When Toronto FC began their search for new recruits the club did so with something very specific in mind.
It was not just the positions that needed reinforcement, but a certain type of guy.
“Guys that love football, guys that show up every day excited to train, they want to be coached, they feel good about the way we're playing,” outlined Bob Bradley during Friday’s first media availability of the season. “Just the way they are when they show up in the building every day with their teammates.”
“When anybody talks about culture, it's not something that a coach invents. It's something that comes together. There's fun moments, moments where guys laugh and have a good time, but there's this sense of purpose and sense of what we're all here to try to do,” he continued. “In the first year you try to establish certain starting points and lay a really solid foundation for what's expected every day, but when we looked at everything we still felt that there were too many ups and downs.”
“Now you have a chance to say, ‘Okay, let's really think through what it's going to be like every day, how are we going to do this thing? What kind of football are we going to play? How are we going to get along? How are we going to push it?’” Bradley laid out. “You’ve got to have enough of those kinds of guys that you just know that that's how they think, that's how they've been in their careers.”
With preseason getting underway on Monday, Toronto have already locked up three of those guys by signing free agent centre-back Matt Hedges, re-signing midfielder Jonathan Osorio, and bringing back midfield maestro Victor Vázquez.
“Matt’s has been that kind of guy,” highlighted the coach. “That's why he was captain, that's why he's been respected by guys that have played with him, that's why guys that have played against him hold him at a high level. When you bring in certain kinds of guys, they add to what you're trying to do and we need as many of those as we can get.”
Adding a top centre-back was one offseason priority for TFC, ensuring Osorio stayed was another.
“I have a little fanboy crush on Oso," smiled Mark-Anthony Kaye. “We actually came to TFC at the same time, I went with the academy, he went with the first team, but I was always impressed with what he was able to do. And the fact that he's committed his future here shows that he really cares about the club, cares about the city, cares about the growth of soccer in Toronto, but also in Canada.”
“He's a pioneer and we're very grateful for what he's done so far,” he added. “I love him as a teammate and as a brother, on and off the field, so I'm glad to be able to continue to suit up beside him.”
And the returning Vázquez, who initially joined TFC ahead of the 2017 season and was part of the most successful period in club history, will bring another one of those type of guys.
“Guys that are smart, guys that come on the field and just make training better because when the ball comes to them, they make good decisions, their sense of when to play forward, when to play sideways, when to play on the first touch, when to play on the second touch, they're good,” detailed Bob Bradley. “When you have some guys that are smart, good players, and then you manage to bring in a few more of those kind of guys.”
“Victor was looking for a change again, he loved his time here,” he added of the 35-year-old. “The last two years he's played a lot. He feels good. So let's see when we get started, but having a guy who's smart, who just the way he goes about things on the field sets a really good example.”
Three good additions so far, more are expected.
“It's no secret we have to continue to make moves that improve our team,” said Michael Bradley. “The process began last year of trying to change the team, the foundation was laid in a good way and those things are only going to continue.”
“When I know that Oso is staying, that's such important news for the club, in terms of the player he is, the person he is, what he means to the club. And then when we're able to get a guy like Matt Hedges here, that is as important a signing as you can make,” he continued. “A guy who knows the league, a guy who came here with his wife, was able to see the city, see the training ground, speak to people, and at the end of it said this is where I want to be. You need guys who want to be here, you need guys who are excited about what we're doing, you need guys who are motivated, who are hungry to improve, hungry to win, hungry to do all of that. You need guys like that.”
“When I look at what we've done so far, I'm really excited. And a guy like Victor, has been here, loves the city, loves the club. When the possibility came up to come back he was so excited, so eager to make it happen. That's what it should be,” closed the captain. “Hopefully, every guy who walks in the door over the next month and as we move into the season is just as excited and just ready.”
With more than six weeks before the start of the season, TFC are still eyeing a few key positions.
“We've been in good discussions,” said Bob Bradley, of the goalkeeper search. “It's been clear that that's an area where we were going to add players. Still looking for a central defender – again, good discussions. Left-back, maybe some depth upfront. How it works with another DP,” he said, referencing the flexibility that young DPs offer. “We have to be smart with how we do everything.”
“Part of the process at the end of the season was assessing how do we get better in different positions and how do we bring in more of the right kind of guys,” he continued. “Good discussions, a lot going on still, so we'll see in days, in some cases, maybe a week or two, what we're able to do.”