John Herdman will take in his first Toronto FC game as head coach when the cellar-dwelling MLS club visits Charlotte FC on Wednesday.
The former Canada coach will be an observer with interim coach Terry Dunfield running the show from the sideline. But one thing is already certain when it comes to the team roster.
Change is coming.
"Any time you have a season like this, you should expect a lot of change," general manager Jason Hernandez said in an interview. "You know what they say about insanity. We can't continue to do the same things, operate the same ways and run out the same group and expect magically to have a 180 (shift) in results next year. So there will be changes."
It has to be the right change, of course.
Chris Armas, Javier Perez and Bob Bradley have all had their chance in charge since Greg Vanney stepped down as coach in December 2020.
The turnover since then has been almost total.
Of the 28 players on the Toronto roster as of Nov. 30, 2020, only captain Michael Bradley, Jonathan Osorio and Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty remain.
Some 18 players exited the club leading up to or during the 2023 season, including loans. That followed an exodus of some 24 players the previous campaign.
The club has constantly shot itself in the foot this season, conceding untimely goals while seemingly incapable of holding onto a lead.
"I think we've shown different moments of the season where there is some quality out there on the pitch," said Hernandez, offering the faintest of praise. "The idea of quality times mentality times form times consistency, all of those things are what make good teams really good teams. We're lacking, I think, in many of those departments other than, just call it, resumes and having talent. I think certainly you can find pockets of talent on our team."
"But in the end, when all is said and done, the table doesn't lie. The record doesn't lie," he added. "More times than not we haven't be able to sustain a performance that gets you wins. And so understanding who is going to be part of that moving forward is the process we're going through now."
Toronto (4-17-10, 22 points) has lost four straight and won just one of its last 18 games (1-14-3) in all competitions. With three games remaining, it is in danger of recording franchise lows in wins and points (set in 2012 when it went 5-21-8 with 23 points).
But Dunfield says the arrival of Herdman and his coaching staff has brought new life to the team.
"We're going into a fight (Wednesday) against Charlotte and I've got a top top crew behind me," said an upbeat Dunfield, who will stay on as an assistant coach under Herdman. "I feel like the team feels like that as well. Training today, the boys were flying. There was so much energy and just a great buzz around the facility."
Dunfield and his staff will run the show for the away games against Charlotte and the New York Red Bulls on Saturday, with Herdman and his team taking over during the international break that precedes the Oct. 21 season finale against Orlando City at BMO Field.
TFC is looking to avoid a first-ever season without recording a win on the road, where it is 0-11-4 to date. Even if it manages to post victories at Charlotte and the Red Bulls, it will mark a ninth season that the franchise has only managed two or fewer road wins.
Toronto is winless in its last 19 away games (0-15-4) in all competitions. TFC has lost its last eight road outings, outscored 24-1. It has failed to score in its last six road games, a goalless drought that stretches 619 minutes.
On the plus side, its last away win was in Charlotte, a 2-0 decision Aug. 27, 2022.
Charlotte coach Christian Lattanzio is not looking at Toronto's record.
"The position of the opposition, it doesn't really matter now. We have to go out and win games. Full stop," said the Italian.
"This is a team that had a number of problems during the season but full of very good players," he said of Toronto.
Charlotte (7-11-12) comes into the game in 14th place in the Eastern Conference, 11 points ahead of Toronto but four below the playoff line with Inter Miami, the Red Bulls, Chicago Fire and D.C. United between it and CF Montreal in ninth place.
Coming off a 2-1 loss at New England that saw the Revs score an 85th-minute winner one minute after Charlotte tied it up, Charlotte is winless in its last six games (0-2-4).
Still, it has lost just one of its last 16 games (1-7-8) in all competitions at Bank of America Stadium.
Charlotte has yet to beat Toronto in three career meetings (0-2-1). Italian stars Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi made their MLS debut against Charlotte at BMO Field in July 2022, combining for a goal and two assists in Toronto's 4-0 win.
Toronto's injury list has been growing with fullback Raoul Petretta (back), midfielders Latif Blessing (concussion) and Brandon Servania (lower leg) and forwards Deandre Kerr (back) and Insigne (lower leg) all unavailable. Starting goalkeeper Sean Johnson, who has missed the last seven games with a hand injury, is back in training but has yet to be given the green light to play.
Dunfield says the hope is that Insigne, who has missed the last two games with a lower body injury, will be available Saturday.
Charlotte is missing forward Vinicius Mello (right lower leg) and midfielder Ben Bender (left knee).
Follow @NeilMDavidson on X platform, formerly known as Twitter
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 3, 2023.
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press