Coach Bob Bradley believes Toronto FC now has framework in place to build off

Toronto FC's Lorenzo Insigne celebrates after Michael Bradley scored his team's fourth goal against Charlotte FC during first half MLS action in Toronto on Saturday July 23, 2022. (Chris Young/CP)

Bob Bradley knew what he was getting into at Toronto FC.

An astute soccer brain with a vested interest in Toronto given son Michael has called it home since 2014, the veteran coach had watched the club closely from afar.

He knew he faced a massive clean-up job taking over last November in the wake of a dismal 6-18-10 season in 2021.

“I have avoided all year being specific about anybody who’s not here anymore and I’m not going to change that. But there was a lot to undo around here,” said Bradley Sr.

An influx of talent during the MLS secondary transfer window has bolstered a roster that has gone through a massive overhaul. Some 22 members of last year’s first team have moved on.

The arrival of Italians Lorenzo Insigne, Federico Bernardeschi and Domenico Criscito plus Canadian internationals Mark-Anthony Kaye, Doneil Henry and Richie Laryea — whose acquisition on loan from England’s Nottingham Forest was confirmed Friday — has added a new dynamic to the Toronto squad.

But with just 11 games remaining, there may be too much work to do to get back into the MLS postseason picture. Toronto (6-12-5) goes into weekend play six points and six places below the playoff line.

Finding an elusive first win on the road would help. Toronto has a chance to do that Saturday when it visits Nashville SC (8-7-9).

Toronto is 0-7-4 away from home this season — the only team in the league yet to win on the road — and is winless in 19 straight away matches (0-13-6) dating back to last July.

While Bradley has his first-choice attack with Insigne and Bernardeschi flanking Jesus Jimenez, he wants more from the Spanish striker at the top of the spear. Jimenez leads the team with eight goals but seven of those came in the first nine games of the season.

He has not scored in his last six league outings and has just one goal in the last 14.

“We’ve talked to him that’s he’s got to give us more,” Bob Bradley said bluntly.

Bradley also sounded a warning sign this week on the workload facing the newly arrived Italians, especially Insigne and Bernardeschi.

“They just haven’t had training days. This is still pre-season in so many ways (for them). We’ve pushed the limits minute-wise. They’ve both handled it pretty well and we’ve come through it where they’re healthy, which is obviously the key. Now we just find a way to keep going.”

Michael Bradley, having a resurgent season at age 35, joins Canadians Jonathan Osorio and Kaye in the midfield. With Kaye yet to resume full training through injury, the promising midfield remains a work in progress.

On the backline, Criscito and Laryea make for an impressive set of bookends at fullback. Shane O’Neill and Lukas MacNaughton have proved to be welcome additions at centre back with veteran Chris Mavinga still finding his form in an up-and-down season interrupted by injury.

Henry is keen to impress with World Cup places on the line for Canada. In goal, Alex Bono is a quality shot-stopper with Quentin Westberg a veteran option.

For Bob Bradley, the foundation is now in place.

“I think we’re close to a framework,” he said. “Then there’ll be a lot that will still need to be done to provide the right depth, balance out the team. There’s still going to be a lot that will be looked at carefully when the season’s over. But I do think that when you put it all together, when healthy now, the framework of the team is very solid.”

Bradley still has a designated player opening to fill.

Toronto is coming off a 0-0 draw at New England last Saturday and has just one win in its last seven league matches (1-4-2).

Sixth-place Nashville was just above the playoff line in the West.

“They’re a solid team. Well organized,” said Bob Bradley.

Nashville posted its third straight 1-1 draw on Wednesday at the Portland Timbers with Canadian-born U.S. international Teal Bunbury, the son of former Canadian international Alex Bunbury, scoring for the third straight game. It marked his 57th career goal in MLS.

Nashville, which led in all three of those draws, is winless in four (0-1-3). The third-year club has had only one longer winless run in its MLS history, going six straight (0-1-5) without a victory in September-October 2021.

Toronto winger Jacob Shaffelburg joined Nashville on loan this week.

German attacking midfielder Hany Mukhtar leads Nashville with 12 goals. He leads the league in shots (88) and shots on target (48), compared to 234 and 94 for the entire Toronto roster.

Nashville is unbeaten this season when it scores the first goal (7-0-7). In contrast, Toronto is 2-10-4 when it concedes first.

Nashville, which ousted TFC in the first round of the 2020 playoffs, is 2-1-1 all-time against Toronto.

DISCIPLINE: The MLS Disciplinary Committee fined Insigne an undisclosed amount of money on Friday for exhibiting “inappropriate behavior” after Toronto’s July 30 match against the New England Revolution.

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