Toronto FC looks for a bounce-back season

Story by Tim Kalinowski, Noah Amaral, Owen Matthews

As we are one month into the 2024 MLS season, Toronto FC is on a quest for a recovery year after three struggling campaigns. Four games into the season, the club has opened with two wins, a draw, and a loss. The squad is only on matchday four of 34, but the Reds have been looking good to open the season in comparison to other years. Through four games in the past three seasons, TFC has only managed to win one of the matches. This season, they’ve only lost one game. Although this might not seem like a huge difference, it gives the city something to be excited over as they have not experienced a good season opening from the team since 2020.

Toronto FC’s Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty dribbles past New York City FC defender Mitja Ilenic before scoring the first goal of the match in New York on Saturday, March 16th, 2024. (Associated Press Photo/Frank Franklin II)

The team has essentially had the same team for two seasons now. The biggest loss on their roster is former captain Michael Bradley, who retired at the end of last season. However, some fans, including Divyansh Sunak, also known as ToSportsFan on TikTok, have noticed that the team is starting to play with more of a passion and winning mentality as players on the team such as Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi, have begun to step up their game after a disappointing first season in the MLS.

“The team looks united. They look like they are playing in a unit. For the previous few years, they’ve looked very scattered, with no plan of action, just ‘alright go out there and hope for the best.’ It’s not the case this year, they have a strategy, they have a gameplan, and they seem to be united,” says Sunak.

One of the most recent issues that Toronto FC has faced is coaching. The club has seen several different head coaches in the span of two seasons with Chris Armas, Bob Bradley, and Terry Dunfield. All three of these coaches struggled to get the team points and victories as the Reds finished their last two campaigns with some of the most losses the franchise has had in a single season with 18 in 2022 and 20 in 2023. Despite this, the club made a hiring that shocked the city back in August of 2023, when they brought in former Team Canada coach John Herdman to take over the management. Herdman coached Canada in the 2022 FIFA World Cup and made a name for the sport in the country as Canada was not believed to have a chance to even qualify for the World Cup. With the veteran presence of Herdman, Toronto FC could face a successful season.

“They would not be doing good at all. I don’t know how else to explain it, they’d be probably worse if they didn’t have him. He’s rebuilt the culture. This is all because of Herdman that they’re doing well, I can’t stress it enough. He’s gotten Osorio back on path, he had a couple of injuries last year, he brought in Laryea, so he’s got guys that he’s familiar with to help fix the team and the culture. These are all guys that will play, they will play for the badge, they will play for their team and in the end, that’s all you really need. Herdman’s been able to do it,” says Sunak.

After a busy off-season for Toronto, the club has brought in a few new replacement players who have got the job done and made names for themselves only four games into the season. In addition, they stuck with the players who worked for them throughout the adversity last season. Former Toronto FC Academy and Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) Bold forward Mauro Lulli says the team’s decision-making and signings have been smart.

“Sean Johnson in goal has been lights out. He wasn’t too great last season when he came in, but he has stepped it up. Nicksoen Gomis has been great every time he’s played, he has not settled as a starter but every time he’s on the pitch he’s lights out and no one can get by him, he’s a brick wall. The center-midfielder Deiby Flores is amazing, he’s all over the pitch. He is, to the league, what N’Golo Kante was to the Premier League at Leicester City. Deiby Flores has been by far their best signing, and you can say he has been their best player as well,” Lulli says.

Toronto FC is coming off a 2-1 loss against New York City FC last Saturday and will look to get back into the win column when they take on Atlanta United on March 23rd.

The team currently sits in 5th place in the Eastern Conference with a 2-1-1 record.

To compare the team’s play over the first few games of this season compared to the last, here is an in-depth look at the club’s numbers:

Toronto FC comparison by Owen Matthews