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TORONTO – Saturday’s regular-season finale against Orlando City is both a beginning and an end for Toronto FC.
Former Canada coach John Herdman takes charge of the Toronto sideline for the first time, while captain Michel Bradley takes the field for the final time.
Herdman brought the entire backroom staff to a rainy practice Friday morning to celebrate Bradley, who spoke briefly to those in attendance.
But the gathering also served as a reminder to the players to “just do everything we can in this last game,” Herdman said.
Whatever happens Saturday, Toronto (4-19-10, 22 points) will be at the bottom of the 29-team rankings as it enters decision day five points behind 28th-place Colorado.
But there are jobs to play for.
“I’m looking for something from these guys that they need to show this weekend,” Herdman said. “And if they can’t show that this weekend, then they’re sending a very clear message to the fans, the city, Toronto FC and the coaching staff about their motivation, their goal and their commitment.
“This is a cup final for us. This is an absolute cup final.”
Herdman officially took over the team at the beginning of the month, but was an observer for the final two games while interim coach Terry Dunfield ran the show. Herdman and his staff have been conducting training ever since.
Toronto has lost six straight games in all competitions and has won just one of its last 16 games (1-15-0).
A loss will confirm the 2023 season as TFC’s worst ever. Toronto scored 23 points in the 2012 season when it lost the first nine games of the season and posted a record of 5-21-8.
Saturday’s game will be Bradley’s 308th for Toronto in all competitions since he came on board alongside Jermain Defoe in January 2014. The English striker only lasted one season in the MLS, but Bradley became a fixture in Toronto.
Herdman said it was “a privilege … to be part of this final part of a great man’s journey.”
“This is a real legend who will be leaving the club,” he said.
Only the Canadian midfielder Jonathan Osorio was used more often (340) in Toronto’s colors.
Bradley, in his 10th season with Toronto, said he was “really proud, really excited and really looking forward to enjoying another game at BMO (Field). One more game as a player.
“But of course it’s bittersweet. There’s no way around it… It’s been a week full of different emotions.”
Toronto also wants to avoid competing with DC United, FC Cincinnati and defunct Chivas USA, as they are the only MLS franchises that have lost 20 or more games in a season more than once.
TFC has already been winless away from home this season, scoring just four of a possible 51 points with a score of 0-13-4.
Orlando (17-7-9, 60 points) has lost just once in its last 10 games (7-1-2). Regardless of Saturday’s result, it will finish second in the Eastern Conference, leaving one wondering what lineup it will field heading into the playoffs.
Orlando has already set franchise records for points (60), wins (17) and fewest losses in a full season (seven). It takes two goals to match the franchise single-season record of 55 set in 2016.
Toronto will be without the injured Adama Diomande, Sigurd Rosted and Brandon Servania. Goalkeepers Sean Johnson and Greg Ranjitsingh were both in training on Friday but are considered questionable, which could open the door for rookie Luka Gavran to make a fifth straight start.