TFC Notebook: Federico Bernardeschi benched by Toronto FC Head Coach Bob Bradley
Another turbulent week in the books for Toronto FC and decisions have been made! It’s time for another TFC Notebook!
A new notebook will be released every weekend throughout the course of the 2023 Toronto FC season, featuring news and updates from training during the week, exclusive interviews, tidbits and more. It's supported by NorthStar Bets, so if you're interested in responsible gaming, please check out their special welcome offer.
Without further ado, let’s dive in.
Bernardeschi benched by Bob Bradley
Bob Bradley has made a “coach’s decision”: Italian national team star Federico Bernardeschi will not be part of Toronto FC’s squad on Saturday for their match against DC United at BMO Field.
The decision comes on the heels of Bernardeschi’s seemingly targeted post-game comments after Toronto’s 1-0 loss to Austin FC last weekend when he called for a change to be made.
Bradley says the move is not a “disciplinary move” in reaction to Bernardeschi’s comments but rather based on internal discussions that have taken place over the past week.
“There’s discussions that are going on about just how we are going to continue to work together. As I said, there’s been a lot going on this week, so when you think about preparing a group for this game, we felt that this was the best way to handle it,” said the TFC Head Coach and Sporting Director.
Bradley doesn’t believe that the events that have transpired this past week will put Bernardeschi’s future at the club in jeopardy.
“The discussion is that we are preparing for this game and keeping discussions going. I think that the plan is for sure that [Bernardeschi] is back in it and we put this week behind us and we all move forward.”
He added: “[Bernardeschi] and I had a good discussion today and I think we’re both on the same page and excited to keep working together.”
READ MORE: Bernardeschi is ‘a good challenge’ says Bob Bradley
READ MORE: What does Bob Bradley say to Insigne and Bernardeschi in moments of frustration?
The decision comes at a rather unfortunate time for the Reds, who are in dire need of more goals and Bernardeschi (3G/2A) has been Toronto’s biggest attacking threat this season, even though he has been held off the scoresheet for the past seven games.
TFC find themselves at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings and haven’t scored in four-straight matches.
Earlier in the season, Bradley said that he was challenging Bernardeschi to be more of a leader in the squad and that it was “a good challenge” to keep him going in the right ways. Less than two weeks ago, he pointed to Bernardeschi (and four others) as being leaders for the team during their recent turbulent stretch.
But it seems that Bernardeschi’s overall mentality, and his relationship with the coach, has come into question the past week.
For Bradley, himself, the decision is risky. Given the club’s poor start to the season and the frustration that’s brewing both inside the dressing room and among the fanbase, the manager is surely on the hot seat and benching your star forward certainly won’t increase his team’s chances of winning.
And you do get the sense that Bradley needs to start picking up more results – sooner rather than later.
“We are not where we need to be and that of course is my responsibility."
Toronto FC’s biggest roster building issue
Toronto FC is one of four teams in Major League Soccer that have 10 players making above the senior maximum budget charge ($651,250), so when the club’s lack of depth gets brought up, that’s the first thing that people tend to point out: their top-heavy roster.
And while that is true, the issue lies even deeper than that.
Toronto FC don’t have many good value contracts. They have players that have either not lived up to their price tags or are deserving of their price tags, but they don’t have many players that are adding value above what they are paid.
And when you choose to have a top-heavy roster, in any sport with a hard salary cap, you also need to be good at finding that value — and TFC haven’t been.
Think of their MLSE compatriots: the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Leafs invest more in their top-four players than anyone else in the NHL, leaving them with less resources to round out the remainder of their roster. But what ex-GM Kyle Dubas excelled at was adding good value contracts that punched above their weight, like Michael Bunting, David Kampf, Ilya Mikheyev etc.
In 2017, Toronto FC’s treble-winning season, the Reds were also the highest-spending club in MLS after loading up on their three DPs: Michael Bradley, Sebastian Giovinco, and Jozy Altidore. But then they also had guys on cheap deals like Alex Bono, Eriq Zavaleta, Nick Hagglund, Jonathan Osorio, Raheem Edwards, Tosaint Ricketts, Armando Cooper, Nico Hasler, and Benoit Cheyrou that provided tremendous value.
