Michael Bradley exits Toronto FC on a losing note in season finale

Herdman says players need ‘clarity’ after trauma of dismal MLS season

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TORONTO — John Herdman sounded more like a psychologist than a soccer coach in the wake of his first game running Toronto FC from the sideline.

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In the wake of Saturday’s season-ending 2-0 loss to Orlando City SC, he cited young players whose confidence was dented and veterans who need to decide whether they want to stay with the club.

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“They need clarity. They need clarity on what they want in their future, whether this is it. They need time, some of them, to maybe go into some therapy,” he said, softening the message with a laugh. “This has been a tough season, a tough season.”

Also Toronto’s worst-ever season (4-20-10, 22 points).

“They’re beaten down. I mean, that’s a reality,” Herdman said of his players.

The former Canadian national coach, who took over at the start of the month but watched the last two games from the stands, said it will take time to put everything in proper perspective.

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“I just can’t judge this group yet, given the context they’ve had. There’s been a lot of change, trauma, defeat after defeat after defeat. Having to read on social media the hate or the frustration. That takes its toll. So even getting these guys up for this last game was a big challenge.”

Captain Michael Bradley, in his final game before retirement, exited on a losing note before an announced crowd of 27,556.

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And while he was feted by the crowd after the game to the sounds of Tina Turner’s “(Simply) The Best,” it was a tough night at the office for the club icon. Restored to his normal midfield role by Herdman after several games playing in the backline, Bradley was forced back into defence when centre back Aime Mabika had to come off in the 17th minute.

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While Toronto had most of the play against a second-string Orlando lineup, substitute Duncan McGuire put Orlando ahead in the 63rd minute. The Orlando rookie forward clearly hadn’t read the script, showing off a deft touch in beating Bradley on the play. And McGuire did it again in the 74th minute.

It was a game that meant nothing in the standings, with Toronto mired in the league basement and Orlando (18-7-9, 63 points), having already locked up second place in Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference.

Orlando coach Oscar Pareja opted to save his big guns for the playoffs, making nine changes to the starting 11 that beat New England 3-2 last time out.

Toronto ends the season on a seven-game losing streak, having won just one of its last 17 games (1-16-0) in all competitions. It failed to score in its last three games, scoring just 26 goals in 34 games,

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It marked the third time TFC has finished last in the standings, having done so in its inaugural 2007 season (6-17-7, 25 points) and in 2012 (5-21-8, 23 points).

Supporters in the south stands made their feelings known before the game, hoisting a banner that read “We are sick of it.”

“It’s understandable,” said Canadian midfielder Jonathan Osorio. “These fans are some of the best. For me they’re the best in the league. … They always show up. They deserve better.”

Toronto had 59.7 per cent possession in the first half against the makeshift Orlando lineup but managed just one shot on target. German striker Prince Owusu, taking a Federico Bernardeschi feed, scored for Toronto in the 52nd minute but the offside flag was up.

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Italian star Lorenzo Insigne hit the Orlando goalpost in the 90th minute.

Saturday’s bench was a measure of the lack of depth Toronto has. The eight outfield substitutes had a combined five goals this season, all from 19-year-old Deandre Kerr — one of five subs aged 22 or younger.

In contrast, Orlando sent on 16 goals and 23 assists in the form of Uruguayan star Mauricio Pereyra, Ivan Angulo and McGuire at the hour-mark.

McGuire scored two minutes after coming on, pulling down a long clearance from goalkeeper Mason Stajduhar and then neatly flipping it past Bradley before beating goalkeeper Sean Jonson with a looping shot.

McGuire scored again soon after as the Toronto defence was carved open. The sixth overall pick in the 2023 MLS SuperDraft accelerated away from Bradley and nonchalantly poked the ball past Johnson for his 13th goal of the season.

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Toronto went 0-18-1 this season when conceding the first goal.

Orlando came into the game having already set franchise records for points (60), wins (17) and fewest losses in a full season (seven). With its two goals Saturday, it tied the franchise single-season record of 55, set in 2016.

Orlando has won four straight and lost just once in its last 11 games (8-1-2).

Toronto, meanwhile, joins D.C. United, FC Cincinnati and the defunct Chivas USA as the only MLS franchises to have lost 20 or more games in a season more than once.

Herdman’s influence was evident during the anthems as he, his coaching staff and the substitutes stood arm in arm in front of the Toronto bench. Herdman was a man in perpetual motion, pacing the coach’s box throughout and pulling out a whiteboard at one point to show a defender what he wanted.

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His body language reflected the play in front of him. When Bernardeschi went to take a corner in first-half stoppage time, Herdman raced halfway down the pitch to shout instructions.

The 36-year-old Bradley was the last man out of the player tunnel, walking out with his two kids Luca and Quinn Elle to a standing ovation from the crowd and a guard of honour from the two teams. A banner with his name and number also welcomed him.

It was Bradley’s 308th game in all competitions in Toronto colours. Only Osorio has made more appearance (341) in Toronto colours.

Bradley exited to another standing ovation in the 80th minute, handing the captain’s armband to Osorio.

Insigne and Johnson both returned to the Toronto starting lineup after injury absences. Insignia missed the last four games with a lower body injury while Johnson has been out since July 30 with a hand injury that required surgery.

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