TORONTO, Canada—Where do I even begin?
It’s been a wild few days for Toronto FC since their season came to a close on Sunday following a loss to CF Montreal in the Voyageurs Cup Final. The club has moved quickly in its offseason agenda, parting ways with former General Manager Ali Curtis, moving on from former head coach Javier Perez, and this morning, appointing Bob Bradley as head coach and sporting director.
Team President Bill Manning helped introduce Bradley Sr. to media this afternoon, but not before we were able to hear from Alejandro Pozuelo, Michael Bradley, Richie Laryea, and Jonathan Osorio in the club’s end-of-season media availabilites.
Here’s what transpired.
Bob Bradley introduced as Head Coach & Sporting Director
The most important piece of Toronto FC’s offseason and future has arrived.
Bradley Sr. was introduced to media early Wednesday afternoon and it quickly became clear that his imprint will be one that’s felt for years to come.
Asked exactly what Bradley Sr.’s Sporting Director title meant, Manning stated that the club will not be replacing Ali Curtis’ vacant GM spot and that the former LAFC man would assume the decision making role in regards to all on-field operations as well as player personnel and the makeup of the club’s roster.
“Bob is going to put his own stamp on this franchise and I look forward to him doing that because I think we need that injection of new blood and he has some very clear ideas of what it takes to put together a winning franchise and he and I shared a lot of the same visions of what we want,” said Manning.
“I think there’s a lot of work to be done,” said Bradley Sr., when asked about the roster he is inheriting. “It’s a reset. It’s a reset for everyone. It’s a reset for the club, the identity.”
Bradley Sr. is as accomplished as they come in Major League Soccer. He is a three-time MLS Coach of the Year and comes with great experience on the national team stage as well as abroad. He’s a culture changer and coaches like Bradley Sr. don’t become available very often. It seems as though this opportunity came at the perfect time for both parties.
“I’ve always said to myself, if I had an opportunity for one of my teams — whether it was in Salt Lake or here in Toronto — if Bob Bradley was available and out of contract, he was one of the guys who I want to run my team,” said Manning.
“I think he is the right guy at the right time to lead this club and I’m really excited about it.”
Future of Jozy Altidore up in the air
One of the hotter topics at Wednesday’s press conference was, of course, the future of Jozy Altidore.
Altidore, who has one year remaining on his designated player contract, was the subject of a Fabrizio Romano report earlier this week that stated the Toronto FC legend was set to move on from the club and become a free agent this offseason.
Manning, when asked about the report, denied it.
“Jozy is under contract,” said Manning.
Bluntly asked whether or not the club has bought out Altidore, Manning replied:
“No, not at all.”
But the TFC President wasn’t ready to assure that Altidore would be back in a Toronto FC kit in 2022.
“I think everything is open right now with us,” said Manning. “We’ve come off a terrible season. I think we’re going to look up and down this roster at every single player, including our DPs, our TAM players, our homegrowns — everyone. And Bob is going to have, obviously, a big say on what this roster is going to look like next year and going forward.”
The new Toronto FC head coach and sporting director’s answer in regards to the Altidore situation was a bit more telling.
“The Jozy situation is unclear and that’s been part of the problem,” said Bradley Sr. “It’s been up in the air, and it seems like it’s just a cloud that lingers. I’m sure at some point there will be discussions and that part has to have clarity.”
I don’t believe there’s any way the club can justify bringing Altidore back as a designated player in 2022, and while they weren’t willing to give him his official send off on Wednesday, I’d be shocked if Altidore was back as a designated player next season.
‘In that moment, I’m not his father.’
Question: “How do you balance that role of being [Michael Bradley’s] coach and his father at the same time? Is that difficult at all?”
Bradley Sr.: “No. In that moment, I’m not his father. It’s that simple.”
Any work environment with a father-son dynamic always springs questions about whether or not the relationship can be an authentic working relationship. Will nepotism, consciously or unconsciously, be an issue?
Both Michael and Bob did their best to dismiss that notion on Wednesday.
“Michael’s in the back-end of his career,” said Bradley Sr. “I’ll be interested now to be able to, when training starts, find ways to open up his mind for how he can get better, just like I will with every other player. To challenge him, to push him, I think you guys know, he loves to play, he loves to compete. And I still think that in the right ways, he knows — he wants to be coached. So I’m looking forward to that and where it gets us.”
“The part of now coaching him again, pushing him, challenging him, seeing how he responds, that part for both of us will be great.”
Like his father, the Toronto FC captain was quick to put the team first.
“I’m excited for the club more than anything though because I’m lucky,” said Bradley. “I know more than anyone how good my Dad is and the environment that he will create both inside the club and out on the field every day, and as a player that’s what you want — that’s all you want.”
