The wait is finally over!
Toronto FC returns to Major League Soccer action on Saturday, paying a visit to Wayne Rooney’s DC United. The Reds will hope to put a disappointing 2022 season in the rearview in their first competitive match of the calendar year.
There will be plenty of new names on display at Audi Field as a refreshed TFC squad hopes to make some noise in the Eastern Conference and return to the playoffs. There is plenty of soccer to play before then though, with Toronto FC set to compete on several fronts in 2023. Bob Bradley will aim to guide his team to the MLS Cup Playoffs, whilst also navigating through the Canadian Championship, and the new-look Leagues Cup.
It all begins though, with an away day in the American capital against the only club which finished below Toronto in the Eastern Conference standings last year. Both sides will look to rebound from poor campaigns and get off on the right foot this time around, though the two clubs may have differing expectations heading into opening weekend.
Though TFC was one of the worst teams in MLS in 2022, it seems like the start of something new. After a slow-ish start to the offseason, Bradley and Club President Bill Manning ended up giving TFC a major facelift, signing nine new first-team players. The front office has addressed the team from back to front, and Toronto now possesses what might be one of the strongest starting lineups in the league.
Free agent acquisition and former Supporter’s Shield winner Matt Hedges echoed that sentiment in his introductory press conference.
To say Matt Hedges believes in this Toronto FC team would be an understatement:— Michael Singh (@MichaelSingh94) February 21, 2023
"I think we can be a fantastic team. We've seen glimpses of it in the game. When we play how we want to play, I don't think there's anybody that can stop us to be honest. That's how I feel."
With Designated Players Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi now fully in the mix and with a full pre-season under their belt, the club seems to have quickly entered win-now mode. That may be strange to say after back-to-back 13th place finishes in the Eastern Conference, but things can change quickly. For Bradley, Manning, and Toronto’s faithful, they will expect nothing less.
Adding the likes of Hedges, Sean Johnson, Victor Vazquez, Adama Diomande and Sigurd Rosted is a statement of intent from Toronto. But big name signings and feelings of renewed optimism are all for naught if the team doesn’t connect on the field, where it all matters.
On opening day, expect to see close to a full-strength lineup for the Reds, with plenty of new faces on the pitch. Five new signings started Toronto’s preseason finale in Carson, California a week ago and we should see a similar looking team sheet in Washington, D.C.
Though the starting XI feels set in stone, there are still some questions that can only be answered by looking at a competitive fixture. Who is the third centre-back? Will Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty see more minutes this season? What kind of role will Vazquez play? Is Diomande the starting striker?
Hoping to play the role of spoiler on Saturday will be D.C. United. Like Toronto, D.C. has had a rough go of it for two seasons in a row, finishing eighth in the East in 2021, and then bottom of the pile last year.
Rooney, who signed on as D.C. United gaffer midseason in 2022, will hope to showcase his coaching abilities and steer a turnaround in his first full season at the helm.
Like Toronto, D.C. has been wheeling and dealing during the MLS offseason, bringing in a crop of new players, and seeing a good chunk of last year’s roster head for pastures new.
After a good debut MLS season, Designated Player Taxiarchis Fountas will be joined by former Leeds United midfielder Mateusz Klich, United’s biggest offseason addition.
Christian Benteke is another former Premier League footballer who will hope to change the club’s fortunes in 2023. The Belgian has one D.C. United goal to his name after moving to MLS in August 2022, and he will look to get off to a positive start in 2023. No team scored fewer goals than D.C. last season. With the likes of Fountas, Klich, and Benteke, Rooney will have to see that change.
D.C. United: Miller; Jeahze, Williams, Birnbaum, Ruan; Klich, Palsson, Durkin; Santos, Benteke, Fountas
Toronto FC: Johnson; Petretta, Rosted, Hedges, Laryea; Kaye, Bradley, Osorio; Insigne, Diomande, Bernardeschi
- Toronto FC drew 2-2 in their last match away to D.C. United
- Toronto FC (-17) and D.C. United (-35) finished the 2022 season with the worst goal difference records in MLS
Opponent: D.C. United
Kickoff time: 7:30 pm ET
Watch: MLS Season Pass
Stadium: Audi Field, Washington, D.C.