Toronto FC hoping for success as it enters a grueling part of schedule

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The Toronto FC players weren’t having fun just a-lying in the sun during the recent international break.

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Coach Bob Bradley said training the past few days has gone well and the players who have been injured in recent games are almost all ready to play. And that’s good because the Reds are going to need all hands on deck as they enter a very busy period of the 2022 MLS schedule with five games over the next 15 days, starting with a match on Saturday night at New York Red Bulls.

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“You hope that the work (we put in) the whole season has everybody ready because you’re going to need to call on different players at different times,” Bradley said of upcoming stretch. “Training lately has been good. So I see positive things that hopefully we’ll see when the games start up again.”

The final match of the five-game stretch is July 2, when the Seattle Sounders visit BMO Field, which could be the match that Italian national team star Lorenzo Insigne makes his TFC debut.

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Insigne, who is recovering from a mild calf injury, is supposed to arrive in Toronto sometime late next week and his presence should give TFC a major lift.

There is also talk that the Reds are trying to sign Italian left-back Domenico Criscito.

But before any Italian stars arrive, TFC has to win some games. With 15 points in 14 matches (four points out of a playoff position) so far this season, TFC has to start pushing to get within post-season range.

The 2022 campaign has been a struggle, with new players trying to jell and injuries ravaging the club. But players such as Jonathan Osorio, Chris Mavinga, Shane O’Neill and Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty are back training in full and are getting ready to jump back into the lineup, although centre back O’Neill is the only sure-thing for Saturday’s match against the Red Bulls.

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“We’ve got a lot of games coming up so we need to be very smart on how we move guys in terms of return to play,” Bradley said.

Getting a result on Saturday won’t be easy. TFC is winless in 15 straight away MLS matches (D5 L10) dating back to a 2-1 win in Chicago last July, the longest road winless streak in team history. The Reds have managed just three points in their seven away matches in 2022, including a 2-2 draw at D.C. in their last road match.

But Bradley believes his team is getting to the point where a win on the road is imminent. Heading into the international break, the Reds did go on a bit of a roll with a 3-2 win against the Chicago Fire on May 28 and a 2-2 draw at D.C. United on May 21.

TFC then defeated a determined Forge FC side on penalty kicks on June 4 at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton to win the 2020 Canadian Championship (a competition that was delayed two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic) — giving TFC its first trophy since 2018 and record eighth Canadian Championship.

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The Reds have a chance to win a second Voyageurs Cup this year. They face CF Montreal in the 2022 Canadian Championship semifinal on June 22 at BMO Field with the final to be played in July.

All in all, Bradley believes things are looking up.

“The resilience of the group has been important (though) I know the football can still get a lot better — our ability to create more chances, our ability to react better when we lose the ball and defend more as a unit,” Bradley said. “The standards I have for our football, we’re still working towards that. But that is not a surprise. I knew — especially in the first half of the year when we knew we were going to give a lot of young guys opportunities and when we brought in some (new) players that had not played in MLS before — I think we all knew as a staff that the work to become a good team was going to take a little bit of time. But, in moments, we’ve seen progress.

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“We’re not there yet, but that’s the work everyday,” the coach added. “But all in all, satisfied. Though none of us feel like we’re where we can be. That’s the focus every day.

“Now as we get into this next stretch we want to see the whole thing come together a little bit more,” Bradley continued. “We still feel that there’s a lot of areas where our football can be better, where the ball moves faster, where our ability to get into the opponent’s box and be more dangerous, attack a little bit faster sometimes.

“And then defensively, the work of the team, the ability to understand if it is an opportunity to win the ball back quickly, is everybody ready? And are we engaged?”

Following training on Thursday, Bradley and his players spoke about how the difficult victory over a very organized Forge team on June 4 gave the team a lift, a particularly welcoming development given what the club has been going through this year.

“It was a definitely a great milestone for this team,” first-year midfielder Kosi Thompson said. “Everyone’s fairly new, still getting to know each other, but that (win) really brought us together, definitely raised our confidence. Even more than that, that win in Chicago (on May 28).”

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