Toronto FC

Bernardeschi magic delights home crowd on bittersweet night vs. Charlotte FC: “We have to keep pressing on”

Toronto FC drew 2-2 against Charlotte FC on a windy Saturday night at BMO Field.

Federico Bernardeschi gave the Reds the lead in the 6th minute directly from a corner kick, whipping in a ball from the right that tucked in at the far-post. Michael Bradley doubled it before half-time, getting a flick on a Brandon Servania corner kick delivery from the opposite side.

But the tables turned in the second half with Ben Bender sweeping in a right-sided Kamil Józwiak cutback in the 51st and Józwiak himself getting on the end of a Kerwin Vargas left-sided ball with a sliding finish in the 70th minute.

“The conditions were tough, but still, in the end, after being ahead 2-0, we let them back into the game too easily,” said Bob Bradley post-match. “We just didn't deal with two situations that developed out wide, crosses – we let ourselves down in that regard.”

“Second half, you've got to find ways to connect passes because any ball that you put up in the air is going to come right back at you,” he continued. “We created two-to-three good or half-chances, couldn't quite make the final part work, but most disappointed in the way we let them back into it.”

With the wind sweeping through the stadium from the North, all four goals were scored in front of the South End.

“The south end was definitely the end that was a little bit more difficult, but both teams have to deal with the same conditions on the night,” said Sean Johnson, whose shutout streak was snapped after 246 minutes. “Obviously, a tale of two halves, but you can't blame the weather for making the game tough.”

“The first half we dealt well. The second half, we've got to go out and understand that we're facing the same conditions that we put Charlotte up against,” he continued. “Tough one, but something that we have to deal with.”

Even Bernardeschi’s eternal smile was tempered.

“Half and half. I’m happy about the goal, but I'm a little bit frustrated for the result because we won 2-0 in the first half, we played very good football, we controlled the game in the first half and we are at home, in our stadium,” he said. “In the second half we have to control the game, we need to control the game.”

“2-0, the game is finished. You score the third one and the fourth one,” Bernardeschi emphasized. “We need to improve in this way.”

BMO Field was all smiles in the 6th minute when the Italian’s Olimpico sailed into the Charlotte goal.

“I tried to shoot in the [frame of the] goal and I’m a little bit of a lucky man,” explained Bernardeschi. “It's a good shot. I'm happy about that, very happy.”

“It's his ability to strike the ball,” said Bradley. “On a night like tonight where the wind is blowing so hard, if you put a ball out there it's going to be a real threat. It's a combination: he hit it well and took advantage of the conditions.”

It was his third goal of the campaign.

“His left foot is up there with the best in the world,” said Johnson. “We were happy to have him on our side, to give service like that and to be dynamic in moments where he can change the game.”

“That's what he's here for, he's a difference maker,” he added. “He's been a big player for us.”

Toronto had 10 corners on the night, nine of which came in the first half and their second goal was a product of another near-post delivery.

“We have players that can deliver a good ball in the near-post, that's a smart area to attack,” explained Bradley. “We felt that we could put them under pressure in that zone and then, when the conditions are the way they are, it's even more dangerous to really crowd some people in the front zone and whip balls in toward the keeper. In a way that led to both goals.”

The old adage states that 2-0 is the most dangerous scoreline. Not quite enough to finish a game, one goal and the momentum shifts entirely.

“In the second half the wind was a problem, but when you play the ball on the grass, it doesn't care about the wind,” said Bernardeschi, echoing his coach's comments. “2-0, we are confident, the fans, the people, sang for us. We are on top.”

“We need to improve the mentality in this way. When we are winning 2-0 in our home it is impossible to [let the other team] score two goals,” he added. “This the right way.”

Toronto extend the unbeaten streak to five matches, but are forced to settle for just a single point once more – four of those results have been draws.

“Right now our margin is small,” said Bradley. “So you can play well, do certain things, but that doesn't get us a big enough margin, in terms of creating a few more chances, scoring a few more goals.”

“We've got to continue to grow as a team where our ability to balance attack and defense is right. You've seen we’re, defensively, much more solid, but we've got to be able to raise up the level of big chances we create and still find ways to control the game,” he continued. “We're going in a better direction, but we've got to find ways to take nights like tonight and turn them into three points.”

TFC has had a lead in every match, but the scoreless draw in San Jose.

“A little bit frustrating to be up two goals, especially at home, and not close it out and give up points that we should have had tonight,” levelled Johnson. “The feeling is a little bit different being unbeaten in a run of games coming out with three points.”

“We just have to keep pressing on,” he continued. “I know this group well and everybody will be eager to get back to training and look to really approach this next game in Nashville with the mentality that we need to come out and do whatever is necessary to make up for the dropped points this game.”

Toronto will hit the road next weekend away to Nashville SC on Saturday. With the next home game scheduled for April 15 against Atlanta United; hopefully, this was the last of the winter/spring storms.

“I feel good about the cold, but I don't feel good about the wind. It’s terrible,” said Bernardeschi, asked about the final throes of his first Toronto winter. “I'm happy [winter is almost over] because now maybe I'm a Canadian man. I've survived in the winter in Toronto.”