A fresh start accompanied by a bittersweet ending.
Saturday’s match at BMO Field between Toronto FC and Orlando City will be the backdrop for a cornucopia of emotions as John Herdman takes the coaching reins for the first time, while club legend Michael Bradley suits up for the final time at a stadium rich in MLS Cup history thanks to his efforts.
For a match that means very little in terms of the result on the field, TFC’s final game of the 2023 season will provide plenty of talking points and surely some memorable moments.
First of all, Toronto will have a new head coach on the touchline.
Yes, Herdman has been in charge in an official capacity since the beginning of October, but it doesn’t truly feel like the real deal until he’s the one calling the shots during a game. After watching over interim head coach Terry Dunfield during the past two 3-0 losses to New York Red Bulls and Charlotte FC, Herdman will get a taste of club football pitch-side for the very first time before heading into an offseason fated to be full of upheaval.
Saturday’s contest will allow Herdman to work in-game his players for the first time, but it won’t just be Bradley who plays in a TFC shirt for the last time.
The futures of Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi remain up in the air, Greg Ranjitsingh, Victor Vázquez, and C.J. Sapong will see their contracts run up at the end of the year, and several other veterans on the roster will be put under the microscope in the buildup to Herdman’s first full season at the helm.
Before that though, there’s still a game to be played. Even though the Decision Day matchup between Toronto and Orlando will have no say on the Eastern Conference standings, fans of the home side will want to see their team play with more desire than has been shown over the past few months. The players determined to stick things out under their new boss should in theory want to make a good first impression in front of Herdman.
At the same time, there should be a desire within the locker room to put in a strong team performance so that Bradley can ride into the sunset off the back of a win. These last few years have not gone according to plan and sitting dead last in the league is probably not how Bradley envisioned the final game of his playing career. A hard-fought match against a strong Orlando side is the least he deserves after 300+ appearances for Toronto.
Another factor that could help TFC pull off a surprise result against the East’s No. 2 seed? The Lions are locked into both their playoff spot and their position of second in the Supporters Shield standings, meaning that there could be quite a bit of rotation to Óscar Pareja’s starting lineup.
Captain Robin Jansson could be given the night off after leading the team in minutes through the course of the regular season with 2,868. First-choice keeper Pedro Gallese is also a rest candidate after starting two matches for Peru during the most recent international break.
For Toronto, Sean Johnson has a shot at returning from his almost two-month injury lay-off. Sigurd Rosted and Brandon Servania are both injury doubts, however, leaving central defence and midfield paper thin.
Facundo Torres and Duncan McGuire are Orlando’s goal threats up top. The latter in particular has been in great form as of late, etching his name on the scoresheet in three of his past four for club and country.
Orlando have been able to spread the scoring during their last couple of meetings with TFC, coming out on top with 4-0 results in the past two encounters. The Reds are winless in seven against the 2015 expansion side, never having gotten the better of Pareja during his tenure.
Toronto FC: Johnson; Petretta, Mabika, O’Neill, Franklin; Osorio, Bradley, Coello, Bernardeschi; Insigne, Kerr
Orlando City: Stajduhar; Santos, Carlos, Schlegel, Smith, Cartagena, Araújo; Ojeda, Pereyra, Angulo; Enrique
- Toronto FC have lost 16 of their past 17 matches (-33 GD).
- Since Greg Vanney’s departure, Toronto FC are 1-1-2 in games when a new coach is debuting.
- This will be Michael Bradley’s 308th and final Toronto FC game. If he starts, he will extend his own club record in TFC starting appearances to 304.
Opponent: Orlando City SC
Kickoff time: 6:00 p.m. ET
Watch: TSN, Apple TV (free)
Stadium: BMO Field, Toronto