As Toronto FC departs for the first stage of preseason in Palm Beach, Florida on Tuesday, a gauntlet has been laid down.

“[John Herdman’s] main message challenged everybody to see how committed they were to the direction that he wants to drive us in,” said Jonathan Osorio on Monday, during TFC’s first media availability of 2024. “Everybody has responded in a really good way. We've gone over what we expect from the group and the standards that we want to keep day in and day out. That message is very clear.”

The work of the off-season has been to rest and recuperate, to step away and recharge, but also to wipe the slate clean, to put the struggles of the past in the past, and set the side up for a new journey.

Easier said than done.

“The leadership group are key to that,” replied Herdman. “Whether it was my time with the women's team, the time with the men's team, the strength of that leadership will determine how far we're able to pioneer a group.”

“We're developing a strong leadership team. They themselves have raised a lot of the elephants that were in the room. They've had some tough conversations – we've provoked those tough conversations – and we've given them their locker room back,” he continued. “It's their room, the doors are on, it's their place to start bringing the clarity around our train-to-win, high performance framework and the principles that underpin that. They're bringing them alive in their own way.”

“That's been three months of work. Myself, Robyn [Gayle], behind the scenes, have met with these leaders virtually from all around the world. They've put a shift in,” Herdman added. “While the others were getting ready for preseason, they've been getting ready to lead. It's been pretty impressive.”

The leadership group at TFC for 2024 is composed of Osorio, Lorenzo Insigne, Federico Bernardeschi, Sean Johnson, and Shane O’Neill.

“These are the guys that have all won championships. They've all been part of championship teams in MLS or they’ve done some extraordinary things like be part of a team at a World Cup or lead a team to a Euros,” highlighted Herdman.

“This group understand what it takes.”

That quintet has been meeting regularly since last season ended.

“Getting together, making sure everybody's on the same page, and getting input from every single one of the leaders into what this team needs, what this club needs, moving forward. What has worked, what hasn't been working; what we need to start doing,” outlined Osorio of those conversations. “A lot of meetings, staying in touch, and really putting out the standards that we expect from this team going forward.”

Part of those conversations has been setting what Herdman called “their non-negotiable frameworks,” the elements where there can be no compromise.

“The non-negotiables are something for the team,” said Osorio, asked to peel back that curtain. “We had a meeting the other day, went over that with the group, the non-negotiables from the players and also from the staff, from the club, it's all very clear.”

With Michael Bradley’s retirement, for the first time since 2015 there will be a new TFC captain when the team takes to the field on February 25 at FC Cincinnati.

“We have [chosen a captain],” revealed Herdman. “It's been a really cool process. The leadership group are excited and on board, and we’ll make an announcement in the next couple of days.”

There is a long road ahead. Much work remains to be done. The start of preseason is the continuation of a process well underway. It will not be easy, but Herdman and his side are ready to face that challenge.

There is no exact road map or timeline, just a promise that a group makes to each other.

“Whenever I've gone into a job the mentality is to go there quickly, to keep pioneering, to see what we can be first at,” said Herdman. “Those targets have been set internally, regardless of where the level is, can we hit some key firsts.”

“And then some of it's the minutiae, some of the smaller things that other people might not pay attention to, but internally these little targets will get us on the right path,” he continued. “I've always had that mentality to over promise and over deliver. People say you’ve got to come in and under promise, but it's just never been my personality or my intention.”

Herdman framed the season as a “return”.

The last few years have seen TFC stray from the team that was pushing the top of MLS. To aid along the way, the coach and his staff have been making changes to how the side operates at every level.

“There's been a lot of different things that, already, they've seen. This whole building will take a transformation while they're away – there's been some little sprinkles of Robyn Gayle’s pixie dust around the place – but everything is aligned to mindset,” Herdman focused.

“We've created a very clear theme for phase one and a theme for phase two and in those themes it's always attached to some new rituals and imagery. That's a big part of how we're changing things up.”

“We’re introducing a concept called ‘Heroic’ which a friend of mine, Brian Johnson, is leading,” he continued. “He was in with the US Men's National Team just recently and the Chicago Bulls, so he'll be bringing a pretty cool app, some thinking to the players, and a book. It'll be different, thinking about that hero's journey because this definitely is a hero's journey. It's all about the return on that journey.”

Herdman called Johnson, author of Areté: Active Your Heroic Potential, “a guy who activates people's heroic potential.”

The players have already begun to take those lessons on board.

“We have a big opportunity to change the narrative here,” said Osorio. “Doing that is going to be difficult. We know the journey is a tough climb, but we're all willing to take it.”