Toronto FC’s final training session ahead of the start of the 2024 MLS season was a little louder than usual. 

The bubble at the BMO Training Ground has a way of emphasizing the sound of the action playing out within, but as one approached on Friday morning it was bumping. A good number of fans were invited to see the side off as their journey begins.

“We had a fan engagement night with all the supporters groups two weeks ago. Myself and Oso [recently named club captain Jonathan Osorio] spoke openly and passionately with them, I shared a few of the tactics,” explained TFC head coach John Herdman later that day. “On the back of that, they asked if they could come along to training.” 

“It was brilliant, just to feel the connection,” he continued. “This is what this journey is about as much as anything, reconnecting back to the people who care more for this club than anyone.”

The advent of the season saw a flurry of activity.

Irish centre-back Kevin Long was announced, goalkeeper Greg Ranjitsingh re-signed, Richie Laryea returned from England, Adama Diomande was placed on waivers, French defender Nicksoen Gomis, one of the mystery trialists, was added to the side, as was homegrown centre-back Adam Pearlman, who spent the last two seasons with TFC II.

Through the blur of moves before the team departed for Cincinnati, Herdman was “clear” on what he saw from his side as it evolved through preseason.

“The four preseason games showed the consistency – that's what you've got to see as a coach,” he underlined.

“Consistency in the tactical cohesion, they’re committed to the defensive structure, the distances, the pressing organization, and what I've seen is their commitment to each other.”

“It only gets tested in the real moment,” Herdman continued. “Against a Cincinnati team with [Luciano] Acosta and [Aaron] Boupendza, who have an ability to score against you. Can we be consistent in game one? The mission is to start strong, that’s been our catchcry. We’ll be tested, there's no doubt.”

TFC will open their campaign on Sunday at TQL Stadium, away to the defending Supporters’ Shield champions FC Cincinnati.

With Cincinnati playing on Thursday in the Concacaf Champions Cup, winning 2-0 away to Jamaican side Cavalier FC where Sergio Santos and Malik Pinto provided the goal, Toronto has had a chance to see their opponent in action.

“Similar to what you’ve seen last season,” anticipated Herdman of the task ahead. “We had a chance to see some of the preseason matches. Boupendza is in great form, he rested for that game, didn't travel for visa issues, so he'll be flying at home, no doubt.”

“What I noticed about the game is that it was played at a really low tempo. Cavalier played a very low block and I would say it was probably 30% of the match intensity from an MLS game,” he continued. “They'll be riding a high, a 2-0 win away in Jamaica is never easy, so while there will be a little bit out the tank from those players, there will be a confidence boost.”

“There's a resilience and unity around that team. They've had a good preseason,” Herdman added.

“Going to a stadium we've never won in, it's an opportunity for a first.”

Toronto won the first two matches in the all-time series played in Cincinnati at their former home, Nippert Stadium, but has lost all three away at their new home. Cincinnati have won the last four overall.

There was an energy around the training ground that had been noticeably absent in recent years. Herdman himself embodied it himself.

“I’m loving it,” he replied, asked if he was enjoying the switch from international to club football. “The shit is going to hit the fan at some point, but that's football, what I've learned.”

“This organization has got great people and we're starting to bind around a common vision,” continued the coach. “Even if we have a rough week this week, the commitment is if you're going to lose a football match to Cincy, we lose the right way.”

“That's it, that's all I'm asking for these players,” Herdman stressed. “Yeah, we [go to] win, but if you are going to lose, and it's not our day, then we lose the right way. That was something that had to be turned from last season.”

Asked about the preseason predictions from pundits around the league, who have Toronto in the basement of the Eastern Conference, Herdman cracked a mischievous smile.

“I’m going to have words with [former Canadian international/AppleTV broadcaster] Kaylyn Kyle when I see her,” he joked. “They’re setting us up for the fairy tale story, aren’t they?”

“When I took over the [Canadian] Men’s team there was no Alphonso Davies, no Jonathan David, no Ali Johnston, no Stephen Eustáquio,” Herdman recalled. “We said we’d qualify for a World Cup and we manifested it, we made it happen.”

“No one said that was possible back then: ‘You’ll not qualify for ‘22, wait for ‘26,’” he continued, paraphrasing the naysayers.

“This is the business we're in, proving people wrong.”

“I’ve been doing it all my life. These guys, what I heard from them is, they’ve got to prove themselves right first. I heard Sean Johnson say that in the locker room, ‘Let's just prove ourselves right before we even think of proving people [wrong],” Herdman closed. “That’s a good mantra, focus on us first.”