TORONTO — After a flurry of moves this week paving his arrival at the club, Bob Bradley did not disappoint in his Toronto FC debut Wednesday.
There was plenty of enthusiasm and candour from Toronto’s new head coach and sporting director. And no shortage of intel thanks to having followed his son, Toronto captain Michael Bradley, closely from afar.
“As you can imagine the last eight years I’ve paid close attention to everything that goes on in Toronto,” said Bradley referencing his son’s tenure at the team.
While Bradley said he does not have all the answers, it’s clear the 63-year-old veteran coach already has a handle on many of the problems.
“I think there’s a lot of work to be done,” he said.
Toronto is hoping the three-time MLS coach of the year will restore the franchise to its former glory under Greg Vanney, who left last December to take over the Los Angeles Galaxy. As a reminder, the 2017 MLS Cup was under glass in the room where Wednesday’s news conference was held at the team’s training ground.
As sporting director, Bradley will be in charge of all player personnel decisions with help from two assistant general managers: Jason Hernandez (player personnel) and Jack Dodd (scouting).
“Bob is going to put his own stamp on this franchise,” said Manning.
Changes are in the works, as one might expect from a 6-18-10 squad that conceded a franchise-worst 66 goals in finishing 26th in the 27-team league, tumbling down the standings after finishing runner-up in the 2020 Supporters’ Shield race at 13-5-5.
“Everything is open right now with us,” said Manning. “We’ve come off a terrible season. And I think we’re going to look up and down this roster at every single player, including our DPs, our TAM (targeted allocation money) players, our homegrowns. Everyone.”
“We had a very good five-year run. Right now we need some change,” he added.
Bradley called it “a reset for everyone.”
“There weren’t enough times this year where there was a real commitment of every guy, throughout the game,” he added.
There are question marks over the future of designated players Jozy Altidore and Yeferson Soteldo, with unconfirmed reports both are looking for an exit.
“The Jozy situation’s unclear. That’s been part of the problem … It’s just a cloud that lingers,” said Bradley, adding clarity is needed.
Under MLS salary rules, a team can buy out one player in the off-season without impacting the salary cap. Toronto could also look to off-load a player via a transfer.
Former league MVP Alejandro Pozuelo says he is committed to the club. But the Spanish playmaker also said he wanted to look forward not back, which is all the more understandable given his admission that he had separated from his wife and had sought out help on the mental side.
“He had a tough year this year, both on and off the field,” said Manning.
The three DPs, whose salaries totalled US$10.26 million this season, combined for eight goals and 14 assists in league play with Soteldo leading the way at three goals and 10 assists.
“To win championships, you need your best players to be your best players. And they need to be on the field,” said Manning.
Pozuelo missed the first 10 games of the season in all competitions and never seemed to find his rhythm with injuries making for a stop-and-start season.
Altidore was a forgotten man, on the outs with the club for some two months after a falling out with Armas.
Bob Bradley previously coached his son with the MetroStars, as a teenager starting his pro career, and with the U.S. national team.
Father and son both said it will be business as usual when it comes to their dealings.
“Michael’s in the back end of his career,” Bob said of the 34-year-old midfielder. “And I’ll be interested now to be able, when training starts, to find ways to continue to open up his mind for how he can be better. Just like I will with every other player — to challenge him, to push him.
“I think you guys know he loves to play, he loves to compete. And I still think, that in the right ways, he knows he wants to be coached.”
But the lines will be clearly drawn when it comes to Bob deciding how and when to deploy Michael, it seems.
“At that point, I’m not his father,” said Bob. “That’s simple. It’s the same way you deal with anybody.”
Toronto cleared the decks for Bradley’s entrance with announcements that GM Ali Curtis and coach Javier Perez were both leaving. Bradley arrives three days after the season ended in a 1-0 loss to CF Montreal in the Canadian Championship final
“It was extremely important to get out in front of this,” said Manning, a longtime admirer of Bradley Sr.
Perez, who started the year as an assistant coach, was put in charge after first-year coach Chris Armas was fired July 3 after the team stumbled to a 1-8-2 start that culminated in a humiliating 7-1 loss at D.C. United.
Bradley parted ways with Los Angeles FC last Thursday after a 12-13-9 season that saw it finish ninth in the Western Conference, missing the playoffs by three points.
Manning said he was granted permission to speak to Bradley once LAFC’s season was over. The two then had a 3 1/2-hour in-person meeting.
“Things came together very quickly after that,” Manning said. “I think he is the right guy at the right time to lead this club.”
While Bradley helped build LAFC from the ground up, he has a foundation in place in his bid to help Toronto rediscover its winning culture.
“This is not an empty whiteboard,” said Bradley. “This is a whiteboard that still has a lot of names and needs a lot of discussion.”
Manning talked about the disruption TFC had faced during the pandemic, with stays in Hartford and Orlando. And while the team is finally back home, normalcy has been slow to come.
He noted that Wednesday was the first day that the training ground cafeteria had gone back to using real silverware and plates as opposed to disposable ones.
Bradley, who has coached the U.S. and Egypt national teams, owns a career MLS record of 182-127-86 and ranks third in MLS victories all-time (behind Bruce Arena and the late Sigi Schmid). He has more wins that the Toronto franchise does all-time (153).
Michael Bradley said he is excited, more so for the club.
“I’m lucky. I know more than anyone how good my dad is. And the environment that he will create — both inside the club and out on the field every day,” he said. “And as a player, that’s what you want. That’s all you want. To come into a place every day where you’re surrounded by people who share the same ambition, share the same drive, share the same commitment to trying to create something different, create something special.”
Bob Bradley becomes TFC’s 12th head coach.
“Huge for this club to have someone like that. He’s successful and he knows what he’s doing,” said fullback Richie Laryea.
In fact there will be three Bradleys on the Toronto payroll with Jeff Bradley, Bob’s brother, the team’s director of communications.