Toronto FC lost 4-0 away to Orlando City SC on Tuesday night at Exploria Stadium.
César Araújo opened the scoring in the 16th minute with a strong header at the back-post, Duncan McGuire doubled the lead six minutes later with a close-range redirection. TFC regrouped heading into half-time, found a few chances before the break and made a trio of changes at the restart, but a pair of yellow cards to Federico Bernardeschi in the first 17 minutes of the half paved the way for the home side to add to their lead.
Dagur Thórhallsson netted the third in the 77th minute and Ercan Kara the fourth in the 84th minute.
On a night where the first goal was always going to be important, those two early in the first half were the result of a pair of elements that TFC knew would be vital to success.
“The goals are frustrating,” said Terry Dunfield post-match. “The first 15 minutes we started well, in possession at times got into a nice rhythm, created a couple of nice overloads, and confidence started to grow within the group.”
“One [element] that we knew would be key was our structure in our defensive half,” he continued. “We had 11 interceptions in the first half. We knew that moment of connecting passes and being a threat in transition or getting into a rhythm was going to be really important. [For the first goal] when we won it, we turned it over, they come down the left-hand side. And we knew the next moment was going to be important, protecting the goal. Some of the detail wasn't quite right and it's in the back of the net.”
A midfield turnover; regaining defensive shape and awareness when under pressure.
“In short two moments we didn't get right, they compounded, and we're 1-0 down,” Dunfield highlighted. “And then the second goal, a little unlucky. It takes a deflection, it's in the back of the net and you’re 2-0 down. We continued to play to half-time. We regrouped well, we’re a little bit more on the front foot, created a couple of half chances, and then it's difficult after the sending off.”
Said Shane O’Neill: “It was a tough night, there's no question about it.”
“There was some good stretches in the game, some positive stretches for sure and a good energy, just in those critical moments they were more ruthless than us, they had a little bit more of an edge and bite,” he continued. “That's the margins.”
“Margins are really thin, especially when it gets to this time a year because everyone's fighting for playoffs. You don't really have that much room for error,” O’Neill added. “We got punished in those critical moments. There was a decent stretch where it was a tight game and then it got away from us.”
It’s a game of moments.
“In the crucial moments defending our box, in the final third trying to create chances, obviously we need to get better,” levelled O’Neill. “It’s a process. This is the second game. It's been a week of new ideas, new style of play, and this is a hard place to play.”
“We can't dwell on the fact that it wasn't good enough. We have to keep reinforcing the ideas that we're trying to play and clean up those moments,” he continued. “It’s a game of inches. A deflection here, a deflection there, and who knows how the game goes. The same thing you could say for Saturday against Salt Lake. We’ve just got to stay committed and keep the energy in the group.”
Bernardeschi apologized to his teammates for his sending off.
“Afterwards in the changing room Fede raised his hand,” said Dunfield. “He owned it, which isn't easy to do.”
Every team will have moments like this in a season. Every player will experience highs and lows throughout their career. There were a lot of youngsters in the lineup for TFC in Florida.
Jesús Batiz, signed to a short-term agreement from TFC II, made his first team debut. 16-year-old Lazar Stefanovic came in for the second half. Kobe Franklin, Alonso Coello, and Kosi Thompson were in the starting XI. Themi Antonoglou and Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty saw action as substitutes and Hugo Mbongue, Jordan Perruzza, Adam Pearlman, and Luka Gavran were on the bench.
The experience, however disappointing, will be valuable for them all.
“Belief and just building a little bit of credit with themselves that they can play at this level and be impactful,” replied Dunfield, asked what he wanted those young men to take from the defeat. “And then the experience of playing at the next level.”
“There will be tons of little learnings in there,” he continued. “We'll freeze those learnings when we review the game. Each time these young players see that picture, they'll continue to get better and better.”
It would be easy for a team to unravel when the chips are down. Bruised egos have sharp elbows.
Toronto have not devolved to that, according to O’Neill.
“There's a lot of togetherness, which is really important,” explained the defender. “The next step is how does that translate into when you need to be a little bit more ruthless, get wins and make big plays at big moments of the game?”
“That's what we've talked about as a group, finding that next piece,” O’Neill continued. “This is a results-based business. We know that: got to get wins, got to get three points. When you don’t do that there a lack of that feeling. We're trying to piece it together to get a result, to start to feel that feeling again.”
The side have little time to feel sorry for themselves as the weekend brings another stiff challenge with the visit of Western Conference leading St. Louis CITY SC to BMO Field.
Pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and get ready to go again. Despite the defeat in Orlando, the gap to the final playoff spot in the East remains seven points away. With 12 games now left there is just one less to get there.
“There's been a change in dynamic and atmosphere, we’re trying to be positive and implement these new ideas,” said O’Neill. “We just have to keep going with that, but with the understanding that Saturday is not going to be easy.”
“Saturday is not going to be easy, it's as simple as that,” he closed. “There has to be resilience, get some guys back from injury, and then go from there.”