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TORONTO – John Herdman sounded more like a psychologist than a soccer coach after his first game leading Toronto FC from the sidelines.
After Saturday’s 2-0 defeat against Orlando City SC, he referred to young players whose confidence has suffered and veterans who have to decide whether they want to stay at the club.
“You need clarity. They need clarity about what they want in their future, whether this is it. Some of them need time to maybe get therapy,” he said, tempering the message with a laugh. “It was a tough season, a tough season.”
Also Toronto’s worst season ever (4-20-10, 22 points).
“They get knocked down. I mean, that’s reality,” Herdman said of his players.
The former Canada coach, who took over earlier this month but watched the last two games from the stands, said it will take time to put everything into perspective.
“Given the context they had, I just can’t judge this group yet. There were many changes, traumas, one defeat after another. Having to read the hate or frustration on social media. This takes its toll. So it was a big challenge to get these guys for this last game.”
Captain Michael Bradley was eliminated in defeat in his final game before retiring in front of an announced crowd of 27,556.
And while he was celebrated by the crowd after the game to the strains of Tina Turner’s ‘(Simply) The Best’, it was a tough evening at the office for the club icon. Bradley was moved back to his normal midfield role by Herdman after several games in defense and was forced back into defense in the 17th minute when center back Aime Mabika was substituted.
While Toronto had the most playing time against Orlando’s understudy, substitute Duncan McGuire gave Orlando the lead in the 63rd minute. Orlando’s rookie forward clearly didn’t read the script and showed his deft touch by beating Bradley on the play. And McGuire did it again in the 74th minute.
It was a game that had no significance in the standings, as Toronto was stuck in the league’s cellar and Orlando (18-7-9, 63 points) had already secured 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 from the starting lineup 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 and only scored 26 goals in 34 games.
It was the third time TFC finished last in the standings, following inaugural seasons in 2007 (6-17-7, 25 points) and 2012 (5-21-8, 23 points).
Fans in the south stand expressed their feelings before the game, raising a banner that read, “We’re fed up.”
“That’s understandable,” said Canadian midfielder Jonathan Osorio. “These fans are some of the best. For me they are the best in the league. … They always show up. They deserve better.”
Toronto had 59.7 percent possession against Orlando’s makeshift lineup in the first half, but only managed one shot on goal. German striker Prince Owusu scored for Toronto in the 52nd minute after an assist from Federico Bernardeschi, but the offside flag was raised.
Italian star Lorenzo Insigne hit Orlando’s goal post in the 90th minute.
Saturday’s bench was a testament to Toronto’s lack of depth. The eight outfield substitutes scored a total of five goals this season, all from 19-year-old Deandre Kerr – one of five substitutes aged 22 or younger.
In contrast, Orlando sent 16 goals and 23 assists after an hour in the form of Uruguayan stars Mauricio Pereyra, Ivan Angulo and McGuire.
McGuire scored two minutes after coming on as a substitute, fending off a long ball from goalkeeper Mason Stajduhar and then deftly firing it past Bradley before beating goalkeeper Sean Jonson with a shot from distance.
McGuire scored again soon after as Toronto’s defense was torn apart. The sixth overall pick in the 2023 MLS SuperDraft accelerated away from Bradley and casually pushed the ball past Johnson for his 13th goal of the season.
When Toronto conceded their first goal, they were 0-18-1 on the season.
Orlando came into the game having already set franchise records for points (60), wins (17) and fewest losses in a full season (seven). His two goals on Saturday 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 now joins DC United, FC Cincinnati and 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 clearly 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 constant motion, pacing the dugout all the time and at one point pulling out a whiteboard to show a defender what he wanted.
His body language reflected the piece in front of him. When Bernardeschi took a corner in injury time of the first half, Herdman ran across half the pitch to shout instructions.
Bradley, 36, was the last man out of the players’ tunnel, walking out with his two children, Luca and Quinn Elle, to a standing ovation from the crowd and a guard of honor from both teams. A banner with his name and number also greeted him.
It was Bradley’s 308th game in Toronto colors in all competitions. Only Osorio has appeared in Toronto colors more times (341).
In the 80th minute, Bradley left another standing ovation and presented Osorio with the captain’s armband.
Insigne and Johnson both returned to Toronto’s 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.