Toronto FC is searching for a turning point.
After back-to-back losses, the Reds’ slow start to the MLS season quickly transitioned from a minor, and partially expected, setback to the brink of a full-blown crisis.
Toronto is 10 points behind the New England Revolution, the most recent team to beat them, for the last playoff spot in a strong Eastern Conference and an almost certainly unassailable 18 points adrift of league leaders Atlanta United.
When Orlando City visits BMO Field on Friday night, Greg Vanney’s men need something.
The players believe a recovery is around the corner. A horrendous injury list is starting to get shorter: Gregory van der Wiel and Chris Mavinga are likely to be available to return to the lineup against Orlando, while another defender, Eriq Zavaleta, could play some part. Nick Hagglund, also a centerback, is expected back in full training before next week’s game against FC Dallas.
And among those who were available, captain Michael Bradley saw a reason for optimism in the 3-2 loss to the Revolution.
“It doesn’t win us any points in the standings but at 3-0 the other night, on turf in New England with all sorts of guys missing, we kept at it in a pretty strong way and got to 3-1, got to 3-2,” Bradley said Thursday. “If things shake out a little differently, then I think we all like our chances of getting back to 3-3. There’s no moral victories, that’s for sure, and like I said, that doesn’t count for any points. But just when you talk about the mentality of the group and our willingness to keep going, to keep playing, to keep pushing, I’ve got no worries whatsoever.”
Bradley’s faith that TFC will get back on track, however, does not mean the Reds have spared each other any home truths in the meantime.
“I don’t think that’s a new thing,” he said of the team’s willingness to have frank conversations. “That’s not something that has just started to happen because we have a group that’s been together for a while.
“In any good team, you have to be able to speak honestly, openly, and understand that guys can’t take things personally. Guys have to understand that when we shut that door, things that are said are said for the wellbeing and in the best interests of the group. Things stay there. Like I said, in all those ways we do a good job. It’s been a frustrating stretch, there’s no two ways about that, but that’s how it goes. You find out a lot about yourself, about the guys you’re with, the quality you have as a group in moments like this. We’re going to continue to push and push.”
Toronto’s soul-searching has also crossed over from the team’s internal discussions to the training field.
“There’s a healthy level of frustration which, for this group, means a little higher level of intensity, a little higher level of concentration,” Vanney added. “I think those are all positive things. I think they’re all normal and to be expected. The result will be how we produce our work on the field on Friday night.”