It’s been a little different around the BMO Training Ground this week.
John Herdman has arrived, his coaching staff has been announced, and the process of integration has begun at Toronto FC.
“Energy would be the first word that comes to mind,” said interim head coach Terry Dunfield on Tuesday of the impact of Herdman’s arrival. “The second thing is just a nice support behind you. Going into a fight tomorrow against Charlotte, not only do you have John, but you have his incredible staff behind you.”
“John's come in and said that he’d be a fly on the wall, observing, but he just loves to coach – he loves it,” he continued. “Almost by the hour, he gets a little bit closer to my office and a little bit closer to the field. His personality is infectious; it just draws people in. I'm very excited for what's next for our organization.”
Dunfield will see the team through this week as Herdman and his staff will oversee processes through the next two road matches.
“Terry said it perfectly,” echoed Kobe Franklin. “There's been a different energy, lighter. Everybody is excited for what's ahead.”
Herdman addressed the group in an introductory meeting and will be working his way through the players in the ensuing weeks.
“I haven't talked to him individually just yet,” explained Franklin. “We have a busy week, but I'm looking forward to that conversation with him and the rest of the staff.”
“I've been watching him, as a young Canadian footballer, and seen what he's done for our country,” he added. “So I'm really excited to work with him here at TFC.”
On boarding, transitional, introductory, however it is framed, this period is a head start on 2024.
Toronto has three games left in the MLS regular season, the two away this week – at Charlotte midweek and away to the New York Red Bulls on Saturday – before closing the year at BMO Field against Orlando. Each one with the new gaffer on site is a chance for players to make their case for next season.
“Everybody is going to want to display themselves for the upcoming year,” sensed Franklin. “We'll get a good idea of what they're looking for from us in these coming weeks.”
Charlotte too are eager to perform. With four matches left, Christian Lattanzio’s side are four points off the pace of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with five teams between them and the right side of the line.
That should make Wednesday interesting.
“We're going into a fight tomorrow against Charlotte,” anticipated Dunfield. “I've got a top, top crew behind me and the team feels that as well. In training today the boys were flying, there was so much energy, and just a great buzz around the facility.”
“They’re a side fighting for their lives,” he added. “It was a very, very good game against New England. The way they play with the ball, there's a lot of moving pieces, full-backs inverting, wide players going wide, they progress up the field in different ways. I expect a really good game and I think our boys are very much up for it.”
Charlotte enter winless in six, with draws against Orlando, Nashville, and Philadelphia – all playoff bound – over that spell. They lost 2-1 at the New England Revolution on Saturday with the game-winner scored in the 85th minute. They will be eager to not let another match slip by without collecting three points.
“We're expecting a team that's ready for us,” said Franklin. “Home crowd, tail end of the season, they're looking to put us down. But with the energy that the group has we’ll be ready and looking for three points.”
The two sides drew the meeting at BMO Field earlier this year 2-2. Federico Bernardeschi and Michael Bradley scored first half goals, but Ben Bender and Kamil Józwiak responded in the second half.
Karol Swiderski leads the side with nine goals and full-back Jaylin Lindsey tops the assist table with five. Former Canadian international Scott Arfield joined the side in the summer and has two goals in nine appearances.
The end of the season is fast approaching, next year will be a new story, but this one isn’t over just yet.
“There's a great group of guys that love playing football and have a lot of pride,” closed Franklin, asked where they find motivation at this time. “Going strong through these last three games is everything: for the club, the fans, and us as players.”