Justin Morrow and Marky Delgado were each making $232,146 or the equivalent of 5.63 per cent of Toronto FC’s non-DP budget in 2017. 5.63 per cent of Toronto FC’s non-DP budget today would equate to approximately $593,770 — roughly the amount that Adama Diomande ($585,000) is making.
So, Toronto FC haven’t done a good enough job at finding those types of players – the Morrows, the Delgados, the Ricketts – this season.
READ MORE: What does the departure of head scout Jack Dodd mean for Toronto FC?
Aside from *maybe* Kobe Franklin ($78,162) and Aimé Mabika ($93,569), although it’s probably premature to make that claim just yet, there aren’t many players that are providing more value than what they’re making.
Sean Johnson ($683,013) has been outstanding but he is the fifth-most expensive goalkeeper in the league. How much more could he make on the open market? I’m not sure.
Michael Bradley ($614,286) is arguably on a bit of a bargain, though he had to apparently ask to take a pay cut this offseason, and I’m not sure how much more he’d be worth if he signed a new deal at age 35.
Alonso Coello ($71,693) looked like he was on track, but he’s been sidelined for a “good number of weeks” with an ankle injury, and I’d also argue that TFC’s coaching staff likely didn’t foresee Alonso being as good as he was as quickly as he was. Remember, he was promoted after a few short-term loans from TFC II.
Cristián Gutiérrez ($311,667) and CJ Sapong ($616,667) may end up falling into this category because their former clubs are picking up most of their salary this season, but neither player has proven that to be the case so far this season. Gutiérrez still hasn’t featured for the first team as he works his way back from a severe non-covid illness.
Players that many thought could potentially provide good value this season like Deandre Kerr ($90,763), Kosi Thompson ($90,704), Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty ($159,313) and Ayo Akinola ($771,885) – Akinola’s cap hit is just $200,000 – haven’t progressed in the way the team would’ve hoped.
And players that were on good contracts that were, or had the potential to, provide good value like Jacob Shaffelburg ($195,000), Lukas MacNaughton ($87,544), Luca Petrasso ($94,468) and Ralph Priso ($89,716) were shipped off for other pieces that Toronto’s front office felt could better help the team contend in the short-term.
Bob Bradley likes to refer to these types of players as “assets.” They are valuable internal assets or they’re valuable to other teams in MLS. There’s not a ton of value on TFC’s roster right now outside of players that are deemed indispensable.
That, to me, is the biggest issue when discussing this team’s lack of depth.
Added Time: News and Notes
– Toronto FC (+120) are surprising favourites against DC United (+225) on Saturday. Wayne Rooney’s United are unbeaten in their last three league matches and are coming off a 3-0 win over the LA Galaxy. TFC, meanwhile, have just two wins in their last 22 matches dating back to last season.
– TFC beat DC United 2-1 at BMO Field last March, thanks to goals from Alejandro Pozuelo and Jonathan Osorio.
– TFC are middle of the pack in goals scored this season (13) but have the fifth-worst xG (13.4) in MLS
– Lorenzo Insigne (lower-body) and Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty (suspension) will both be available on Saturday
– For what it’s worth, Insigne did not travel to Austin last weekend because of a lower-body injury. There were reports that an argument between him and Bob Bradley broke out leading to Insigne’s absence, but I’m told by multiple sources that wasn’t the case.
– Some positive news: Jonathan Osorio (MCL Strain) was on the training ground, doing some running with the ball on his own. There’s still no timetable on the Canadian international’s return.
– Centre-backs Sigurd Rosted and Shane O’Neill were also involved in parts of training this week. The duo does not appear to be too far away from making their return.
– Alex Bono makes his return to BMO Field after he spent eight years with the Reds. He’s the club’s all-time leader in clean sheets (35) and wins (67), and of course, led the Reds to the treble in 2017. He’s DC United’s backup as starter Tyler Miller has evolved into one of the league’s best goalkeepers.
– LAFC’s Denis Bouanga leads MLS with 10 goals in 12 matches this season. Atlanta United’s star Thiago Almada leads the league with 8 assists in 10 appearances.
– Richie Laryea still leads the league in fouls suffered (43) while Mark-Anthony Kaye leads the league in tackles (36)
– Toronto FC have the sixth-best average attendance (24,148) in the league through seven matchdays this season