However, all three had to finish the European season and only joined the Reds in mid-summer. Despite exploding on the MLS scene, Toronto’s playoff chances were all but gone by then. There was very little room for error in the last few games.

The club also traded for MLS veteran Marc-Anthony Kaye in the hope that the Toronto-born Canadian international would join Michael Bradley and Jonathan Osorio to make a formidable midfield unit. But once again, injuries to Kay and Osorio dashed those hopes and there is now a chance that Osorio, who has not played since September 17 with a head injury, could have played his last game for Toronto as he becomes a free agent and has expressed interest in playing in Europe .

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“Going into the latter part of the season we were hoping we could do some work (but) during that stretch we just never got to play the same lineup and keep things going,” Bradley said. “(And) we continued to hurt ourselves with different types of mistakes.

“It’s been one of the most challenging years I’ve ever had as a coach, (challenging) keeping guys going, trying to keep focus on things we had to think about every day,” Bradley added. “It was a test for everyone. I appreciate all efforts, but at the same time some are better than others. So we really appreciated all of that. There are many things that need to be done. You take all the information from the beginning to the end of the season, look at it carefully and try to understand how we can make the important steps to improve. There are so many different types of challenges.”

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As for Sunday’s game, Philly went up with three goals from Hungarian international Daniel Gazdag, while Mikael Ure added one in a 4-0 win for the hosts. The win gave the Union first place overall in the East ahead of CF Montreal. As has been the norm this season, the Reds were without a number of key veterans. Brampton-born Osorio – the club’s all-time appearances leader (318) – missed the game due to a “neurological dysfunction”.

His goal now is to get fit enough to join Canada’s national team to prepare for the FIFA World Cup in November, along with his TFC teammates Kay, Richie Larriea and Donil Henry. Two of their Italian players – Insigne and Criscito – were also not in the squad on Sunday. The Italian has brought offense to TFC since joining the club. TFC has scored 19 goals since arriving in August. Of those 19 goals, 14 were scored by one of the three, while Bernardeschi also recorded an assist on one of the other five. Laryea is out of Sunday’s game due to suspension.

Bradley will bring many of his players back next week as clubs are allowed to keep players together for training ahead of the MLS Cup final.

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Twitter @Beezersun

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