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Herdman says TFC players are ready for redemption after dismal season

John Herdman John Herdman - The Canadian Press

Coach John Herdman says Toronto FC players are looking for redemption after a dismal 4-20-10 season saw them finish in the Major League Soccer basement.

The former Canada coach was on the sideline for just one of those defeats, the season-ending 2-0 loss to visiting Orlando City SC on Oct. 21. While Herdman took over as TFC coach on Oct. 1, he let interim coach Terry Dunfield run the side for two road games to survey the landscape before taking charge.

Dunfield, now one of Herdman's assistants, was named interim coach after Bob Bradley was fired as head coach and sporting director on June 27 with the 3-7-10 team having won just two of its previous 17 matches (2-7-8) in all competitions.

"They're motivated, the players," Herdman told reporters Thursday in Miami during MLS's media day. "They've come off their worst-ever season and you have a group of men that are ready for redemption. And I like that challenge, I like that environment, that context."

The 2023 season featured franchise lows in points and wins.

Asked about how he intends to turn the team around, Herdman pointed to the success he had with both the Canadian men's and women's programs.

The Canadian women were coming off a last-place finish at the 2011 FIFA World Cup when Herdman took over, eventually leading them to bronze medals at the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games. Herdman also helped end the Canadian men's 36-year absence from the World Cup, leading them to the 2022 tournament in Qatar.

"What I've been lucky at Toronto is to be able to bring all those people that helped create that journey for the women and men in Canada to the club," Herdman said. "So it's never a one-man show. There's a group of us that have got experience in transformational leadership, in getting excited for bringing a group to a new place."

Herdman's first-team staff at TFC includes Eric Tenllado, Simon Eaddy, Robyn Gayle, Alex Dodgshon and Cesar Meylan, all part of his Canada crew.

"You create a winning culture and the winning takes cares of itself is what I've learned," Herdman said.

Asked about Italian stars Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi, both of whom have been reportedly linked to a return to Italy, Herdman says he held talks with all his players at the end of last year's campaign.

"When that season finished, we got to it," he said. "We sort of had honest conversations. There's a leadership group there of men that have experienced winning. They know what it takes to win. They were honest with each other. They were honest with me. And I was honest with them, from what I'd seen, heard and felt while I was in the environment.

"And I think right at the end is an absolute commitment from that group of men … to enjoy their football again, to compete for this city and reconnect back to their fans. And that's the starting point for us."

Also Thursday, Toronto acquired US$50,000 in general allocation money and the No. 17 position in the league's waiver order from Real Salt Lake in exchange for the No. 1 position. Salt Lake then used the pick to acquire 17-year-old forward Fidel Barajas, a Mexican youth international, from the USL Championship's Charleston Battery.

Toronto players are scheduled to report for medicals this weekend before leaving for the first portion of training camp in Florida early next week. The team kicks off the regular season Feb. 25 at FC Cincinnati with the home opener two games later, March 9 against Charlotte FC.


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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 11, 2024.