The simplest things can have such big impacts over the course of a long season.
2023 began in earnest for Toronto FC on Monday with the team taking their first steps on the pitch in San Diego, California for the start of preseason.
“It sounds basic, but we need more good players, who come here with the right mentality, the right motivation, the right commitment, who are excited about what we're doing here, who want to be here, who like to train every day,” said Michael Bradley on Friday in response to a question about what he needed to see for the team to improve. “It's not a big magic formula. That part of it is very basic.”
“In any team, in any organization, regardless of what you're doing, you need people who are good at what they do, you need good people and you need those people to then come with the desire and a humility to work, to sacrifice of themselves for others,” he continued. “And then when those are your starting points, then so much of it comes naturally.”
“There's things for a coach about how do we best work on this or what gives us our best chance, but the starting points are so simple. Getting it right is not easy at all,” Bradley reminded. “The foundations last year in terms of getting things going in a good way, the right players, a real way of working again, all that was really good. It’s time to get to work.”
There will be no massive tactical overhaul, it will be a matter of degrees: be that little bit more stingy at the back, that little bit more dangerous going forward.
“The overall ideas on how we wanted to play are solid,” said TFC Head Coach and Sporting Director Bob Bradley. “There's always a balance between your ability to go forward, create chances and your ability to control transition. There are times where you're in good positions, but the guy loses a bad ball. It turns into a transition opportunity, but it's not because structurally anything is wrong. It's just bad touch, bad decision, bad pass, whatever, but we didn't handle situations well.”
MEDIA AVAILABILITY | Bob Bradley – January 6, 2023
“From an attacking standpoint, the number of times we created an advantage, but as the ball comes the attacker is not quite ready or he's facing backwards or he can’t, on the run, take the first touch to get through to goal,” he continued. “We have to improve in all of these moments. In so many situations last year we had people in pretty good spots, but our ability to deal with the moment wasn't good enough.”
As always each season will bring its own challenges, but one wrinkle for 2023 will be the debut of the Leagues Cup between MLS sides and those from Liga MX, which kicks off on July 21 and runs through August 19.
That period, part of the annual summer grind, used to be the meat of an MLS schedule. Now, getting off to a good start becomes that much more important.
TFC will play 24 of their 34 matches this season before July 15 with just 10 games over the final three months of the regular season.
The season begins at a game-per-week pace up through April before a gruelling period in May. TFC will play seven games, more than a fifth of the season, between May 6 and June 3. Add in that the MLS schedule will not pause for either the Concacaf Nations League or the Gold Cup and it’s going to be an interesting campaign.
MEDIA AVAILABILITY | Mark-Anthony Kaye - January 6, 2023
For Mark-Anthony Kaye that changes nothing.
“There's an urgency every season to get off on a strong foot, to leave the other teams in your dust,” he said. “Consistency is the biggest thing this year.”
“It's going to be important to, every game, go in and try to pick up three points,” Kaye continued. “Understanding that yes, there's Leagues Cup, there's not going to be international breaks, but there's Gold Cup, there's Nations League, and a lot of national team players will end up probably missing some games. There's a need to pick up as many points as you can when you have a full squad.”
Toronto’s first preseason match is roughly a month away on February 8, the regular season begins two-and-a-half weeks after that away to D.C. United on February 25, it will all come pretty fast.
Asked of his expectations for 2023 Bob Bradley was plain: “We're going to be able to compete with the best teams.”
“Whenever I get asked that question, the final part of how that works develops as the season goes on,” he continued. “It's one thing to talk about being a good team, but now you start to play in games, it starts to become clear you know how to win at home, you know how to win away, you know that on certain days if it's not your best football day, you still have ways to win.”
“There's a lot of the specifics that only happen as the season develops,” Bradley closed. “But with the discussions we're having and some of the moves that have been made and some of the foundation that got laid last year, the goal is to be a really good team.”