Toronto FC lost a close one to St. Louis CITY SC on Saturday night, falling 1-0 at BMO Field.
Aziel Jackson scored the game’s only goal in the 50th minute when Akil Watts reacted quickest to a loose ball just outside the Toronto box and threaded in a pass for Jackson to slot into the right side of goal.
Given the rhythm of the game one would have been hard pressed to tell which team was top of their conference and which was not.
“Performance wise, the guys gave everything,” said Terry Dunfield post-match. “The strategy worked, we were able to progress up the field, lots of final quarter entries – a little bit of patience and decision making in and around goal might have helped.”
“That was the feedback at half-time,” he continued. “Defensively, against St. Louis, you're never safe. You’re never safe, they can really hurt you. We were ready for it, our centre-backs were class, and there was cover at times. We just come off script a little bit and they score.”
“After going 1-0 down it's tough for our group right now,” Dunfield added. “It opens up a couple of scars and that little bit of belief goes away. It's tough on the back of Orlando and a heavy week with a pretty thin squad to go and chase the game.”
Without so many potential starters, a makeshift XI put in the effort required. Aside from a few set-pieces and the occasional moment of transition Toronto limited St. Louis’ chances through the opening 45 minutes.
“We worked hard, we did what we were supposed to do tactically, and we created some chances,” said goalkeeper Tómas Romero. “We were able to play out of the back; defensively, we were good. They had some good chances, but the defenders did well reading the balls in behind and winning headers. Another shift that everyone put in, but right now we're just missing that final piece.”
And had some chances up the other end.
“In the first half we felt really good,” said Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty. “Terry gave us a good plan on what they were going to do and what we should do to be successful. We should have scored; we should have taken advantage of the way we played.”
“I'm really proud of the group,” he continued. “We're making steps and steps are needed to become a good team. We're on the way to becoming that. It's hard, but the first half shows what we are capable of, against a really good team. It showed our character. We weren't able to get the result today, it's disappointing for sure, but we'll be back next week.”
The goal was the result of a slow start to the second half. One dip in attention, one misread of the opponent’s intention, and it’s in the back of the Toronto net.
“In some of those key moments, we’ve got to go and execute,” said Dunfield. “That goal will be a tough one to watch back for sure.”
Goals are never one thing, but a composition of many.
“In this game when you make a few mistakes, one, two mistakes, consecutive, then they're going to get chances,” said Romero. “That's not necessarily what happened on that play, but we can do some things better, and that resulted in a big chance for them.”
“From a goalkeeping perspective,” he added. “The way my defenders are shaped and the way I'm shaped, I cheated to the right a little bit and he put it to the other side.”
Said Marshall-Rutty: “I thought I had more time than I actually had. I didn't look over my shoulder.”
“That's football, it's a cruel sport,” he continued. “In the first half we deserved more and then after they scored it was a bit difficult for us. We found our feet in the dying moments, but it wasn't enough. We're going to keep going. I understand that I could have done more on the goal, I take that, and onto the next game.”
Both Romero, who made his TFC debut, and Marshall-Rutty, who put in his best performance as a Red, had stellar evenings aside.
“He was brilliant, wasn't he? He was almost in a flow state,” said Dunfield of the goalkeeper. “For someone making his debut it was incredible.”
“Made a big save just before half-time, his passing range and distribution helped us, it was something that group group needed; he came for crosses nicely,” he continued. “He can be really happy with his performance; excited to see more from him.”
Romero had only just returned from the Gold Cup with El Salvador midweek. Given the lack of action he’d seen that experience helped him perform back with his club.
“I played some games with my national team, big games – we played South Korea and got a good result against them,” he explained. “I felt confident coming in tonight.”
“I was happy to be back with the team and I just wanted to play a part in today's game,” Romero added. “I think I made some good saves, but at the end of the day, we lost the game and it's tough.”
Marshall-Rutty was a driving force of the Toronto attack on the night.
“Especially the first 60 minutes, it was Jahkeele’s best performance in a red shirt,” said Dunfield. “He had our supporters off their seats, he had our team working hard to get him the ball in iso[lation] situations, and that's the Jahkeele I know. It was fun to watch him operate and go to work.”
TFC now has a full week to prepare for their next match. They travel to face the Chicago Fire next Saturday before the MLS regular season pauses and the inaugural edition of the Leagues Cup begins.
Toronto will play NYCFC at Red Bull Arena on July 26 and then host Atlas FC at BMO Field on July 30 in the group stage. The regular season resumes on August 20 with CF Montreal coming to town.
The three matches under Terry Dunfield have all been defeats, but the side feels their fortunes are on the turn.
“It's going to take some time, but we're moving in the right direction,” said Marshall-Rutty. “We just need to start turning these games into three points. It's difficult for us, for the fans as well – you guys want more, we want more as well.”