TORONTO — Despite taking just one point from its first two games and suffering a lopsided 4-1 loss in its weekend home opener, Toronto FC remains optimistic that brighter days are ahead.
"I feel that. I know that the guys around me feel that … because this team has a ton of potential," goalkeeper Alex Bono said after training Tuesday. "We've shown a lot of trust in the young players early on this year and they deserved it. Every one that's got minutes has had great pre-seasons. They've come, they've integrated themselves in the team really well.
"Yeah we're young, our lineup is young. At some points, we've got young guys coming off the bench but they've all deserved it. They've all got a ton of potential, ton of ability and it's going to take time. We've got a new staff, we've got a bunch of new guys and so it's going to take time just based on that alone."
Bob Bradley has made wholesale changes since taking over in November as head coach and sporting director. Eighteen players from the first-team roster that went a dismal 6-18-10 last season have left, with Jamaican international defender Kemar Lawrence expected to join the exodus any day.
Toronto opened the season with a 1-1 draw at FC Dallas before taking it on the chin from the New York Red Bulls in Saturday's home opener at BMO Field. Next up is a game Saturday at Columbus (1-0-1).
After conceding a franchise-worst 66 goals last season, Toronto revamped its defence, bringing in Mexican international Carlos Salcedo, Lukas McNaughton and Shane O'Neill to join holdover Chris Mavinga at centre back.
Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty, 17, and Jacob Shaffelburg, 22, are feeling their way at fullback after being switched from the wing,
Yielding five goals in the first two games, with all of the goals coming in the first half, is not the start TFC wanted.
But it is a small sample size. Bono takes heart from the fact that Toronto put on a better showing in the second half of both games.
Still, the Red Bulls ripped Toronto apart on the counter-attack in the first half Saturday, punishing Toronto mistakes four times.
"We came into the locker room and, to everyone's credit, we said 'It's not good. But it's over. The first 45's behind us now. And all we can do is respond for the second 45,'" Bono said. "And the second 45, we had some good spells of play. We knew it was an uphill battle but there was no giving up."
At this early stage of the season, Toronto is tied with Inter Miami for 25th in the 28-team league in goals conceded. Only San Jose and Cincinnati have given up more.
Bono, who made some excellent saves in the second half Saturday to prevent an even worse loss, ranks 25th in the league with a 2.50 goals-against average.
"Listen it's a work in progress," Bono said of the defence. "Chris (Mavinga) is really our only centre back that stayed on with us so we're still building partnerships, we're still building relationships on the field. We're still kind of learning the other guys' tendencies and what they like and what they don't like.
"Again, that's just something that takes time. The one thing is that we have really good defenders. We have really good guys in the field. We will make it really tough for teams to score. We would like that to be an instantaneous thing," he said, clicking his fingers. "It hasn't quite been the case, especially in the past game but it's something that we're working on constantly and it's something that we really strive to do, to make it really difficult to give up goals."
On the plus side, striker Ayo Akinola was at training Tuesday, another step back on the road to recovery from surgery last August to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee sustained on international duty with Canada at last summer's Gold Cup.
There was no immediate update on the timing of his return to action, which was originally pegged at April-May.
"He tells me he's feeling stronger every single day ... He's been working his ass off for a long time," said Bono.
The team was forced to practise at BMO Field last week because the pitches at its north Toronto training centre weren't ready. Most were still under snow Tuesday but the team was able to practise on one pitch, allowing the somewhat ragged surface at BMO Field some time to recover.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 8, 2022.
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press