Toronto FC lost 3-2 to FC Cincinnati on Saturday night at BMO Field.
Brandon Vazquez and Jonathan Osorio traded braces in the first half, while a 72nd minute strike from Aaron Boupendza proved the difference on the night.
With the victory Cincinnati clinched the 2023 MLS Supporters’ Shield as the top side in the league during the regular season.
“First and foremost, congrats to FC Cincinnati on a terrific season,” said Terry Dunfield post-match. “They're a very good side. They don't give you a ton, they keep coming, and punish mistakes. They’re a top top team.”
“For us, I thought it was a bright start,” he continued. “There was a nice feel in the changing room, the guys were excited to be back at home, and then we just get caught sleeping on a set-piece and you're 1-0 down. The second goal, we knew Cincinnati were good in transition, a couple passes later it's in the back of the net.”
Dunfield highlighted that TFC’s response to going down was “fantastic.”
“We showed some nice football at 2-0 down, we get our two goals, come in at half-time and the mood is nice,” he added. “We struggled to match the energy of Cincinnati at the start of the second half. At 2-2, there's a half chance for us, a couple of shots, and then there's probably three opportunities to make a play on the goal.”
Toronto had hoped to deny Cincinnati the chance to celebrate a trophy on their pitch.
“Disappointing in the fact that we're at home, so no matter who we play the expectation is to try to get three points,” said Aimé Mabika. “The mood at half-time was very positive, going down 2-0 against a good team and then reacting really well. Spoke about some things that we could have done better.”
“Second half we did a lot of those things well,” he noted. “And then to lose after coming back against a really good team, it definitely stings.”
Cincinnati’s front three of Vazquez, Boupendza, and Luciano Acosta were a constant threat, as were the wing-backs.
Moments after a good save from Luka Gavran, a simple throw-in led to Cincinnati’s first. Álvaro Barreal played a ball into the box from the left. Yerson Mosquera’s flick fell to Vazquez who wasn’t going to miss from that range.
The second began with a midfield turnover, defender Ian Murphy stepped forward and found Boupendza, who in turn played a 1-2 with Barreal on the left. Gavran denied the initial shot, but Vazquez was in position to turn in the rebound.
Toronto had their hands full.
“Acosta is designated as a number 10, but is sort of everywhere: he pops up on the left, pops up on the right, which is difficult to handle,” outlined Mabika. “And then their two 9s are very good in the box. The first two goals are very opportunistic. It's difficult. We could have done better with a couple of the goals.”
All three Cincinnati goals were preventable.
“I feel like our guys can make plays on the goals,” said Dunfield. “The overall athleticism of Cincinnati grinds us down a little bit, but if you isolate the three goals, we can do better there.”
Down 2-0 after 35 minutes, Toronto found a response.
A spilled Federico Bernardeschi shot from range four minutes later provided a route back into the match, one Osorio wasn’t going to let pass by.
“Yesterday we spoke about rebounds in our finishing, we knew that they would be important,” said Dunfield. “We knew to come in for rebounds, that was part of our scouting.”
“Another solid performance from Jonathan Osorio. Even under the adversity we're going through, he continues to keep going. He keeps coming in every day and working hard,” highlighted the interim coach. “I’m glad his hard work is rewarded.”
Equal at the break there was everything to play for in the second half.
“That they are going to get crosses into the box; to be tight with our men; make sure we're not zonal and just marking space, and that we have a midfielder covering the player around the penalty spot as well,” listed Dunfield of his half-time notes. “And then we reviewed the goals we scored. They came from being patient in the opposition half, from nice positions when we win it we create one-vs-one situations for Fede and we take our two goals.”
“We struggled to get into that rhythm,” he continued. “The first 15 minutes we were a little bit on the back foot, and you saw the energy of a championship team.”
Come the 72nd minute a quick move up the left saw Barreal find Acosta who surged into the box. He drew the attention of two defenders before slipping a ball to Boupendza. One touch to break the line, another to pick out the far corner of the goal and Cincinnati had one hand on that trophy.
20 minutes later it was theirs. The celebrations on the pitch led into the visitor’s locker room.
“I just told them, ‘Congratulations. They've had a good season,’” relayed Mabika. “The Supporters’ Shield exemplifies being able to do it from February all the way to October, November.”
“They definitely deserve it,” he added. “But yeah, it's not nice to see someone celebrate on your field.”
Toronto will play their next two matches on the road – away to Charlotte FC on Wednesday and then the New York Red Bulls on Saturday – before closing the season back at BMO Field against Orlando City SC on October 21.
Three more matches until next season begins.
“We represent Toronto FC,” replied Mabika, asked what this part of the season is about for himself and the team. “Whether we're playing to get into the playoffs or not, we play for the badge and try to get three points.”
“You saw a team trying to do that today,” he continued. “The easy thing to do is say, ‘Oh, we're out of the playoffs, whatever, it doesn't matter, ’ but that hasn't been our thinking. Whether it's in training, before the game, during the game, for us it’s to play for the badge, to play for each other, to play for our families, to play for our fans.”