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All-Star goalkeeper Sean Johnson will be moving from New York to New York ‘Run by the Swiss,’ as the acclaimed British actor Peter Ustinov once described Toronto.
It’s all but a done deal. Johnson is expected to sign with the Reds by the end of the week. TFC coach and sporting director Bob Bradley was asked about the club’s situation in goal during a media call on Tuesday and said the team is “close to finalizing things.” Reports have been red-hot for weeks that Johnson, who has spent the last six years with NYCFC, is about to sign with Toronto.
“Sometimes things just take a little longer than you hope, but we should be just about there with the goalkeeper and we’re still working on some other things,” said Bradley.
There has been news that NYCFC — who were apparently trying to re-sign Johnson — is finalizing a deal to acquire goalkeeper Matt Freese from Philadelphia. TFC did not bring back veteran goalkeepers Alex Bono and Quentin Westberg this year. In November, the Reds claimed 22-year-old keeper Tomas Romero in the 2022 MLS Re-Entry Draft, re-uniting the El Salvador international with his coach at LAFC, Bradley. The combination of Johnson and Romero would certainly bode well in goal for TFC this season – a club that bled goals the past two seasons (though the problem certainly wasn’t just in goal). Toronto’s backline has also been awful at times and the front office has taken steps to address that — first with the signing of 2016 MLS Defender of the Year, centre back Matt Hedges, and the acquisition this week of young left-back Raoul Petretta from Turkish club Kasımpaşa Spor Kulübü. Petretta will take over the starting left-back duties in Toronto from Italian international Domenico Criscito, who opted to leave MLS after just a half season with the Reds. Bradley believes Petretta will be a good fit with the club’s big-money left winger, Lorenzo Insigne.
“I think they’ll go well together,” said the coach. “Raoul is an intelligent player. He’s a good passer, he’s got an ability to pass inside, he combines well with situations down the flank. I think his intelligence as a player will really be important just because he’ll understand quickly some of the things Lorenzo likes to do and find good ways to be able to connect with him.”
Petretta appeared in 12 matches across all competitions (Süper Lig and Türkiye Kupasi) for Kasımpaşa since joining the Turkish side in July 2022. Prior to signing with Kasımpaşa, Petretta spent four seasons at FC Basel (Swiss Super League), where he made 152 appearances across all competitions, registering 10 goals and 12 assists. In his four years with Basel, Petretta featured in five UEFA Champions League, 10 UEFA Europa League and three UEFA Europa Conference League matches and won three titles, including the Swiss Super League (2016/2017) and two Swiss Cups (2016/2017 and 2018/2019).
“We knew that situation in Turkey wasn’t exactly what he was hoping for,” said Bradley, when asked about the club scouting and recruiting Petretta. “He had a really good stretch at Basel, started there as a young player. Basel is a really good club and obviously he made his way to the first team and played important matches for Basel and his reputation as a guy inside Basel was very positive. Good guy, really well-liked. Trains well. It’s a player that we had talked about a lot.”
The Reds have made major changes to the roster during the off-season with the addition of Hedges, Petretta, veteran midfielder Victor Vazquez, Norwegian forward Adama Diomande and the re-signing of Jonathan Osorio. And soon, Johnson. Bradley said discussions are ongoing in terms of adding to depth to other positions, most likely centre back and midfield. The club also has an open Designed Player spot though Bradley has said not to expect a major, expensive international signing, similar to Insigne or Federico Bernardeschi.
TYING ONE ON WITH TIJUANA
The Reds played a friendly against Liga MX side Club Tijuana on Sunday and though details of the match have not been released, Bradley was satisfied with how the match went down.
“For 10 days in, I thought it went pretty well,” said the coach. “Nobody played more than 45 minutes, but the tempo of each half was enough to get the kind of physical challenges that they needed at this point. There were moments when the play was fluid, where the ball moved quickly. It’s early in pre-season so some of the final moments, some of the sharpness around the box, those are things that still, of course, need to be improved.”
Bradley said other than some minor injuries that have kept a few players off the field, pre-season camp in San Diego has gone well. The club returns to Toronto on Friday for a few days before returning to So Cal for the second phase of camp before the exhibition schedule begins. TFC will play four games at the Coachella Valley Invitational at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, Calif. The first match will be against the Vancouver Whitecaps on Feb. 8. The MLS regular season begins for MLS on Feb. 25 when the Reds travel to DC United. Toronto’s home opener at BMO Field will be March 11 against the Columbus Crew.
“I think the quality of the training has been very good as far as establishing ideas, developing understanding on the field amongst players,” said Bradley. “There were good signs of things coming together (against Tijuana) and now we just try to continue to build on that.”
Bradley said that Diomande’s VISA issues have been squared away and while the Norwegian international has remained in Toronto, he is expected to join his new team in California next week.
BERNARDESCHI FACING A SUSPENSION?
There are reports out of Italy that Bernardeschi’s former team Juventus could receive “another 15 penalty points and a pecuniary sanction” as a result of “the salary maneuver carried out during the 2020 pandemic” and that the players involved, which would reportedly include Berarndeschi, could be slapped with a one-month suspension. When asked about the situation, Bradley said: “We’ve not heard anything specific to that, so we’ll see how it develops.”