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OPINION: Bob Bradley cleaning house is tough, but necessary

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New Toronto FC head coach and sporting director Bob Bradley is making a lot of roster changes, and quickly. That may be hard to swallow, but it’s also a reason for hope.

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Bob Bradley wears his determination on his sleeve.
Photo by Ira L. Black/Corbis via Getty Images

Toronto sure brought out the snow plows this week. And no, I don’t really mean the literal plows after our massive dump on Monday. What I mean is the determination and decisiveness that new Toronto FC head coach and sporting director Bob Bradley has brought to recent roster changes, as he hopes to address the unmitigated disaster that was last season. He came from warm and sunny Los Angeles to wintery, overcast Toronto, unafraid to pull the trigger. And while it may be a bitter pill to swallow, I can’t help but see Marky Delgado’s recent departure in the other direction, albeit to the Galaxy, as an example of Bradley’s approach.

All the best to Delgado, who is reunited with the coach-above-reproach Greg Vanney. My favourite thing about Vanney’s tenure at TFC was that if a game or stretch of season wasn’t going too well, he’d always pull the trigger: a change of shape, or a timely sub. He had a way of making the call that turned no points into one or one point into three. Same with Tim Bezbatchenko on the roster front. He pounced on the chance to bring Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco into the fold. Jermain Defoe was gone in under a year. He gave young up-and-comers like Delgado and (eventually) Jonathan Osorio a chance to shine. Most significant of all, he brought in Michael Bradley and built the team around his calm and stalwart leadership.

No one disputes the successes of the past. The problem is relying on the tools of the past to do the job in the present. Players at their height in 2017 are unlikely to stilll be there in 2022. Justin Morrow got that. Captain Bradley got that. But Ali “play your kids” Curtis somehow locked himself into using 2017 stars in 2021, unable or unwilling to make the changes needed to correct course. He had to let Chris Armas go after a matter of months, but that still wasn’t enough to give Toronto FC any shot at digging ourselves out of the basement. We finished second-last in the league, only somewhat better than perpetual newcomers FC Cincinnati. The Reds were broken. We needed fixing.

Change is hard: believe me, I get that. I think we all get that almost two years into this pandemic. It’s sad to see beloved players go, even for reasons Canadians can celebrate such as Richie Laryea’s move to Nottingham. And we’ll surely miss Delgado: he was a constant in TFC’s midfield, mature and talented beyond his age. For long stretches I mused that his initials should stand for “Mister Dependable.”

But something shifted along the way. He still had a step, but his skill dropped off. His tendency to giveaways and porous defending stood out in a defensive unit largely prone to giveaways and porousness. He had a nose to get forward, in part because Alejandro Pozuelo and Yeferson Soteldo were messing around on the left without a true No. 9 to feed, while forgetting to trust Laryea on the right. That often left Delgado with the ball up front, but he lacked the finish to turn those into meaningful chances.

Then there’s Jozy Altidore. Whether you believe he should get paid what he was offered in 2019, or paid what he is worth in 2022, it’s clear that the gulf between those two numbers is cavernous. I won’t beat a dead horse by rehashing the numbers. Suffice it to say, he didn’t really play, didn’t contribute to the team, yet collected a DP paycheck.

So Delgado is gone, as is Dom Dwyer and his unfathomable contract. The troublesome Soteldo is likely on his way out, and I doubt Altidore will factor much into Coach Bradley’s plans. Snow Plow Bob is pulling the trigger on moving players that simply didn’t perform as well as they needed to for this caliber of a club. He’s doing what Vanney and Bezbatchenko did, what Curtis and Armas didn’t do.

His brand of fluid, treacherously attacking football reached its zenith in LAFC’s 2019 Supporters’ Shield run: they topped our points total from 2017, scored a record-shattering 85 goals. It’s probably closer to the type of football that Armas wanted to play, but unlike his predecessor, Coach Bradley is letting go of the players that simply can’t keep up. He’s freeing up roster and cap space to bring in more veteran players that can. He’s also giving more opportunities to young Canadians like the impressive speedster Jacob Shaffelburg and on-the-mend breakouts like Ayo Akinola and Ralph Priso and a heap of new signings to come around Pozuelo and Captain Bradley and continue to develop. Will that be enough to make playoffs this year? Possibly, but I’ll be satisfied if we can at least put up a serious fight, unlike last year.

Oh also, Lorenzo Insigne is coming this summer. I’ll take Insigne in the second half of 2022 over Carlos Vela throughout 2019, despite his own record-setting Golden Boot season. This only speaks to how unpredictably gargantuan and league-defining the Insigne move could turn out to be. I only see reasons for hope.