This season was a tough one, no doubt.
Days removed from its end, Toronto FC has already begun a new era with the announcement that Bob Bradley has joined the club as head coach and sporting director. The first step of many that lay ahead.
The start of the offseason marks the transition from one year to the next, but the process of charting a path forward is a constant one.
“You do a lot of self reflection when you have tough times, you look at decisions you made and you learn from those things. When I joined the organization in 2015, I felt it needed consistency, a steady hand,” said TFC President Bill Manning during Wednesday’s press conference. “Results followed and we had a very good five-year run. Right now, we need some change.”
“What we were in the past is in the past and I'm looking forward to this next five-year journey as we go towards FIFA World Cup 2026 here in Canada, which is going to be a seminal event for the sport,” he continued. “This roster is going to have some makeover, Bob is going to come in and he's going to put his stamp on this team. We need this injection of new blood and to raise the bar again for our club.”
Asked about the state of the roster he inherited, Coach Bradley was plain: “There's a lot of work to be done.”
“When you evaluate a roster, it's one thing to do it on paper and it's another thing to do it the way I described: When they show up every day, what are they all about? How excited are they? When they step on the field what happens? How committed are they to their teammates and the club?” he continued. “There's all sorts of excuses for every team in the last two years. Life's been challenging and it's been worse for the Canadian teams, but at a certain point some sense as to how to raise the bar [has to emerge].”
“It’s a reset, it’s a reset for everyone. A reset for the club, the identity. It’s a reset to say to players you've had good days here but where are you? Is this the right place for you? Are you committed?” Bradley elaborated. “That's the part where I said I don't have all the answers. I don't. But there weren't enough times this year where there was a real commitment of every guy throughout the game. That when you lose the ball, everybody's part of defending. That there's a real sense of how to make it hard on the other team. That there's this collective mentality and this collective push in the game.”
“I call that reset, but reset comes in different ways. There's going to need to be some real discussions internally and then some one-on-ones in an attempt to find the right way to move things along,” he detailed. “Staying current, keeping up with the game all around the world, that's a challenge. It's a fun one. It's the one that I enjoy; I think that's the task”
Those conversations have already begun. The initial roster decisions are expected in the coming days. Some players will not be returning to TFC.
“Back in my Salt Lake days, my GM Garth Lagerway and I used to have a saying,” recalled Manning. “‘The players always give you the answers.’”
“And our roster this year gave us the answers,” he levelled. “That it wasn't good enough.”
“We're making the changes we need to make to return ourselves to be a championship contender,” Manning added. “We're a club that wants to compete for trophies and this year we didn't.”
Rebuild is too strong a word.
“A rebuild is a three-to-four year process, this will be a bit of a transition, as Bob has the opportunity to make over this roster,” laid out Manning. “We are going to look to make some pretty significant changes, to upgrade our talent and to put together a roster that can play good football and winning football. I don't think it's going to be just minor tweaks. We're going to be bold and do what we can do to remake this team.”
Every element will be evaluated.
“Everyone's going to be looked at,” said Richie Laryea. “It's not just three, four, five players. It's all of us.”
“When something like this happens, you need to have a bit of a shake up,” he added. “It keeps things fresh and keeps people on their toes.”
After the most successful period in the club’s history, it’s time for a new identity to emerge.
“My sense, my feeling is that we have to find the right ways to bring in some new blood and to bring in some guys who come with open eyes and fresh motivation. Guys who are really excited about what we're doing,” said Michael Bradley. “One of the big positives this year was the way that a lot of our young players established themselves and took chances and even in a difficult year moved themselves forward in a real way.”
That magic is still there, but it’s now about looking to how it will take shape in the future, not how it did in the past.
“I do. Absolutely,” replied the TFC captain, asked if he believed the magic was still there. “I do also feel strongly that we have to all understand that things are going to be different now.”
“It's normal when you have the success that we've had over a period of time – we were all so proud of it, it meant so much to all of us – that in certain moments we talk about getting back to those levels or having more of that success. We also have to be a little bit honest with ourselves to realize that those days weren't yesterday and so everyone has to understand that what made us good in the past may not be the exact same thing that makes us good in the future,” he envisaged. “There has to a part to everyone now where there is enough humility and enough perspective to understand as a club, we're proud of what we've we've done, but going forward there's got to be new ways to win, new ways to have success, new ways to have a team that plays really good football that people can be proud of.”
“To that point, I'm really excited,” Bradley added. “Because after a difficult 18 months, it's all about looking forward and seeing what we can build over the next few years.”
A new identity will foster a new culture.
“The culture of the club has been good and is good, but, as we all know, everything does have to come to an end,” acknowledged Laryea. “Maybe that era we were living in is now over and now it's a new one with a new coach with different ideas and probably a few new players as well.”
Said Jonathan Osorio: “The mentality and the winning culture has to, I wouldn't say change, it has to come back.”
“I'm not saying that the culture has to be back to where it was in 2017, but somewhere along the lines of that,” he stressed. “This is a new era, so there will be a different feeling about it, a different kind of winning culture. It has to be found again.”
That is the work that lies ahead this offseason.
The last five years has been a heck of a ride. There have been some bad moments, outweighed by a whole lot of good ones.
The next five years are full of promise. Not just for TFC, but for the sport in this country. Be excited.
“When I first arrived, I had laid out a five-year plan for our board of directors for our club,” recounted Manning, asked about why the term ‘five years’ kept popping up in the discussions. “We hit a lot of our key targets and I've done that again, I laid out a new plan on where we want to get to and what we want to accomplish over the next five years.”
“Signing on a coach and sporting director was a big part of that. And as we can, build continuity again and consistency and a core of players that we can build around. That process has already started and will continue over this offseason,” he projected. “We want to be one of the top clubs in the Concacaf region and within MLS. We accomplished that from 2016 to 2020 and it's something we will do again.”