There was some big news this week as Toronto FC prepared for their next match.
Toronto will face the Philadelphia Union at BMO Field on Wednesday night, another night under the midway lights of the Canadian National Exhibition, but the announcement that John Herdman would be taking over the managerial reins come October 1 was the talk of the day.
It brought some clarity to the group heading into the penultimate month of the season.
“Yesterday afternoon when it started to come out, most of the players had left,” said Terry Dunfield. “This morning, standing in front of the group with change, I just shared everything I knew.”
“We went over the Philadelphia preview, worked on it on the pitch, and hopefully the guys are as clear as possible for tomorrow, but there was a lightness,” he added. “The clarity of knowing what's happening is important.”
The players are looking forward to this next chapter getting started.
“Myself and everybody in the locker room is excited to hear he’s coming in,” said Kobe Franklin. “An experienced coach, I can't wait to start building the connection with him.”
Dunfield credits Herdman with helping launch him on his coaching journey – Dunfield was a member of Herdman’s staff with Canada through qualification for and the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar itself. He was sitting beside Herdman when he got the call to step into the interim role at TFC this summer.
“What John has done for Canadian soccer has been transformational – he's changed the game in our country,” said Dunfield. “He’s changed the program, the way we play. He's shown us that football is real here, we can believe, and when we're all pulling in the same direction Canada, Canadian soccer players, and our game here is second to none.”
While Herdman wraps up his transition out of the Canadian Soccer Association, Dunfield will begin the preparations at TFC.
“I imagine that there will be a few,” replied Dunfield, asked if there were any instructions from Herdman. “But there was just a quick text last night back and forth to say ‘It’s about time; looking forward to it.’ I've missed our conversations, our interactions talking about football.”
Herdman confirmed that Dunfield will be staying on as a member of his first team staff when he arrives.
Despite losing at Columbus on the weekend, the team is in high spirits.
“The mood is good, as crazy as that might sound, because in six of the eight games we have been close,” said Dunfield. “It's been difficult to concede some of the goals we've conceded, we've been short on personnel at times, but we created three big chances to their four big chances, we defended the box really well. We showed the team all their good work.”
“The game tomorrow is just another opportunity to grow and go play some nice football,” he continued. “I'd like to thank the fans who have been very empathetic through the whole process. We've got an incredibly smart, loyal, passionate fan base that gets the situation we're in – the second biggest regular season crowd against Montreal in our last game at home was incredible. The guys are just focusing on football now.”
Results have not been there, but performances have been improving. Minor details, individual plays, have proven the downfall. The scoreless drought ended against CF Montreal when play resumed following the Leagues Cup with Federico Bernardeschi scoring twice and though TFC were shutout against the Crew the chance creation was there.
“We're creating a little bit more,” highlighted Franklin. “That's a testament to what we've been doing in training, making sure that we're giving ourselves a chance to score each and every game. So just building on that and hoping to stick a few in the net tomorrow.”
Every game is a new chance to take steps forward.
“There's a lot of good things to take and a lot of bad things to look at, like every game,” added Franklin. “Looking over film, the coaching staff do a good job of showing us what we could be doing better.”
Toronto will be aiming to put that into practice on Wednesday against the Union.
“They’re a team that you're never safe against – that will be the mindset piece for tomorrow,” said Dunfield. “They play direct at times, they're good in transition, they’ll put early crosses into the box.”
“Jim Curtin and his team have found players that really fit their system, it's a mature team, so it'll be a nice challenge,” he continued. “We'll look to scaffold on some of our good work against Columbus and get after it tomorrow night.”
Philadelphia finished third at the 2023 Leagues Cup, losing in the semi-final to Leo Messi and Inter Miami CF, but defeating CF Monterrey 3-0 in the third place playoff. They beat D.C. United 3-1 in the US capital on the weekend in their return to MLS play – Philadelphia have won their last three stretching back to July.
“A very dynamic and quality team,” assessed Franklin. “They like to press, they like to step up, they're very direct. A side that's been good for multiple years now, so making sure that we're at our best for them tomorrow.”
Julián Carranza and Daniel Gazdag lead the side with 10 goals each, while Gazdag’s 10 assists leads the way.
Following the match Toronto FC will pause for the September international break, next seeing action on September 16 with the visit of Vancouver Whitecaps FC to BMO Field.
Even with that pause don’t expect to see the whole team sampling the pleasures of the CNE after the match.
“The first thing, speaking with the group, was they wanted and craved a high performance environment and we'll continue giving that until October 1,” said Dunfield of the upcoming road map. “There will be a little bit of a breather over Labour Day and then we'll get back after it.”
“Fede is a great example,” he highlighted. “We're seeing the dividends of the hard work he put in once we went out of the Leagues Cup. We will be purposeful and calculated with all our training leading up to that Vancouver game.”