A year of change saw Toronto FC repeat last year's 13th-place finish in the MLS Eastern Conference.
But amid the pain of missing the playoffs again, there is the belief that the franchise now has a framework to build on with the midseason arrival of Italians Lorenzo insigne, Federico Bernardeschi and Domenico Criscito as well as Canadian midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye and fullback Richie Laryea.
Now Toronto (9-18-7) has to fill some holes, eliminate the tendency to shoot itself in the foot and find some consistency.
"The season has been a challenge. It's been inconsistent — inconsistent from half to half, inconsistent with lineups. And there's still a lot of work to be done to make a really good team," coach Bob Bradley said at the team's end-of-season availability Wednesday.
More than 20 members of the first team exited in the wake of the 2021 season and more change is expected in this off-season, with Bradley confirming help is needed up the team's spine — in goal, central defence and striker.
Team president Bill Manning suggested the club will likely repeat what it did after the 2015 season, when it targeted needs by bringing in goalkeeper Clint Irwin, defenders Steven Beitashour and Drew Moor and Canadian midfielder Will Johnson.
On the plus side, Insigne and Bernardeschi served up no shortage of highlights in an up-and-down second half of the season
"To win a championship you need the special players … What we found is with players like Drew Moor and Steven Beitashour and that like, those are the guys that help you not lose," Manning said. "We do have some difference-makers now. But we still need to round out the team with some guys that help keep the ball out of the net, that help us not lose."
Toronto finished 13th in the Eastern Conference and 27th in the 28-team league. At 34 points, It was 14 below the playoff line.
In 2021, the team also placed 13th in the East at 6-18-10, and finished 26th in the then-27-club league. With 28 points, it was 20 out of the playoffs.
The team conceded a franchise-worst 66 goals both this year and last. Toronto ranked 26th in the league on defence this season.
TFC scored 39 goals in 2021 and 49 in 2022.
While the standings may not show it, captain Michael Bradley says progress has been made.
"The frustration for me at the end of last year was that I felt that … it was a year where I'm not sure how much better off we were at the end than we were at the beginning," he said. "This year there was real work — every single day in trying to push the bar forward, trying to raise the level of things, make a better team, play better football."
Other points of note from the end-of-season availability
— Midfielder Jonathan Osorio confirmed he has been dealing with post-concussion syndrome, as a result of taking an elbow to the head in a July 13 loss at Chicago. Previously he had referred to it as a neurological dysfunction, with the club not providing a specific diagnosis. Osorio says he feels more like himself, is back on the field and is optimistic he will be ready for next month's World Cup with Canada. Whether Osorio is back with TFC next season is still up in the air. He is out of contract and says he wants to explore his options.
— Manning said the club's season-ticket base was almost 21,000 this year and is anticipated to reach 23,000 next season, which will approach the club high of 23,500 in 2018 (following the 2017 championship year). TFC ranked fifth in the league this season in attendance, averaging 25,423.
— Bob Bradley said Nashville has begun talks to turn the loan of Canadian winger Jacob Shaffelburg into a permanent move. Going the other direction, there are talks ongoing to turn Laryea's loan from England's Nottingham Forest into a permanent return to Toronto.
— Bob Bradley also said MLS free agency and trades could be used to change the roster.
— Manning said 18-year-old Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty and 20-year-old Jayden Nelson have attracted interest from other teams. "We'll see how that all plays out … Both good young men. High ceilings," he added.
— Toronto's open designated player slot will be filled "by the right player that presents himself at the right wage," according to Manning.
— Insigne was the most open he has been about his family's recent "personal family situation" without detailing the issue, calling it "a great loss for me and my wife." Manning said Insigne's family situation "took a lot of the steam out of the team, frankly. It was a tough moment for oue club."
This season was one of ups and downs. After a 3-2-2 start to the season, TFC endured an 2-10-2 stretch for a 5-12-4 record.
The July 23 visit of Charlotte marked the debut of Insigne and Bernardeschi, starting a rally that saw TFC lose just one of its next eight games (4-1-3) — a stretch that would account for 15 or its eventual 34-point total.
But the bottom dropped out in September, starting with a 4-3 loss to rival CF Montreal. and Toronto went 0-5-0 the rest of the way.
"When you begin a new project, you need time, sacrifice and a lot of hard work," Bernardeschi said through an interpreter.
"The new season is another story, for sure," he added in English. "OK? Don't worry."