What Has Gone Wrong at Toronto FC?

There was a brief time when Toronto FC was the most-feared team in Major League Soccer (MLS). They were the darlings of the MLS, playing attractive soccer and reaching the coveted MLS Cup three times in four seasons, including one victory, but they are now a shadow of the team they once were. What has gone wrong at the BMO Field?

When the Canadian men’s national soccer team qualified for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, soccer fever hit the country, and Toronto FC supporters hoped to see their team resurrect their previous fortunes. The team finished first overall in the 2017 season and won the MLS Cup. A 19th overall place in 2018 was considered a blip, but they finished ninth overall the following season. Spirits were again lifted in the COVID-19 hit 2020 campaign, with Toronto FC finishing second overall, but that proved to be a flash in the pan with 26th and 23rd place finishes following.

Highest Wages in the MLS

Fastforward to today and Toronto FC finds itself second bottom of the Eastern Conference and 26th from 29 teams across the league. “The Reds,” once favourites for glory with the best sportsbooks online, are now not even mentioned in talks about the race to the MLS Cup. Indeed, they rarely feature in discussions, which shows how far the mighty has fallen.

The marquee signing of Lorenzo Insigne on a free transfer from Serie A’s Napoli costs Toronto FC $7.5 million guaranteed per year in wages. Insigne scored six goals in 11 MLS games during his debut season but has only three goals in 12 games this season. Insigne’s fellow Italian Federico Bernardeschi has followed a similar path: excellent last season but mediocre at best this.

Bernardeschi recently publicly bashed head coach Bob Bradley, which resulted in the coach dropping his Italian star from the starting line-up. There are rumours of distrust in the Toronto FC camp over the relationship between Bradley and his son Michael Bradley, with players stating they feel they cannot speak freely around Michael in case their comments are relayed to the coach.

The two Italian designated players would fit into any MLS team and many European teams. On paper, Toronto FC has some incredibly talented individuals, but neither Bradley nor his predecessors have managed to mould those individuals into a tight-knit group. Indeed, the recruitment aside from the two Italian stars has been sub-par and has left Toronto FC with the highest wage bill in the MLS, yet they languish at the bottom of the tables.

An Imbalanced Squad

Toronto FC’s president, Bill Manning, moved heaven and Earth bringing in Insigne, Berardeschi, and Bob Bradley in an attempt to revive the team. Unfortunately for Manning and Toronto FC, those deals have left the team with little wiggle room to improve other areas of the team. The result is an imbalanced roster where 14 players are over 28, and 10 are aged 23 or under. Many of those youngsters are only now getting their first taste of professional soccer.

It seems pretty obvious that the Italians are causing a stink in the dressing room, and their astronomical salaries have a tight grip on the team’s finances. The biggest problem Manning has right now is whether to try and offload the Italian duo, which will not be easy due to their contracts, or relieve Bradley of his head coach duties, which risks upsetting the applecart even more than it already is.

So what has gone wrong at Toronto FC? In short, the recruitment at the club has failed miserably. Toronto FC never managed to replace its successful head coach Greg Vanney, and everything has spiralled downwards since then. Manning’s answer is to throw money at it, but he has done so in the wrong areas and at the wrong personalities. Significant changes must be made, leading to a different question: is Manning the right man to guide The Reds through this sticky patch?




About Joel Levy 2586 Articles
Editor-In-Chief at Toronto Guardian. Photographer and Writer for Toronto Guardian and Joel Levy Photography