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Nelson says new-look Toronto FC has more of a family feel

Toronto FC’s dismal 2021 season is now in the MLS team’s rear-view mirror, like a crashed car on the side of the highway.

Seventeen first-team players from the 6-18-10 campaign have moved on, with Jamaican international defender Kemar Lawrence likely No. 18. Young defender Luke Singh is expected to go out on loan to FC Edmonton of the CPL.

New coach Bob Bradley, who doubles as Toronto’s sporting director, prefers to look forward rather than back and has offered little on what happened before his arrival other than to suggest that the club’s recent nomadic ways due to the pandemic and poor record last year meant “that there were just guys in different places, guys that weren’t as committed to the club as they might have been earlier.

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“Guys that in different moments just hadn’t been committed to all the things that you need to do to be part of a winning team,” he said after taking over.

Teenage midfielder Jayden Nelson shed a little more light Wednesday after a BMO Field training session ahead of Saturday’s home opener against the New York Red Bulls.

Nelson, who worked under coaches Chris Armas and Javier Perez last season, suggested that this year’s dressing room is more receptive and welcoming to the Toronto’s young guns.

“It’s more refreshing. I feel like now it’s more vets that want to help the young guys come up and stuff like that,” said the 19-year-old midfielder. “It’s kind of a better environment. I’ll say it feels totally different in the changing room. I wouldn’t say less egos, it’s more of a family in the changing room so it’s nice to be around there now.”

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“Sometimes it’s hard to get along with guys that have done bigger things in the sport already,” he added. “It’s just a balance that we have now that’s better.”
While the revamped TFC roster is still a work in progress, Bradley showed in the season-opening 1-1 tie at FC Dallas that he has no problem going with homegrown talent.

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Toronto’s starting 11 featured five Canadians: veteran midfielder Jonathan Osorio plus 17-year-old Marshall-Rutty, 19-year-old Nelson and Deandre Kerr and 22-year-old Jacob Shaffelburg. There were six other Canadians on the bench.

Nelson, a native of Brampton, Ont., who has won three caps for Canada, also credited Bradley for the improved atmosphere.

“He’s hands-on with everyone and he doesn’t really have any favouritism or anything,” he said. “If you’re, lets say, a reserve or a starter, it’s all the same. So that’s what I think sets him apart from probably the previous managers, which were great, but it’s refreshing to have him here.”

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Toronto has 13 players aged 24 and under on the first-team roster with 12 of those Canadian.

“It’s something that we’re all been waiting for,” Nelson continued. “So we’re just excited to get on the pitch and play together like how we did at the (TFC) academy.”
Nelson’s talent on the field and youthful exuberance off it are hard to miss.

Asked about playing alongside Italian star Lorenzo Insigne, who is due to arrive in July when his contract with Napoli expires, his eyes lit up.

“It’s awesome. I think it’s great for the league, not only for TFC. The thing is I used to play with him on FIFA (the video game). So actually, possibly playing with him, it’s a dream. Honestly.”

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