The 2023 iteration of Toronto FC, by many accounts, was the worst season in the team’s history.
There’s been a lot of virtual ink spilled creating a post-mortem of the season, often providing a brutally honest account of TFC’s glaring shortfalls on and off the pitch.
Perhaps it’s time to look at the upcoming 2024 campaign from a glass-half-full perspective. With the team roughly three weeks away from the start of the regular season, is there enough optimism to make this season bearable?
1. It’s a long season
With the introduction of the ninth MLS Cup Playoffs spot last season, the bar has been lowered to claim a berth in the post-season. Let’s be honest, we’re no longer looking at this team as a legitimate Supporters Shield and/or MLS Cup contender.
Qualifying for the playoffs would probably be good enough to claim this season as an improvement if not a success. Last year, Charlotte FC finished ninth with 43 points. Using that benchmark over the length of a 34-game season, that means TFC would have to achieve a 1.26 points/game pace to claim ninth spot. That’s not unrealistic.
While it seems quite a mundane proposal, I think we’d all take that outcome after recent futility.
2. The Italians’ values have decreased
Since the final whistle last season, Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi have been desperately trying to leave Toronto (according to various rumours).
With a combined 2024 price tag of almost $22 million USD, that’s a lot of lira to be handing out for only 10 goals last year. The result? If the Italians want out of Toronto, they’re going to have to prove they’re still capable of playing at a level worthy of that exorbitant price tag.
Insigne and Bernardeschi should be motivated to perform if they want to have any chance of leaving Toronto before their contracts run out in 2026.
3. Herdman is about culture
Since Greg Vanney’s departure in 2020, there have been four in the dugout at BMO Field. It’s clear there were significant issues in the locker room during the interregnum of Vanney and John Herdman. Even before the Italian “Circus Maximus” of 2022 and 2023, TFC had to put up with the likes of Yeferson Soteldo and his fellow countryman Erickson Gallardo, who were quite good at occupying the luxury boxes and not the field.
Herdman is good at prioritizing culture, which means making the team accountable for their attitude. He stated that “the tolerance level, what might have been tolerated in previous preseason arrivals, won’t be tolerated for this team.” While that sounds great, there is still some hesitation.
But what is a Toronto FC offseason without unfettered optimism?
4. With all of the strikers on the roster, somebody’s gotta score!
Adama Diomande, Ayo Akinola, Deandre Kerr, Jordan Perruzza, Prince Owusu, Hugo Mbongue – and maybe Cassius Mailula, Charlie Sharp, and Tyrese Spicer?
With the dearth of goals last year, there needs to be an improvement at forward.
Yes, there have not been any significant additions at striker (if you don’t count Spicer, who will likely be a winger). Kerr scored five goals in 1,200 minutes last season, which is not an outstanding number, but it’s a start. Owusu only played 257 minutes over six matches last season and Mailula was on the pitch for only 68 minutes.
Perhaps the team needs to pare down this group of players through loans, sales, and and/or a buyout. Now that’s optimism!
Related read: Who should TFC use their one contract buyout on?
5. There are a lot of players returning
Most of the roster from the 2023 season is coming back for 2024. There are two ways to take this idea; the pessimistic or optimistic view.
I’m choosing the rose-coloured glasses version of the season outlook. Instead of following the “familiarity breeds contempt” euphemism, it’s possible that this team needs some sort of consistent roster build to realize success. As mentioned earlier, MLS is a league that is forgiving for teams that have slow starts.
It’s a big “if” but still a possibility that TFC could string together a few wins to compete for a playoff position. Yes, there are some holes in the roster. Rather than a skill issue, perhaps it’s a comfort level thing. Maybe players like Sigurd Rosted, Aimé Mabika, and Raoul Petretta need a year to settle in Toronto. Insigne and Bernardeschi need more time with Kerr at the No. 9 position.
Of course it’s all hypothetical — but isn’t that what we do as Toronto FC supporters?
Feel free to save this article for September to remind me how inane this stuff sounds. Isn’t it more fun to dream?