Coach John Herdman reviewing Toronto FC's penalty-taker among other changes

coach john herdman reviewing toronto fc's penalty-taker among other changes

Toronto FC forward Federico Bernardeschi (10) slips on a penalty kick against Nashville SC during the first half of MLS soccer action in Toronto, Wednesday, June 19, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Blinch

Toronto FC coach John Herdman is thinking about giving Federico Bernardeschi a break from taking penalties after the Italian star's third straight miss from the penalty spot in Wednesday's 2-1 loss to visiting Nashville SC.

Bernardeschi has been Toronto's best player this season. But after converting all six penalty attempts in league play for Toronto before this season, he has missed all three spot kicks in 2024.

He did score off the rebound against visiting FC Dallas on May 4 when his penalty was initially saved by Maarten Paes in a 3-1 Toronto win. New England goalkeeper Henrich Ravas saved Bernardeschi’s penalty in Toronto's 1-0 victory April 20.

Bernardeschi, who was suffering from a flu-like bug this week, lost his footing Wednesday as he was about to strike the ball, sending the shot above the bar.

"It's up for discussion now, for sure," Herdman said of the designated penalty-taker role. "That's an internal discussion that will be had.

"There's five players that practise penalties after every training session … Obviously, there are other players in there that are waiting for their opportunity (to take penalties)."

While fellow Italian Lorenzo Insigne is an obvious contender to take over, Herdman noted that Bernardeschi had retained his role by virtue of his success in penalty kicks in training.

"We often say you've got to trust the process and then ultimately trust the player to deliver," said Herdman. "I thought (Bernardeschi) was unlucky (Wednesday) night, to be honest, (with) the slip. But it will be up for discussion, for sure."

Luka Gavran, who is deputizing for starting goalkeeper Sean Johnson while he is away with the United States at Copa America, has been at the receiving end of Bernardeschi's penalty kicks in training. He says the Italian is pure quality but has suffered from some bad luck recently.

"He's one of the best PK-takers I've seen." said Gavran.

"It's tough. I feel for him because he's been an absolute animal for us this year," he added. "He's been a top top player."

Bernardeschi showed that in the 34th minute, setting up Alonso Coello's goal.

Herdman has already made changes as he looks to stop TFC's current slide. Toronto (7-9-3) is winless in its last five matches (0-3-2) and has won just one of its last eight league outings (1-5-2).

Herdman had his players gather at the nearby Raptors' training facility before coming to BMO Field as a team for the Nashville game. Normally the players arrive at the stadium on their own for home games.

"We just felt that there was a need for some togetherness," explained Herdman, who also had all his players wear a team top, instead of going their own way fashion-wise.

"We wanted to walk in together. We wanted the fans to see a collective and for them to look as one approaching our stadium."

Herdman said he cited the NBA team's 2019 championship run in his pre-game meeting.

"They did lose games but when it mattered they showed up together. And we talked about the impact on fans, city, etc."

Toronto visits the New York Red Bulls (8-4-7) on Saturday.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 21, 2024.

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

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