Preseason preparations continue apace for Toronto FC in Palm Beach, Florida.
Head coach John Herdman checked in Tuesday midday to break some news and pass on the latest developments from training camp.
“Everyone's healthy,” said Herdman of his charges. “That's a massive opportunity for us to take a good foot forward. Young [Tyrese] Spicer is doing his return-to-play, but [it’s] nothing that we're concerned about.”
“We're in a good spot,” he continued. “It's been an energetic first week. The players have been feeling the intensity – they’re a little bit sore – they enjoyed their time off last night and today. It's everything that we'd hoped it would be: a fully committed group of men who are in good spirits and working very hard.”
Herdman and his coaching staff have been urging the players through their paces as the start of the season begins to take shape on the horizon. Toronto arrived in Florida on January 16 and will remain in place until the start of February, focused on building the platform for the year ahead.
“The days are very focused on the physical foundations,” laid out Herdman of the average 24 hours at the start of preseason. “A lot of players are experiencing two-a-days. We're splitting a small tactical block with real physical work – that's the emphasis and accent of the morning. We oscillate between an element of tactical, a big block of physical, and then individual work for players with their positional coaches, that's what most of our sessions have spread the balance across. And then in the afternoons it's typically a strength session in the gym or high-level recovery based on how hard they work in the morning session.”
“It's been full days,” he continued. “And then meetings: players are meeting one-on-one with the unit coaches, goal-setting for the season, establishing some of their statistical norms that we expect from the positional profiles. Every day we've had tactical meetings to help the players understand the identity, the principles of play. That's been live, inside the big ballroom here, with the ball moving around and other days it's just your standard presentations.”
“They’re working hard,” Herdman underlined.
“It’s been long days for players and staff. We know we don't get this time back. This is the time to really put the foundation in place for what will hopefully be a strong start to the season.”
One thread of preseason is to foster unity through the struggle. It is something Herdman senses progressing.
“You can feel the connection,” he explained.
“Whether that's how they enter the training ground, how they enter meetings, there's a synergy starting to form around the tactical blueprint; an excitement as well.”
“I’ll walk into the lobby and there will be 15 guys playing a card game, from the oldest player down to the youngest,” Herdman relayed. “Listening to other staff members, they haven't seen that for a while. It's refreshing.”
The leadership group of Jonathan Osorio, Lorenzo Insigne, Federico Bernardeschi, Sean Johnson, and Shane O’Neill have added responsibility during this time.
“We've put pressure on the leadership group during this period. When they've put these hard sessions in and the body is wanting that recovery, it's easy just to go and lie on your bed, zone out on Netflix or something like that, but the boys are making an effort,” Herdman said. “They've been out bowling together, they've done bits and pieces behind the scenes where they're getting to know each other.”
“That's important,” he continued. “That's building that trust, that connection, where a friendship starts to form and a bond. With that, you can start really getting the tactical excellence, you can trust that guys are going to work for you.”
“That’s spilled over on the field,” Herdman noted. “They were getting pushed really hard yesterday and there were a few moments where the competitiveness was spilling over. I got to see some moments of real leadership from our leaders, to keep things calm, but also encourage the spirit of competing. It's been good. The connection is forming.”
As for the news, it was announced on Tuesday that Jonathan Osorio will be wearing the armband for his hometown side, becoming the eighth captain in TFC history.
“Jonathan's a very special person at this club,” said Herdman. “You only have to see his connection with kitchen staff, the equipment people, down to the kids at the TFC Academy who look up to him as that player who went all the way for the club to a championship.”
“He's waited patiently. And he's ready,” he continued. “I've worked with Jonathan for five years, I’ve watched him mature, build experiences like Concacaf qualifying and the World Cup. He's ready. He's ready to take on this big responsibility and he's excited for it.”
The preseason grind will continue in Florida for the rest of the month. Toronto will play their first match of 2024 against Nashville SC on February 2. The club then returns home for a few days before moving onto Santa Barbara, California on February 8 for the stretch run into the season with three more preseason matches on the books.
This first one is all about pushing the limits in a live game environment.
“For both teams, we've been communicating with Nashville, there's still that fitness element on our minds,” detailed Herdman. “Selection, tactics will start to come into play in that second phase of preseason when we play Columbus, Real Salt Lake, and LAFC. This is where we'll really look to impose our identity and learn how we're able to apply that against top teams in MLS.”
“This first game against Nashville we'll prioritize physical outcomes and assessment of key positions. People will get opportunities to show themselves. We have an inter-squad in the next four days,” he added. “That's the first step of assessment for players, make sure that we steadily build match fitness into Nashville, then steadily build it into Columbus, and, hopefully, peaking at the end with the game against LAFC.”