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TORONTO — Saturday’s regular-season finale against visiting Orlando City represents both a beginning and an end for Toronto FC.
Former Canada coach John Herdman takes charge on the Toronto sideline for the first time while captain Michel Bradley takes the field for the last time.
Herdman brought the entire backroom staff out to a rainy practice Friday morning to fete Bradley, who spoke briefly to those in attendance.
But the gathering also served as a reminder to the players “to just give everything we can in this last game,” Herdman said.
Whatever happens Saturday, Toronto (4-19-10, 22 points) will finish at the bottom of the 29-team standings, given it goes into Decision Day five points below 28th-place Colorado.
But there are jobs to play for.
“There’s something I’m looking for in these men that they have to show this weekend,” Herdman said. “And if they aren’t able to show that this weekend then they’re sending a very clear message to the fans, to the city, to Toronto FC and to the coaching staff about their motivation, their purpose and what their commitment is.
“This is a cup final for us. This is an absolute cup final.”
Herdman officially took over the team at the start of the month but was an observer the last two games while interim coach Terry Dunfield ran the show. Herdman and his staff have been running training since.
Toronto has lost six straight and won just one of its last 16 games (1-15-0) in all competitions.
A loss will confirm the 2023 season as TFC’s worst-ever. Toronto managed 23 points in the 2012 season when it lost the first nine games of the season en route to a 5-21-8 record.
Saturday’s game will be Bradley’s 308th for Toronto in all competitions since he came on board in January 2014 along with Jermain Defoe. The England striker lasted just one season in MLS but Bradley became a fixture in Toronto.
Herdman said it was “a privilege … to be part of that last part of a great man’s journey.”
“This is a genuine legend that’s going to leave the club,” he said.
Only Canadian midfielder Jonathan Osorio has made more appearance (340) in Toronto colours.
Bradley, in his 10th season with Toronto, said he was “really proud, really excited, really looking forward to enjoying one more game at BMO (Field). One more game as a player.
“But of course it’s bittersweet. There’s no two ways around that … It’s been a week of a lot of different emotions.”
Toronto will also be looking to avoid joining D.C. United, FC Cincinnati and the defunct Chivas USA as the only MLS franchises to have lost 20 or more games in a season more than once.
TFC has already gone winless on the road this season, picking up just four of a possible 51 points at 0-13-4.
Orlando (17-7-9, 60 points), has lost just once in its last 10 games (7-1-2). It will finish second in the Eastern Conference no matter the result Saturday, leaving one to wonder what kind of lineup it will field ahead of the playoffs.
Orlando has already set franchise records for points (60), wins (17) and fewest losses in a full season (seven). It needs two goals to tie the franchise single-season record off 55, set in 2016.
Toronto will be without the injured Adama Diomande, Sigurd Rosted and Brandon Servania. Goalkeepers Sean Johnson and Greg Ranjitsingh were both at training Friday but are listed as questionable, which may open the door to rookie Luka Gavran to make a fifth straight start.