As one season ends, the next one begins.
The work leading into 2023 is already underway for Toronto FC.
The preliminary offseason roster moves announced last Friday were the first of many events that come in quick succession over the coming weeks.
Players under contract will return to the BMO Training Ground next week. Early November sees a 48-hour MLS trade window leading into the submission of protected lists on November 10 ahead of the MLS Expansion Draft the following day. The deadline to exercise options falls on November 14 ahead of the start of free agency and the beginnings of the re-entry process a few days later.
In the shadow of the FIFA World Cup in Qatar, the MLS College Showcase will take place in Cary, North Carolina early December and the schedule for next season is expected to arrive mid month, all leading into the MLS SuperDraft on December 21.
After a few weeks off around the holidays, teams will return in early January to begin preliminary workouts leading into preseason training proper.
It’s going to be a busy offseason.
“There are always challenges,” anticipated Bob Bradley last week. “There’s less this offseason than there were at the beginning.”
“In the world of MLS one of the things that helps are assets that you use either to acquire a player or to buy down a player. If you're pushed, if you're at the brink of everything, the way the salary budgets work, it does limit your ability to do other things,” he continued. “Then you get into the discussions of what you do to gain assets. These are the mechanisms in the league.”
“We have really good discussions,” Bradley explained. “There's a small group of us – myself, [assistant coaches] Mike [Sorber] and Paul [Stalteri], Jason Hernandez [Assistant General Manager of Player Personnel, Engagement & Strategy] does a really good job. Jack [Dodd, Assistant GM of Player Personnel & Scouting] and Arthur [Casupanan, Manager of Data Scouting & Analysis] and Devin [Pleuler, Director of Analytics], in terms of looking hard at salary cap issues and data. We are constantly at work trying to develop a way of operating and a process on which we can improve our team. That's been a big part of everything this year.”
YEAR-END MEDIA AVAILABILITY | Bob Bradley - October 12, 2022
Pressed on where the team would be looking to strengthen, Bradley was largely silent, but did say that the assessment that the spine of the team – from goalkeeper through defense and into the striker position – needed attention was “very fair.”
“There’s a couple of positions where we certainly need to strengthen ourselves,” he allowed.
With a designated player spot open, that will be central to a lot of the speculation, but it’s never quite that simple.
“When you start defining how you use a DP spot – do you use it on a big DP? Do you use it on a young DP? How you then have money for other things? – it becomes all connected,” reminded Bradley. “If you were able to find a player that fits one of those needs that doesn't need to be paid above a certain level, then that helps you in other ways. It's not easy to say 100% the DP slot is for this position. It's not easy to be that specific.”
TFC President Bill Manning highlighted two areas of particular need.
“There isn’t a target per se, but we need some defensive help. We know that,” he levelled. “Two years in a row we've let up 1.8/1.9 goals a game and you’re just not going to win a lot of games when you let up almost two goals a game. We know we have some needs there and then someone who consistently can put the ball in the back of the net is another need.”
Manning sees some similarities between the current situation and the one at which he arrived following the 2015 season.
“I harken back on experience and what I've gone through in my career. When I first came to TFC they had built a bit of a foundation, bringing in [Sebastian] Giovinco and [Jozy] Altidore, they had Michael Bradley from the previous season, but we still weren't a completed project and ended up getting knocked out first round in the playoffs,” he reminded. “There had been a lot of change.”
“If you're going to be successful, you’ve got to build some consistency and you have to have a core of players and staff that work together and that are all aligned. That offseason I felt we had a foundation in place, but we still needed work,” he continued. “We brought in Clint Irwin, Drew Moor, Steven Beitashour, Will Johnson, all defensive-minded players, all quality pros, and that was the missing piece to really go on a good run.”
“I look at it a bit like that. We don't want an entire overhaul again because that just doesn't work. We've gone through the rebuild, Bob has been going through that, but we still do need to add some pieces to round out the team,” Manning committed. “We have a foundation in place. We're still going to make some acquisitions this offseason, similar to that 2015-into-16 season, but the goal will be to build some consistency for the club. We're fine tuning.”
Free agency, in its infancy in 2015, played a significant factor in that stage of the club’s evolution. It could do so again, according to Bradley, who replied: “Yes, that's a good way to try to improve your team.”
As for a percentage of turnover, the coach and sporting director would not put a firm number on it.
“It's not easy to say,” replied Bradley. “The way the league works with contracts and existing situations, how you improve things, what you can do, what you can't do, and everything is part of the challenge.”
“It would be easy to give you a percentage and say we need to improve in this percentage of the team,” he added. “But how you make that happen and what's possible – there's a lot of discussions that need to be had.”
One of the certainties is that the club would like to get the team in place as early as possible.
“It's important that we start the season with a strong group,” stressed Bradley. “Some of the things that happened [last summer] are going to mean that we start next season in a better way. That's positive, but there's still a lot to be done.”
“You would much prefer always [to have all the pieces at the start of the season]. The timing of coming in the summer, especially if you're coming from Europe and your season has ended and you've had some time off and everything else, that's really hard. You'd like to not be deep into relying on that,” he explained. “Can you occasionally find the right final piece in a summer window? Yeah, the summer window is going to be important, but I think we still have to focus on this next window and starting the season in as strong a way as possible.”
Getting the group in place, having time to bring it all together, building some familiarity, establishing some consistency. These are some of the building blocks to success.
“Having a full training camp is going to be really important,” echoed Manning. “We generally break it up in two camps (the first with a larger group including TFC II players and the second mainly the first team).”
YEAR-END MEDIA AVAILABILITY | Bill Manning - October 12, 2022
“Certainly by the second camp we'd like to have all the acquisitions in place and the entire team in place so that we can start building this consistency,” he added. “My experience is once you start building that consistency is when you start to win. That's something that we have to get back to.”
A lot of the offseason talk will revolve around the ins and out, but one often overlooked part of improving is simply coaching the players in place.
“One part of getting better is still that idea that with players you have, that they can improve. That is an important part of how any team develops,” reminded Bradley. “When I talk about being consistent, there were a lot of guys this year that we had hope for. At the end they were not consistent enough. We need discussions with those players to say, ‘Okay, where did you start? Where did you end? Where are we? How are we going to make you better?’”
2023 will be the second year of the new era.
A lot of the core group is in place, much work has been done, yet more remains ahead.
“There’s a sense of urgency, trust me,” said Manning. “With Bob and myself and how we want to get after this.”
It’s easy to say a team is going to be cup contenders, but it’s better to show it.
“That is the goal. The goal is to go out and win championships,” replied Manning. “We will be a team that will compete and a club that aspires to be a contender. We need to see how we get out the gate, how things come together.”
“Everyone talks about you want to win championships, but we need to get some of the right key players to add to the roster to get there,” he continued. “Bob's track record, my own track record, we know what we need to do and what a winning club looks like, what a championship club looks like. We're not there yet. We're still a long way away. There's still a lot of work to do.”
“It's easy to come out and say, ‘Yeah we’re going to be a contender’” closed Manning. “But we're going to need to see it come into play first.”