Reds drop points in tight loss to NYCFC: "We just have to keep going" 


The unbeaten start to the MLS season came to an end on Saturday night as Toronto FC fell 2-1 to NYCFC at Yankee Stadium.

Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty gave Toronto an early lead, scoring his first MLS goal in the 7th minute, but Santiago Rodríguez equalized in the 24th minute with a devastating free-kick and Kevin O’Toole added what proved to be the game winner in the 65th minute, rising up to meet an inviting Julián Fernández cross with a bullet of a header. 

A red card to Keaton Parks in the 68th minute saw TFC push for an equalizer in the final 20 minutes plus a healthy amount of stoppage-time, but it was not to be.

Missing several starters – Sean Johnson, Jonathan Osorio, Raoul Petretta, Toronto head coach John Herdman was pleased with those drafted in on short notice.

“I'm really happy with some of the performances, how they stepped up,” he said post-match. “It was a difficult Friday with two players dropping out of the squad the day before the game. It’s been a ‘Next man up’ mentality. [Luka] Gavran made some great stops again tonight, Jahkeele getting his first goal for the club – that was a big moment for him, his first start of the season.”

“You expect the game to be a little bit stroppy because you lose that cohesion, but the effort was there,” Herdman continued. “That's what I wanted to see. You're not going to win every game this season. You're going to have tough moments. This is a hard place to come. When this team gets into rhythm, they’re a tough team to play with. The effort was there.”

“We were just starting to manage their midfield numbers. We had a few square pegs in round holes, but we shifted tactically to match with Kosi Thompson in there and it's just concentration,” he focused on NYCFC’s second. “They're able to get between the wing-back and centre-back in a moment where we probably could have handled the ball better in their half of the field.”

“We needed to handle the ball better tonight to get more control into the match. That's where we'll be disappointed, but, at the same time, difficult to get that cohesion with a lot of changes and missing quality like Raoul and Jonathan,” Herdman added. “Those two players glue elements of our technical blueprint together. You have to adapt and for a long period I thought we did.”

Toronto’s opener, off a long ball from Alonso Coello curled over the shoulder of the last man, came straight out of the game model set up for Saturday night.

“I have to give a shout out to the coaching staff,” said Marshall-Rutty. “All week we trained getting behind. It's a smaller pitch, so we knew the way we like to play in the midfield sometimes wouldn't be on. They were telling us to run in behind and you'll pick up a ball.”

“Alonso's an amazing passer. I don't know if he tried to play Fede [Bernardeschi] or me, but when I found myself in that position I just tried to stay calm, took two touches, and scored,” he continued. “In my head I was like ‘Shoot it first time,’ but 'No, I'm going to take a touch.' Thank you to my teammates for believing in me and thank you to Alonso for that amazing pass.”

Herdman added some detail: “We asked Jahkeele to invert on that inside channel and use his pace against the two centre-backs. That's something we'd worked on.”

“There's not much width on this field and vertically it's tight as well, so you have to stretch that back-line as much as you could,” he continued.

“For him to get in behind and take his goal so well was nice to see. It's a big moment for a young man that's been craving that moment. We’re proud of him, he got his goal, and hopefully he can kick on from this.”

Marshall-Rutty, still a teenager, has seen a lot since signing as a homegrown player in January 2020.

“It's been a ride for me,” he said. “I'm 19 years old and it's my fifth year; I've gone through so much with COVID and different coaches.”

“It's made me more mature. I take the positives and I've learned so much from all these years, facing adversity and living in different places for months without my family,” Marshall-Rutty reflected. “It made me grow up faster. That was a good thing.”

His celebration, first the look on the face and then the sprint towards his teammates on the sidelines, said everything.

“Before the game I told some of the younger players that I had a feeling that I'm going to score and when I do, I'm going to run over to them,” Marshall-Rutty explained. “My teammates are a big part of the reason I scored. I was very happy, as you could see. I just wanted to run over to the bench, thank the coaching staff and my teammates and everyone.”

