Toronto FC

Reds wrap up at Coachella Valley as MLS season approaches: “Things have moved in a pretty good way”

The 2023 MLS regular season is fast approaching. 

Toronto FC will open their campaign on February 25 away to D.C. United at Audi Field – kickoff at 7:30 pm (watch free on MLS Season Pass on the Apple TV app and TSN) with the rest of opening weekend.

Closed-door scrimmages against Club Tijuana and the San Jose Earthquakes in the first part of preseason gave way to more formal friendlies against MLS opposition when the club returned to Southern California at the start of the month.

TFC has already played two matches, the first a 3-0 defeat against Vancouver Whitecaps FC and the second a 2-1 loss to LAFC, and has two more lined up before the trip to the US capital.

“Our first group played 45 minutes versus Vancouver and then most of them played 60 against LAFC,” outlined Bob Bradley during Tuesday’s media call. “We've seen some positives during those minutes: good movement of the ball, still not doing enough to create big chances – more against Vancouver than LAFC, but also not giving up any chances. We've seen a good balance in the way those periods have gone.”

“And then when we make changes, depending upon the opponent – LAFC played most of their starters for longer, so that changes the game a little bit when you bring guys on – with the guys that come on you see some positives, you see some guys that are showing things that are coming out of good training and now you see it in a game and you feel good about it and then you see others that are still a little bit behind,” he continued. “That's been a part of the work throughout preseason.”

All three Vancouver goals and LAFC’s game-winner came after wholesale changes.

With several key offseason additions getting their first outings for the Reds, this part of preseason is about forging those vital partnerships in the crucible of competition.

Bradley is pleased with what he has seen so far.

“We've added some really good players,” he replied. “The understanding in the back between Matt Hedges and Sigurd Rosted in the early days has been quite good. Raoul [Petretta] is a smart player, he's showing the ability to work well with Lorenzo [Insigne up the left]. Sean [Johnson]'s leadership in the back, his communication with his defenders is also quite good.”

“Those guys have really stepped in in a really easy way and shown everyone what they're capable of, that part's been really positive,” Bradley continued. “Dio [Adama Diomande], we're moving him along a little bit slower, just to get him physically right. He was able to play 45 minutes against LAFC. He's not yet 100% and doing all the things that I know he can do for our team, but I still thought it was positive to see what he was able to do in the first half.”

And it was one of those newcomers who found the breakthrough for Toronto against LAFC with Victor Vázquez scoring a deft strike in the opening half.

“I got the ball on my foot and I saw I was close to goal,” Vázquez recounted post-match. “I just kicked it as hard as possible, tried to put it in the best way possible, and it went in.”

A touch of class from the classy midfielder making his return to TFC.

“Victor has been great; smart player,” said Bradley. “When you take a smart player and put him on the field with other smart players the football part clicks pretty quickly.”

“He had to come out at the 30-minute mark the other day, he took a shot in the ribs, so he's still a little bit sore. We're hopeful that we can get him back into training as quickly as possible, but Victor's a good guy,” he continued. “Good in the group, loves football, and his pure abilities in terms of seeing the right pass, making good decisions, those things come out every day, and that helps make training better. That raises the bar for so many other players.”

Toronto have two more preseason outings lined up: they will play the Portland Timbers on Wednesday, their third match at the Coachella Valley Invitational at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, California, and then the LA Galaxy on Saturday at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California.

“We have to keep working hard,” Vázquez urged. “We have a lot of quality, for sure, on the team. It’s only two weeks left [until] the start of the season.”

Preseason is just the start. No team is ever 100% ready when the action kicks off. It’s all about setting the foundation and building from there.

The club is just about where their coach expected them to be at this point.

“Pretty much so,” said Bradley. “There's been good work in preseason. You want to be ready for the first game, there's no two ways about it, but you've got to be smart how you bring a group along, you can't push things too hard. It may mean that you pay a price in the early part of the season.”

“We've progressed everybody in the right way,” he continued. “Not everybody arrived at the same starting point, some guys, based upon things that they were dealing with in the offseason, needed to be moved along a little bit slower. We're doing a good job in that regard.”

“Overall, especially when you consider the number of new guys that came and the timing of their arrivals,” Bradley closed. “Things have moved in a pretty good way.”