Entering a new month, the mission is clear.

Toronto FC have 11 matches remaining to make up the six points that separate them from the playoff positions in the Eastern Conference.

“It's easy to understand that now we've got to have a strong finish,” said Bob Bradley on Thursday. “Nobody thinks differently about that, but we also feel that to have a strong finish there are the things that need to get better.”

“It still starts with making sure that the mentality for training is right, that you see guys improving, that you see certain things in games that give you an idea that it's going in a good direction,” he continued. “We've had moments of that throughout, but the ability now to take all of that, put it together and make a real run of games – one after another after another – that's the challenge from here to the end,”

August will see TFC travel to Portland, Miami, and Charlotte, while playing host to New England and Greg Vanney’s LA Galaxy, but the journey begins on Saturday at Nashville SC’s GEODIS Park.

July was a busy month. The debuts of recent additions Lorenzo Insigne, Federico Bernardeschi, Domenico Criscito, Mark-Anthony Kaye, and Doneil Henry. The final of the 2022 Canadian Championship, tricky away trips to New England and Montreal.

Finally, new pieces in position, TFC were able to get in a solid week of training.

“It feels like a few weeks where we've just been on the road, travelling back and forth, so it's been nice to have a week where we can really focus on how we want to play, get our legs under us again, get the travel out of us and focus,” said Lukas MacNaughton. “To just be here and focus on getting better as a group, everybody knowing their roles and how we want to do certain things and not have to focus on this and that, what's going on tomorrow, or what you guys (the media) are saying, or hearing this and that. Football is what we want to focus on.”

July closed with a trio of games in a week. It began with that 4-0 thrashing of Charlotte FC at BMO Field, where the debuts of Insigne and Bernardeschi inspired a memorable opening half of action.

Losing the Voyageurs Cup in a penalty shootout was difficult, as was having to settle for a 0-0 draw at New England, but there have been plenty of indications the team has turned a corner.

“Last week was a real challenge,” said Bradley. “We handled [it] in a good way. The disappointment of losing in penalties, feeling that we could have taken three points in New England, but the mentality was good.”

“Yesterday [training] was quite good. A little shorter today following the work of yesterday, but today was a good day,” he continued. “For Fede and for Lorenzo, they just haven't had training days – this is still preseason in so many ways. We've pushed the limits minute-wise, they both handled it pretty well and we've come through it where they're healthy, which is key. So now we just find a way to keep going, but it's nice to have this and then obviously, we'll have it again next week.”

Toronto will have another full week of training before facing the Portland Timbers at BMO Field on August 13.

MacNaughton, playing his first season in MLS, was in the middle of all that action, stalwart at the back against both Charlotte and New England, he scored his first goal for the club in the 75th minute against the Whitecaps, getting on the end of that sumptuous Bernardeschi cross to draw TFC level and force the game to penalty kicks.

“Great service,” said MacNaughton of the assist. “Not much you have to do.”

“I was happy to score, of course, put the team in the position where we can win the game eventually,” he recalled. “We obviously didn't win the game – that would make me a lot happier than scoring the goal – but it definitely did feel good.”

“It's something that as a defender doesn't come very often, so when it does happen, it's definitely a special moment. I like to get myself in the box, put my head on crosses, finish when I can and be aggressive with the ball in my own box and in the opposing box,” MacNaughton explained – he was a clearance machine against the Revolution on Saturday. “It's something that I've been been trying to do all season, so to finally get it now has been great. Hopefully more to come.”

With the secondary transfer window closed and the addition of Richie Laryea on loan from Nottingham Forest, Bradley feels like the team has completed another phase of their evolution.

“We're close to a framework,” he said. “There will be a lot that will still need to be done to provide the right depth, balance out the team. There's still going to be a lot that will be looked at carefully when the season's over, but I do think that when you put it all together, when healthy, now the framework of the team is very solid.”

“With the right amount of experience, with good understanding on different levels, understanding between Mimmo and Lorenzo, when Mark is on the field, good understanding in the midfield between the midfield three, I'm sure that Richie, whether it's Fede in front or however we do it, that there will be a good understanding with good possibilities on that side of the field,” he detailed. “There's some starting points.”

The team is feeling good about who they are and they know what they have to do.

“There's been a lot of changes, there's been a lot of people in and out, but now we really feel like we're in a place where there's a good group, everybody's positive, and the football is there,” laid out MacNaughton. “We know we're not in a great position in the table, but we're also not that far away. If we play well the next couple of games, we know that we can be in a playoff position. And then from there, we're not scared of any team, we know that we can beat them.”

The first hurdle is a tricky away trip to Nashville.

Gary Smith’s side, playing their third season in MLS have always been difficult to play on their patch. Having started the season with a long road trip, awaiting the opening of their new ground, Nashville have lost just twice at GEODIS Park through 10 matches, drawing five of those encounters.

Being difficult to play against has become their trademark.

“I've watched them a lot the last couple years,” said Bradley. “They're a solid team, well organized.”

“They've changed a little bit: last year they played a lot with three in the back, this year that's been mixed up more, especially now that they bring in Shaq Moore. They can still play him as a wing-back, but they’ve gone a little bit more towards four,” he detailed. “[Hany] Mukhtar is an important player for them, [he’s] mobile. They’re good on set-pieces, hit a lot of crosses. CJ [Sapong] is a hard worker in the box. Teal [Bunbury] has given them some goals of late. Good solid organized team.”

German attacking midfielder Mukhtar leads the team in both goals (12) and assists (6), tied with Randall Leal in the latter. Named to the MLS Best XI last season, he was an MVP candidate then and is again this year. Sapong and Bunbury have chipped in five and three goals, respectively.

Moved to the Western Conference in the latest expansion shake-up, Nashville come into Saturday’s match above the dividing line, but treading water. They have drawn their last three matches 1-1, most recently away to Portland on Wednesday, and with just one win in their last seven matches.

The two sides have met three times in the MLS regular season, each winning once and drawing the other.

TFC are unbeaten in the two most recent encounters, but Nashville, in the first-ever meeting, knocked Toronto out of the 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs winning 1-0 in the 108th minute on a Daniel Ríos strike in the first half of extra time at Pratt & Whitney Stadium in East Hartford, Connecticut.

This will be only Toronto’s second ever visit to Nashville.

“I've never played Nashville, but I hear it's a good atmosphere, a good crowd, it’s a good stadium. I'm excited to be there, but at this point in season every game for us is a big game. Every game is a ‘go there and get a result,’” said MacNaughton. “We've looked at them, we know what they're capable of, and from us, it's just to play our football very aggressively, score goals and keep a clean-sheet. That’s what we want.”