“Similar to Lorenzo [Insigne]'s celebration last weekend, it shows where we are as a group,” he added. “When you score, the first thing you want to do is just celebrate with everyone. I wanted to share that moment.”

Every player would prefer the victory to a moment of glory.

“It's bittersweet,” said Marshall-Rutty. “It would have been nicer if we were to get the three points, but I'm very happy to score my first MLS goal.”

“It’s been a long time coming, the hard work I put into it, my family, my friends, and then especially my teammates and my coach, John. I had a good conversation with him a couple days ago and he basically just said, ‘Go on son, score,’” he relayed.

“He and my teammates, Fede, Lorenzo, gave me the confidence to go out and be myself. I'm so happy to get my first MLS goal. It's been a long journey, it would have been nicer for sure if we won, but it's a good start.”

Having not allowed a goal through the first three matches, Toronto’s shutout streak came to an end just shy of 300 minutes.

It took something special with that free-kick from Rodríguez and while the second goal took a moment of class with an outside-of-the-left-foot cross from Fernández, Herdman was not pleased with how that one came about.

“Defensively, disappointed on that second goal,” he said. “You can give them a worldie set-piece and you expect Luka to make some good saves, but that second goal is a little bit soft given that we just started to match their rhythm.”

Once again Toronto’s goalkeeper, Gavran had to come up big on a few occasions – bursting off his line quickly to put off Rodríguez in the 18th minute, getting a big paw on an attempt from Hannes Wolf in the 39th minute, and denying Parks just before half-time on a low shot from the heart of the box.

“Two big saves, important saves,” credited Herdman. “In this league you'll get punished by quality strikers if you give them that inch and they started to find a little rhythm off some of our errors building out.”

“That was a big issue tonight. We were just a little bit sloppy. I never thought we were able to get a hold of the ball in the areas we needed. We needed to be more vertical, which meant Luka was called into action more than he needed to,” he continued. “In away games you've just got to be smarter, particularly on that pitch. We were caught in two minds between drawing to play beyond the press and looking for that extra pass inside and across.”

Toronto created one really good chance in the final assault, but fell short.

“It's an area we've got to keep working on, there's no doubt there,” said Herdman. “It comes down to quality and we’ve got to keep working in that part of the field. As a coach, you'd like to see some of the chances get buried, but we'll keep working on it. That's part of our growth this year.”

Up a man, TFC went all out in the final 20-odd minutes, including handing a debut to 2024 MLS SuperDraft first-overall pick, Tyrese Spicer.

Moments in, Spicer nearly provided the equalizing assist with a dangerous ball behind the NYCFC defenses, but Ayo Akinola could not turn it on frame.

“He's very direct,” said Herdman of Spicer’s debut. “He's building match minutes, building experience. He has been building some minutes at TFC II and he nearly had an assist on his second or third touch.”

“He shows that pace and he's got quality in that left foot,” he added. “It was a good start from Tyrese. He can be pretty happy with his start to TFC life. He was there, he was right there.”

Spicer, Akinola, and Deandre Kerr all came on in that final 15 minutes as Toronto pushed for a lifeline.

“You have to go all out. We were chasing the game, they were down to ten men, it was a big opportunity there,” said Herdman.

“The mentality was there, the attitude was there; you never seen the hands going up, the frustration from players. They stayed in the fight right till the end.”

“TFC were in the fight,” he added. “This wasn't a game where we're done at half-time, we were right there.”

Toronto will return home for their next two matches, welcoming Atlanta United to BMO Field next weekend and Sporting KC the one after.

The unbeaten start and shutout streak may have ended, but the journey has just begun.

“We're all clear. We all buy into the system. We didn't get the win today, but we'll be back at home for Atlanta and then Sporting,” said Marshall-Rutty. “We’re all excited for what's to come and we hope we can show you guys.”

“We all believe in each other. In the locker room after the game, we all came together in a huddle and said. ‘This is football; this is our journey.’ We didn’t win today, but we'll be back on the weekend,” he closed. “We just have to keep going.”