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How Bob Bradley has created the optimal environment for Toronto FC’s academy players to thrive

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Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty. Luca Petrasso. Jacob Shaffelburg. Kosi Thompson. Jayden Nelson …

The list of young Toronto FC academy players that have impressed at times in the early 2022 MLS season continues to grow. Noble Okello, Ralph Priso, Jordan Perruzza and DeAndre Kerr are also homegrown TFC players that have played first team minutes this season. TFC’s “next man up” mindset has helped to ensure that performances have not dropped off in the absence of key players being injured or suspended and has continued to produce results with three wins and one draw in their last four matches.

Sean Pollock l Waking The Red

TFC has the 10th youngest MLS squad with an average age of 25 years and 184 days. Three TFC players had never played professional men’s soccer before (Kerr, Petrasso and Thompson), three more had never played in the MLS before (Chung, Jimenez and MacNaughton), while a further three had never played more than 500 minutes in a MLS season (Marshall-Rutty, Nelson and Perruzza).

Most of the aforementioned players have seamlessly integrated into the team and continue to get better with more playing time. More importantly, Bob Bradley has cultivated an environment that is conducive to the growth of TFC’s young players. TFC failed to replicate this environment under previous managers and the academy significantly underperformed as a result.


Bob has created the ideal environment for youth in two main ways:

  1. A significant TFC squad overhaul and preserving a veteran presence in the spine of the team

Bob significantly overturned the 2020 TFC squad this past off-season by selling, trading, buying out or loaning away 21 first team players. Throughout the 2022 offseason and the first three games of the 2022 MLS season, Bob was heavily criticized by a large contingent of the fanbase for moving out so many veteran players and not replacing them with proven, starting caliber talent. Four games later and that tune has changed.

Sean Pollock l Waking The Red

By only keeping young, homegrown talent and the veteran players that he knew would buy into his culture reset, Bob has been able to successfully reshape the team in his own way. In soccer, successful teams traditionally have a strong spine.

The spine of a soccer team is typically made from the central positions of goalkeeper, centre back, central midfield and sometimes striker. Unsurprisingly, Bob preserved veteran players in all of these positions.

Alex Bono is TFC’s goalkeeper who has been with the club since 2015. Carlos Salcedo, Shane O’Neill and Chris Mavinga are three CBs each with at least two full years of MLS experience and multiple years of experience in other top flight International leagues.

Sean Pollock l Waking The Red

The CMs Jonathan Osorio and Michael Bradley lead the club in all-time appearances, with Osorio being a TFC academy graduate who is closing in on 300 appearances.

In front of them, Alejandro Pozuelo is a former MLS MVP in his fourth year with the club. Jesus Jimenez is new to the MLS, but is 28 years old and has a track record of success in Poland’s top flight and Spain’s lower divisions.

The veteran players have helped to provide playing structure and mentorship for the youth. There is a sense of accountability up and down the squad with every player earning their minutes by working hard at both ends of the field.

2. Providing opportunities for youth and employing a tactical system that allows for mistakes on the periphery

Having the right culture and veteran players in place within the spine of the team alone are not enough. These two ingredients have existed under previous TFC managers but academy players still generally failed to breakthrough.

Bob has not only provided academy players with ample opportunities to earn their minutes, he’s also allowing them to make mistakes and learn from them. It would have been easy to sign veteran players to rely on if things were not working as planned. Instead, he is using the early parts of the 2022 season to evaluate what he has in his younger players and the limited alternative options to them in wide roles is by design.

Sean Pollock l Waking The Red

Bob has also set the team up tactically to try and limit the core decision making and impact of mistakes from the younger players. He has focused TFC’s build up and attack on the spine of the team. When TFC either progress the ball up field or win the ball back from opposition turnovers, players have shown a tendency to immediately play the ball centrally to either Michael Bradley or Osorio. Both act as TFC’s fulcrum, dictating the tempo and direction of the attack.

Once the ball has progressed to the final third of the field, the wide players, attacking midfielder and striker then take over. If they are unable to find an opening in the defence, they will pass the ball back to the fulcrums to reset the attacking phase. Designing the ball progression and attack through the veteran fulcrums helps to ensure that if TFC’s young wide players turn the ball over, they are typically doing so in wide areas or further up field where the threat of a counter attack can be better neutralized. The decision making burden on TFC’s fulcrums can partly explain why younger academy players like Okello and Priso have not yet been afforded the same opportunities as others.


This TFC team has overachieved when looking at advanced statistics. But, it also needs to be appreciated that this team is in year one of a complete rebuild. The style of play cannot fully be evaluated yet with this makeshift squad, but you should certainly be enjoying the process that the team has collectively taken to fight back for positive results. They weren’t expected to be very good until reinforcements came in the summer and Bob had more time to get the ideal players for his preferred system of play.

And yet, TFC’s young players are gaining confidence in their abilities and continue to thrive and force people to re-evaluate what the potential of this team could be right now. Bob and the coaching staff deserve full credit for the ideal environment they’ve built for young players, especially those from TFC’s academy.

The road ahead will not be straightforward. Opposing teams will start to adjust to TFC with more film. Player (and overall team) form will also eventually dip. How TFC’s young players adjust to those circumstances will be the next learning curve in their development.



