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Herdman says Toronto FC knows it will take time to win back supporters' trust

Toronto FC John Herdman - The Canadian Press

TORONTO — After collecting four points in two road outings, Toronto FC opens the home half of the MLS season Saturday against Charlotte FC.

And while the early signs have been positive — TFC has already matched its road points total of 2023 when it went 0-13-4 away from home — coach John Herdman knows there is more work to be done to regain the trust of supporters who have endured 26th-, 27th- and 29th-place finishes the last three seasons with a combined 19-56-27 league record.

Herdman believes the season-opening draw in Cincinnati and last week's win at New England are steps on the road to win that trust back.

"It will take time," he said. "I imagine a result (Saturday) won't solidify that trust with people but it'll keep moving in the right direction. This is a team that's finished sort of bottom of the league the last three years. It takes time. … You've got to earn it.

"I think the main thing is just the effort. The fans need to see that commitment and effort."

Herdman expects a tough challenge in Charlotte, which opened the season by defeating visiting New York City FC 1-0 before a bumper crowd of 62,291 at Bank of America Stadium before drawing 1-1 last week at Vancouver.

"They're a proper team," said Herdman. "I think it's going to be a hell of a test for us … These are big physical athletes that are going to test us."

Charlotte finished ninth last season in the East at 10-11-13, 21 points ahead of 15th-place Toronto (4-20-10).

While early in the campaign, the Toronto players seem on the same page as Herdman, and the mood at the club is vastly improved.

The halls are filled with music and the players seem to be having fun at training. Herdman and his staff come with boundless energy as well as a game plan.

"Yes, we all see the difference (from last year) as well," Italian star Lorenzo Insigne said through an interpreter. "We are very happy with what we're working (on) together. We're working very hard with the staff and the coach. We've been enthusiastic off the field which brings it on the pitch as well."

"It's important to have fun but we need to stay concentrated. The season is long."

Saturday's forecast calls for rain and a high of 8 C for the 2 p.m. ET local time kickoff, an improvement over last year when it snowed the day before the home opener.

And players praised the BMO Field pitch after training on it Friday.

"Beautiful. It's really nice to be out there" said centre back Shane O'Neill.

Centre back Kevin Long and fullback/wingback Raoul Petretta worked out on their own in the portion of training open to the media Friday.

"A lot of lads got beat up on that (artificial) turf at New England," Herdman said.

Forward Deandre Kerr (calf) remains out and a question mark remains over fullback/wingback Richie Laryea, who is suffering from a muscle strain.

"It's a frustrating one because he just hasn't been able to shake it," said Herdman.

Toronto goalkeeper Sean Johnson goes into the game on the back of two straight shutouts, upping his career total to 101 across all competitions. He joins Nick Rimando, Kevin Hartman and former Toronto 'keeper Stefan Frei in the century clean sheet club.

Only seven 'keepers in MLS history have opened a season with clean sheets in each of their team’s first three games, most recently accomplished by Nashville SC’s Joe Willis in 2023.

Herdman said a third shutout might be tough against Charlotte, now under the direction of former Aston Villa coach Dean Smith.

"They've got quite a few different ways of scoring," he said.

On Thursday, Charlotte announced the signing of 22-year-old Israeli winger Liel Abada from Glasgow Celtic as a young designated player. The club's other designated players are Argentine forward Enzo Copetti and Polish forward Karol Swiderski, who is currently on loan to Italy's Hellas Verona through June with an option to buy.

Charlotte is also home to former Canada captain Scott Arfield.

Toronto is 2-1-1 all-time against Charlotte, including 1-0-1 at BMO Field where TFC won 4-0 in the debut for Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi in July 2022.


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This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 8, 2024