One other tidbit I’d like to quickly add is that, if all goes well, it seems as though the stars are eventually aligning for one day Michael to potentially be standing on the touchline for Toronto FC perhaps next to his father, as the TFC captain was open about his ambitions for coaching following his playing career, which by the way, he emphasized was far from finished.
“Absolutely,” said Bradley when asked whether he’s thought about potentially coaching after his playing career. “Absolutely, especially as I’ve gotten older. Your wheels start to spin in terms of what life after playing is going to be, and I don’t have any definitive answers for you right now, but there’s no doubt that I love the game. It’s been my life since I was a few years old, so I’m going to want to stay involved in the game and there’s no doubt that coaching in some capacity is going to be something that interests me — that really excites me.”
Alejandro Pozuelo sheds light on his struggles this season
The Toronto FC end-of-season media availability began with a bit of a bang on Wednesday as star player Alejandro Pozuelo, who told media he was dealing with some personal issues a few weeks ago, let everyone know that he and his wife, who lives in Spain, had separated in the summer, just a few months after the birth of their third child in June.
“Now I can confirm that ... I separated with my wife in the summer, but I’m good,” said the Spaniard. “This is the most important now, I look forward to the next season.”
Given all of what happened with his family, that seemed to have rubbed off on Pozuelo’s performances on the pitch this season. The 2020 MLS MVP appeared in just 19 games, scoring once and adding four assists after netting nine and adding 10 assists in 23 matches the year prior.
“Of course. 100 per cent,” said Pozuelo when asked if the off-field issues affected his on-field performances this year. “I’m very family (oriented). I like to be with my family close, but when you’re not good with one person, you can not be happy. So this was the big problem this year.”
Pozuelo added that he has sought out help psychologically in order to move forward and that he’s now happy and looking forward to bouncing back next year.
The Spaniard is about to embark on a massive year in his career. The 30-year-old midfielder is entering the final year of his contract and his status moving forward with the club is unclear. When asked about his future at the club, Pozuelo started by saying you have to ask the team President, but did offer his perspective on the situation.
“I hope I can be here a lot of years,” said Pozuelo. “This is my team. This is my objective right now. I have one more year on my contract, so we are good, we can speak after when the season starts. But for me, I will be happy here to help the team, now with a new project, with a new coach, I’m very excited to be here next and I hope I can be here more years. This is my dream.”
Yeferson Soteldo’s future with Toronto up in the air
Just seven months after joining Toronto FC from Brazillian club Santos FC, the future of 24-year-old designated player Yeferson Soteldo is in doubt.
The dynamic winger appeared in 24 MLS matches for the club, scoring three goals and adding a team-high 10 assists, despite sharing the field with Toronto’s other two designated players — Altidore and Pozuelo — just five times this season.
Talent wise, there was no question about the Venezuelan’s ability. He oozes with skill and entering the prime of his career, so there was real reason to be excited about the prospect of surrounding Soteldo with fresh faces capable of complimenting his style of play. However, there is a big question mark about Soteldo’s off-field presence, work ethic, and what he adds to the culture at the club and how that has rubbed off on other players within the TFC locker room.
“I don’t think we had a culture this year,” said Manning. “And I think we’ve lost this amazing culture that we had built up over the years at BMO Training Ground and it was reflected onto the field at BMO Field and wherever this team played.”
“Some of the culture that was built here evaporated very quickly,” continued Manning, “and the introduction of some of the players into the club and some of the guys that were here, it wasn’t seamless ... teams that win have fun and there’s a camaraderie there that’s built not only within the locker room but throughout the organization ... we take it seriously when we talk about All For One.”
Futhermore, when asked about his relationship with the Venezuelan, Pozuelo was a bit hesitant to reply, before eventually stating that it was good. Oddly enough however, he did add that he doesn’t go to dinner with Soteldo, which is slightly off putting considering the TFC star went do dinner with Pablo Piatti prior to the Argentine even signing with Toronto.
“He’s there, I’m here,” said Pozuelo, gesturing with his hands. “But like a friend, we are good in the dressing room, we are good. Outside, we don’t go to dinner for example to eat, but we have good relationship. I don’t want to speak about this too much, thank you sorry.”
There are rumours swirling that Soteldo would like to return to Brazil this offseason, but Manning was quick to dismiss those rumours as he did with Altidore, saying he doesn’t put much stock into what those reports were alluding to.
“If you gave me a dollar for every rumour that came not true, I’d be a millionaire,” said Manning. “You’re going to see lots of rumours, I’m sure. Some have some legitimacy and a lot don’t frankly. We have players under contract, and as I mentioned, everything is open though – and we’re going to explore everything.
“And so, as I mentioned with other players, in Yeferson’s case, he’s under contract. We’re going to spend a lot of time with Bob and how we’re going to makeover this roster, and everything is open.”
It looks like we’re just getting warmed up here Toronto FC fans. Buckle up. This should be an offseason like no other.