Toronto FC lost a tough one on Saturday night, falling 2-0 to the Columbus Crew at Lower.com Field.
Diego Rossi opened the scoring in the 21st minute, his first since returning to MLS and Jacen Russell-Rowe added an insurance goal in the 89th minute.
“It was another difficult result,” said Terry Dunfield post-match. “A similar story to our previous matches that the goals we conceded were unnecessary – we’re better than that in those moments. Tonight, against a very good side in Columbus, we created five or six very good opportunities and we should score one or two.”
Despite the result it was a solid performance in difficult circumstances. Columbus were flying high after soundly beating the current leaders of the Supporters’ Shield race, FC Cincinnati, last weekend. Toronto put in a shift, Columbus held the balance of play but were largely limited to quarter-chances.
“The boys worked their asses off, as we have done for the past nine weeks,” said Dunfield, recounting his message to the group in the dressing room after the final whistle. “If we keep creating opportunities like that we’re going to start scoring, scoring consistently. The two we gave up were tough ones.”
In the end the similar concerns in both 18-yard boxes were decisive. Rossi’s goal came from a turnover and a rebound after the initial shot from Darlington Nagbe was saved. Russell-Rowe’s from a long ball that was allowed to bounce and took a healthy deflection off the defender before finding the back of the net.
TFC’s looks were better. There was the early one when Tomás Romero’s long ball had CJ Sapong in behind. He did well to hold off pressure and get a shot off, but it strayed wide in the fifth minute. Lorenzo Insigne rattled the upright with a right-footer minutes after Columbus took the lead after Federico Bernardeschi picked him out in the box with a cut-back. And then there was Cassius Mailula’s header moments after coming on that nearly squeezed in.
“I’d add two or three half chances Bernardeschi created off the right hand side, the sublime pass in behind from Lorenzo to Deandre Kerr,” compiled Dunfield. “These are moments we've been working on, so it's great to see our work from the training ground come out, but in these moments you need to be ruthless. Also the two that we gave up, we just need to be more ruthless in those moments.”
Mailula made his debut for TFC, coming on in the 64th minute for Insigne. Moments later a Bernardeschi ball was nodded back into the middle by Jonathan Osorio for the South African to steer on target, but Patrick Schulte, in the Columbus goal, was equal to it.
“What a start that would have been to his TFC career,” imagined Dunfield. “In open play and transition, he was excellent.”
“He protects the ball well when he receives between lines and the more training he gets under his belt the more we'll see a little bit of sharpness in and around the box,” he elaborated. “He worked hard to step out and press defensively at times and reorganize and give Themi [Antonoglou] a hand as well managing [Julian] Gressel. Overall it was a pleasing debut.”
Mailula was asked about that play.
“I always give myself a chance by being in the right position,” he said. “Just unfortunate that that didn't go in.”
It was a promising cameo.
“It felt great to be out there, to feel how it is, and to get to understand how everything is in MLS,” Mailula added of his debut. “Even to play away because it's always tough to play away. I'm glad that I got to know how it is out there.”
From one player making their first appearance for TFC to another marking their third century.
TFC captain Michael Bradley’s start on Saturday night saw him reach another milestone: 300 appearances.
It is a rare feat in football. For TFC only Jonathan Osorio has more. Nearing the end of season 17, only Justin Morrow and Mark Delgado have more than 200.
“In MLS too, with the travel, the shorter season, to win championships as well,” reflected Dunfield. “He's one of the best players to play in MLS and he led TFC right to the top of the mountain.”
“What stands out to me about Michael is it's never about Michael, it's always about the club,” he continued. “He's just such a top professional and leader. Today, he was just focused on us and three points.”
Toronto face a quick turnaround as they prepare to face the Philadelphia Union at BMO Field on Wednesday. It will be another stiff challenge with Philadelphia in the group battling for second in the Eastern Conference on Cincinnati’s heels – they current hold that second place.
TFC may be down, but they aren’t out.
“The thing that gives us hope is that collectively we're becoming difficult to beat,” highlighted Dunfield. “The goals that we give up are individual errors. As a team we're organized defensively, we're becoming a threat in transition, and, consistently, from where we were nine weeks ago, we're creating chances that we now need to take.”
Added Mailula: “If you check the goals that they score on us, it's not something that we can't solve. It will get better as time goes on.”
“Get back together, keep on pushing and pushing,” he closed. “The most important thing is to just get that first three points and the rest of the things will definitely be fixed.”