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Klopp named LMA manager of the year

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A five match unbeaten run sees Defiance vault up the MLS NEXT Pro leaderboard. Tacoma Defiance rise to No. 2 in Week 9 MLS NEXT Pro Power Rankings | Tacoma Defiance

Welcome to another week of MLS Power Rankings, where the numbers are made up and the rationale doesn’t matter. Power Rankings: Austin FC, Real Salt Lake ascend after Weeks 12 & 13 | MLSSoccer.com

There’s intrigue aplenty as the US Open Cup enters its Round of 16 on Wednesday night, with 13 MLS teams left standing, including derby showdowns, potential Cupsets, rematches and more across the eight games. US Open Cup: What awaits MLS teams in the Round of 16? | MLSSoccer.com

The video review system in MLS moved to a centralized Video Operations Room last weekend. Centralized VAR system implemented in Week 10 – Professional Referee Organization

Aaronson is still drawing looks from the likes of Red Bull Salzburg. Paxten Aaronson reportedly drawing more interest abroad – Brotherly Game

Coming to The Banc this summer. Angel City FC announce friendly vs. Tigres Feminil on August 10 – Angels on Parade

Two years ago, WSU’s Elyse Bennett wasn’t even thinking about a future in professional soccer. Now, she’s quickly lighting up the league. Elyse Bennett wasn’t going to turn pro. Now, she looks like she’s been here all along – Equalizer Soccer

NWSL coaches and players have hammered the league for failing to protect its players from bad refereeing, but fixing it will take time and money. ‘Absolute madness’: NWSL’s poor refereeing and dangerous play criticized, but no quick fixes in sight | ESPN

A FIFA-appointed expert in women’s football has been cleared of charges of sexual harassment directed at players as young as 14. FIFA judges clear women’s coach of sexual harassment charges | ESPN

The Frenchman is accused of unprofessional behaviour towards players after complaint was made — club say they take the situation very seriously. PSG suspend women’s coach Didier Olle-Nicolle after accusations of inappropriate behaviour | The Telegraph

Leeds are wasting no time. Leeds United close in on £24m deal for Brenden Aaronson – Through It All Together

The message “Manchester United are rubbish” appeared on screen during a news broadcast on Tuesday. BBC apologises after ‘Manchester United are rubbish’ appears on screen – BBC News

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp has been named the League Managers Association’s manager of the year. Jurgen Klopp: Liverpool boss named LMA manager of the year – BBC Sport

Fan disorder seen at recent football matches is a “reflection of where we are as a country at the moment”, says England manager Gareth Southgate. Pitch invasions & violence: England boss Gareth Southgate says issue a “reflection” of the country – BBC Sport

Tottenham’s majority shareholders ENIC Sports Inc announced they will be putting an extra £150m into the club. Tottenham to get £150m boost after Champions League qualification – BBC Sport

Carlo Ancelotti said he “respects the decision” of Kylian Mbappe to turn down Real Madrid in favour of staying at Paris Saint-Germain. Carlo Ancelotti on Kylian Mbappe rejecting Real Madrid: I respect the decision | ESPN

Mbappe said Liverpool were one of the clubs he spoke to before deciding to extend his stay at Paris Saint-Germain. Kylian Mbappe reveals Liverpool talks before PSG extension | ESPN

The Premier League has approved the £4.25bn takeover of Chelsea with the consortium, led by US businessman Todd Boehly, passing its owners’ and directors’ test. Chelsea: Premier League approves takeover deal from Todd Boehly consortium – BBC Sport

12:00 PM: FC Barcelona vs. Real Madrid (Copa de la Reina) — ESPN+

12:00 PM: Roma vs. Feyenoord (Europa Conference League) — Paramount+ / TUDN

4:00 PM: Orlando City vs. Inter Miami (US Open Cup) — ESPN+

4:00 PM: Louisville City vs. Nashville SC (US Open Cup) — ESPN+

4:30 PM: NYCFC vs. New England Revolution (US Open Cup) — ESPN+

5:00 PM: New York Red Bulls vs. Charlotte FC (US Open Cup) — ESPN+

5:00 PM: Minnesota United vs. Union Omaha (US Open Cup) — ESPN+

5:30 PM: Sporting KC vs. Houston Dynamo (US Open Cup) — ESPN+

7:00 PM: OL Reign vs. KC Current (NWSL) — Paramount+

7:30 PM: LA Galaxy vs. LAFC (US Open Cup) — ESPN+

7:30 PM: Sacramento Republic vs. San Jose Earthquakes (US Open Cup) — ESPN+



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Is playing negative is a positive? Sporting KC MLS Podcast

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It turns out, all they had to do was listen to the show! Peter Vermes has deployed a different style and formation in the last two matches for Sporting KC, albeit out of necessity due to injuries & suspensions. But the change has yielded two straight results in league play.

One worrying note is a potential trend developing in which the defense concedes an ugly goal early in the second half. Robert Voloder took some blame on the last one, but he might have been the only one actually defending.

A look at the current MLS Western Conference table is quite jarring when compared to last year’s playoffs. Sporting KC is not the only team struggling. Seattle, Portland, Colorado, & Vancouver are all at the bottom of the table at the moment.

All of a sudden the young guys on the roster are starting to impress. Homegrowns Cam Duke & Felipe Hernandez are looking solid, while all three international U-22’s have been key contributors as well.

“God bless Ben Sweat.” But it’s really important how you say it.

Please subscribe, rate & review wherever you get your podcasts! Follow Cody @ThatCodyTho, Thad @TheBackpost, and Robert @SpKCLife so you can tell us what we’ve done wrong each week.





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MLS players called in for June 2022 international duty

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The upcoming June international window features Nations League play, friendlies and preparations for the Qatar 2022 World Cup, which begins in under six months.

Players from MLS are expected to represent numerous teams across Concacaf and Conmebol, as well as in CAF, Oceania and UEFA.

Below is a running list of players called in for their respective national teams. It will be updated as more squads are announced.





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