Toronto FC

Reds persevere through May's marathon, ready to battle in Nashville


May’s madness continues on Wednesday night when Toronto FC squares off against Nashville SC at GEODIS Park in Tennessee.

It will be the fourth of nine matches in a gruelling stretch that began at home on May 4 against FC Dallas and wraps up on June 1 at D.C. United.

The next triplet of matches sees TFC at Nashville midweek, back home to face CF Montréal at BMO Field on the weekend, and then closes out at home with the second leg of Toronto’s Canadian Championship quarterfinal against CS Saint-Laurent next Tuesday.

“We anticipated this,” said Herdman of the fixture congestion. “Coming into it you would have liked to have been a little bit cleaner with the injuries because in this phase you expect to pick a few injuries up. Players are red lining, we are going to have to take some risks, but also be really smart around the cup game.”

“We pushed hard in the first match with a lot of key players to make sure we got the away goals advantage, that gives us a chance maybe to offload in that week, but this week, it is going to be tough,” he continued. “It's just par for the course in MLS. This game against Nashville and the derby match against Montréal, we have to be really smart with managing those minutes, making substitutions at the right time, and starting games to give us the best chance to give players the recovery that they'll need.”

“Saturday is a big game for us, for our fans, but so is Wednesday,” Herdman underlined.

“When you’re fighting up at the top end of the table we don't want to relinquish any intensity or opportunity to get a result. We’ll be balancing the squad and taking a few risks where we need to.”

Toronto will be short-handed on Wednesday as Kevin Long will be suspended due to yellow card accumulation, while Federico Bernardeschi and Prince Owusu will miss out after seeing red cards against NYCFC on Saturday. Herdman, Sean Johnson, and Richie Laryea will also be sidelined.

“Big holes to fill, but we were on rotation coming out the amount of games we've played,” balanced Herdman. “Coming into Wednesday we were looking at those rotations for some of those players that have been on big minutes. Some players were due to be rested – maybe not the whole game, but were due to take some time out.”

“We've got to adapt the finishing strategy for the game,” he considered. “Lorenzo [Insigne] should be able to increase his minutes compared to where he was just the other day. Whether we decide to start or finish him is the decision we’re looking at.”


Phase Four of the 2024 season began as the previous phase ended: with a victory. The 3-2 home defeat against NYCFC on the weekend snapped a five-game winning streak in all competitions, but having achieved their aim of being in the top four at the end of Phase Three Herdman and his side are looking to push on.

“The guys have got their points targets, they're pretty clear on where they need to finish,” outlined Herdman of the mission ahead. “That's their internal targets and we all know that the minimum standard is to be in the playoffs – that's the minimum standard we've targeted for this club.”

“They have some more far reaching goals on top of that, so my job is just to keep them focused,” he continued. “This weekend was disappointing, we dropped three points at home. Now we’ve got to push into Nashville and see if we can get a result there, which has been our catchcry: looking to get those results on the road.”

“We've had a couple,” Herdman noted.

“And Nashville will be a good opportunity for us to see if we can claw something back.”

This phase is the meat of the season. Toronto will play six league games in May and five each in June and July leading into the Leagues Cup break – almost half of the 34-match schedule.

There is a slight pause at the start of June as the summer international window begins, but the league action will continue throughout Copa América, which kicks off on June 20, and July crams in its five matches in the first 20 days of the month.

Buckle up.

“[Phase Four] wraps up just before the Leagues Cup,” confirmed Herdman. “There's a little bit of June madness as well, quite a few moments in June that we've got to manage that will involve lads being away for Copa América. We’ll be expecting a couple from our squad.”

A veritable gauntlet lies ahead; up first is Nashville.

Gary Smith’s side started the season strong while balancing Concacaf Champions Cup action. Unbeaten through their opening four matches, that double duty caught up to them midway through March and a five-game winless stretch carried on through April.

Nashville started May strong, kicking off the month with a 4-1 win over CF Montréal at GEODIS Park, but were unable to build on it this past weekend, falling 1-0 away to Charlotte FC.

Their big guns are rounding into form: English striker Sam Surridge scored a hat-trick against Montréal and sits on five for the season. German midfielder Hany Mukhtar had a pair of assists against the Canadian side, bringing his tally up to four in 2024.

Former Red Jacob Shaffelburg has three assists over 10 appearances.

“They started to find some rhythm against Montréal with Surridge and Mukhtar,” observed Herdman. “[We] watched that game back, they were in real good form and I thought that was the point that they were going to kick on.”

“Watching them against Charlotte, they had some big moments in that match. We know they're a massive threat when you look at the players, the quality that they have – Surridge, Mukhtar, Shaffelburg – and they’re a handful at home,” he continued. “They’re starting to get players back from injury – Shaq Moore, [Walker] Zimmerman – similar to us, they [haven’t] been able to put out a consistent lineup.”

“But the Nashville coach is experienced. He knows how to win football matches. He knows how to get through these tough periods. A Wednesday night in Nashville will be a tough match for us, a really tough match that they'll be up for,” Herdman closed. “Their last game at home was really solid and we're expecting a really difficult game.”