Toronto FC

Reds look to extend unbeaten streak to five in home tilt vs. Charlotte FC

Toronto FC will kick off the second full month of the 2023 MLS regular season on Saturday with the visit of Charlotte FC.

Five games in TFC are unbeaten in four, with back-to-back clean-sheets. They picked up their first win and clean-sheet against Inter Miami CF and followed that up with another shutout and hard-earned point on the road against the San Jose Earthquakes. 

It’s early still, but there’s a lot to like about the steps being taken.

“We're making progress,” said Bob Bradley on Friday. “The mentality of the group has been good. Overall more balanced in the way we go about every game, more solid.”

“We can still be sharper, we can still find more ways to create big chances. There's little details: when we lose balls, is it a pressing moment? Is it more reorganization?” he continued. “But overall, the guys have worked in a really good way and we see good progress.”

For Sean Johnson it’s all ‘moving in the right direction.’

“Our goal was that every game we would take to get stronger as a team, analyze moments and continue to be more cohesive, continue to define our identity as a group, and I think we've done that,” he elaborated. “Are we satisfied with where we are? No. We have a lot of guys that are super ambitious; we want to strive to be the best and to continue to climb and to be at the top of the table.”

April will be an important month. 

TFC will play five matches, continuing the early season pace of one per weekend, leading into May where the intensity quickens and Canadian Championship fixtures start to dot the schedule.

This part of the year is about getting tested and responding, asking questions and finding answers, building, building, building.

Playing away to San Jose without five internationals was one such test.

“It's never easy to go away and take points from tough opponents,” said Johnson. “The standard is so good now around the league that everywhere you go, you're going to be tested. We were up against it, but we had a proper test, we had guys step up in a big way, players that took advantage of moments.”

“That shows our depth as a group: we have players that can step in and get the job done, from top-to-bottom on the roster,” he continued. “For me, the most important takeaway of that game is having that confidence that moving forward we're going to rely on everybody in the locker room and everybody stepped up in a big way.”

Finding ways to take points, earn clean-sheets, fill gaps when the team appears short-handed, those are important signposts along the way.

“You have all these things that you can look to to say, ‘Oh, they've done this or they've done that,’ but, for me, the most important thing is can we use games to continue getting better? Can we continue taking steps forward?” said Johnson. “Winning games is important. Getting that result at home, going away getting a result – can we build on that again now at home? That is really what we're looking to do.”

“Those markers, yeah, great, but can we continue winning games and continue stacking up points. Not focus so much on be dominant in possession for five games or get five clean-sheets, but can you get five clean-sheets and five wins and also maintain control of possession – can you do all those things?” he underlined. “And then I think you can walk away extremely happy as a group.”

“It’s taking those checkpoints and making sure that we’re heading in the right direction, we’re building every game, the culture, the mood, the mentality of the group is right,” Johnson added. “And from that point, if we have all those things correct, then that sets the foundation.”

Charlotte enters the match on the back of two good results themselves. 

Christian Lattanzio, who took over the managerial reins early last season on an interim basis, has had that tag removed. His side began the season with three-straight losses, but a 2-1 win away to Orlando City SC on March 18 was followed by a 1-1 draw at home against the New York Red Bulls to have Charlotte trending in the right direction. 

“Typically they’re 4-3-3,” assessed Bradley. “[Karol] Swiderski was such a big player, now they bring in [Argentine forward Enzo] Copetti. He's more of a real #9 – he's strong, he likes to play with people around him, he brings guys into the game, he works hard – so they're still trying to figure out what are [they] doing with Swiderski and then what does the rest of the attack look like?”

“[Kerwin] Vargas gives them something when they play him on the left, he's an interesting player. They tried Swiderski on the right, I don't know if that's something that they'll continue,” he outlined. “Can they switch to 4-2-3-1 and play Swiderski underneath Copetti? Yes, that's possible, especially on a day when they're down some guys in the midfield, with the suspension. So yeah, we'll see.”

Brandt Bronico will miss the match on Saturday after the MLS Disciplinary Committee issued a suspension following a tackle against the Red Bulls.

Swiderski led the side with 10 goals in 2022, but is yet to score this season – he found the back of the net for Poland during the international break – Copetti has two goals this year and Vargas has one. The assists have been by committee with four players on one apiece.

The unfortunate passing of Anton Walkes, as a team and an organization in terms of what that feels like and how you have to deal with that – that's really hard,” added Bradley. “There are good players there and they have good ideas. Like many teams early in the year, they're still trying to figure out exactly what they're about right now.”

Toronto won both meetings in 2022, 4-0 at BMO Field in July and 2-0 in North Carolina in August.

That match in July with midseason additions Lorenzo Insigne, Federico Bernardeschi, and Mark-Anthony Kaye all in the XI was a memorable one with TFC scoring all four goals in the opening 45 minutes.

“That was an exciting day because everybody waited to get all those guys on the field. There were some moments of really good football,” recalled Bradley. “We had others, but the idea that as a team we can create good attacking chances, score good goals, still control games.. yeah, those would all be things that would fit with what we hope to be about as we get better and better.”