It may not have been the prettiest game ever, but Toronto FC earned a gritty 0-0 draw away to the Colorado Rapids on Saturday night.
It was 90 minutes of effort.
Both sides had half-chances and got into threatening positions – Colorado’s Michael Barrios directed a header onto the top of the netting and Keegan Rosenberry flung in several dangerous crosses, while Patrick Mullins and Jacob Shaffelburg both got in good shooting positions – but neither could find the breakthrough.
In difficult circumstances – playing a fifth game in two weeks, on short rest, at altitude, against an in-form opponent – TFC dug deep to earn that result.
“I liked many things,” said Javier Perez post-match. “The energy, the intensity. A clean sheet here is very important for us. I liked how we organized defensively, how we can interact with each other, but we had some chances as well. By the end, the game could go either way and the 0-0 is the fair result.”
“It's a very difficult place to get a result – for the good moment that [Colorado] are having right now, but as well the altitude, the time difference,” he continued. “A lot of components, so a big congratulations to the team.”
On the heels of the 4-0 win over York United FC in the Canadian Championship, TFC picked up a second straight clean sheet. Through their last four matches in all competitions, Toronto has conceded just twice, one of which was a penalty kick.
Adapting to Colorado’s formation, Perez fielded three centre-back in Chris Mavinga, Eriq Zavaleta, and Kemar Lawrence. Both Mavinga and Zavaleta picked up knocks, drafting in first Omar Gonzalez and then Justin Morrow from the bench.
No matter who was on the pitch, each player contributed to the effort.
“I'm happy with the way we defended,” highlighted Perez. “They did a great job taking out the [Colorado] wing-backs that created so much danger in previous games and then the three in the middle were spot on. Kemar, Chris, Eriq and then Omar and Justin when they came on.”
“And that's a team; that is what a team is about,” he stressed. “We spoke about that before the game, when a teammate goes down, the next one is going to do the job at the same level, if not better. That was a clear example today.”
“The three in the [midfield], as well, they were very good, covering ground, sacrificing everything for the team, and the two up front, Yeferson [Soteldo] and Patrick, they gave everything,” Perez added. “And then [Ifunanyachi] Achara and Jacob created a few chances towards the end of the game.”
Defending is a whole of team effort.
“It's at the back, but it's not only at the back,” explained Perez. “It's the work that the players do in the midfield, up front when we put pressure. It's just everybody's engaged and everybody's doing the job. It makes it easier for the defensive line and we start to get rewarded because it's a collective effort, it's a team effort.”
“The players are the same, but we have a much better understanding of each other and how we can help each other. We know that if a guy is out of a play, it's not a problem because the player next to him is going to help him and he's going to cover him and he's going to watch his back,” he elaborated. “In the end, that's what it's about to be in a team. And this team is changing from being a number of individuals to being a team.”
With Michael Bradley suspended due to yellow card accumulation, Noble Okello was drafted back into the middle of the park. Having picked up a red card just minutes into his last start against CF Montreal, it was a big chance to bounce back from that disappointment.
“It felt good to be back out on the field,” smiled Okello. “We played well, we were very good defensively and we countered the team very well.”
“[The red card] was a mistake I made, I learned from it and I move forward and try not to make that mistake again,” he replied. “It cost the team, but I learned from it.”
His coach was pleased with his response.
“He knew that he had to have a good game tonight, had to have a good performance, that he couldn't go away with an average performance and he did the job that we asked him,” said Perez. “He was in the middle of the field and he was doing a great job when Mark-Anthony Kaye was trying to get the ball in the middle and trying to balance with Mark [Delgado] and Oso [Jonathan Osorio] when they were doing the same job in other parts of the field.”
“Overall he was really good,” he added. “I'm very happy with his performance tonight.”
A whirlwind month concludes next week with the visit of FC Cincinnati on Wednesday and October begins when the Chicago Fire come to BMO Field on Sunday before MLS pauses for the international break.
Toronto think they have rounded a corner, now they look to keep that going.
“We just keep looking forward,” said Okello. “Each game we are looking to get better, looking to improve every day in training and it's showing in the last games. We keep on focusing on the next one.”
A stable foundation is a prerequisite to building.
“It gives us confidence going into the next game,” replied Okello, asked what this kind of performance does for the side. “Seeing as Colorado is one of the top teams in the West and we matched up pretty well. We'll keep working hard in training and look forward to bringing the same intensity and same work rate in the next game.”