Toronto FC

Reds drop points to Kansas City: "Big learning for us”


Toronto FC lost 3-1 to Sporting KC at BMO Field on Saturday night. 

After a chance-filled first half, Remi Walter opened the scoring in the 57th minute with a dipping shot from range that beat Luka Gavran. Jacob Davis added a second seven minutes later with a strike from nearly the exact same spot and Alenis Vargas found the third in the 83rd minute, poking the ball past Shane O’Neill and slipping a finish under the goalkeeper as he rushed out to close down.

Jonathan Osorio would pull one back in the 97th minute, his first goal of the season and first as captain, arriving at the back-post to put a Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty ball over the line, but the clock ran out before TFC could mount a comeback.

“In defensive transition, attacking transition, they were pretty clinical,” summarized John Herdman post-match. “When you look at KC and their style of play, they like to dominate the ball, but we forced them into direct play. We lived in their half quite a lot which meant we were very open. We either were playing some sublime moments of intricate football that got us into key areas or there was a lack of quality in them moments and we were very open which gave them some big chances.”

“Big learnings for us,” he continued. “At home we always want to entertain, we want to dominate the ball. We had big moments, playing a good style of football, but with that comes the risk and that risk was exploited.”

“If we had scored the first goal when we had our chances, that game changes, but coming out of that second half, we weren't good enough. That was the bottom line,” Herdman added. “We just let them get a little bit of a foothold in the game and let them push us into an area we didn't want to be on that left-hand side. We needed to be braver in that moment. Too many turnovers, which then led to that little bit of momentum, and then that great goal that they scored.”

A trademark of Toronto’s first five games of the season had been keeping chances to a minimum, for both teams. Opening up in search of more going forward always leaves corresponding vulnerabilities the other way.

“Every game is going to be different,” explained Gavran. “We prepared to really combine together and show that we can play some nice football. That, sometimes, kind of hurt us.”

“The first five games, we were a tight team, playing for results, and really grinding out a win. Today we had to find a balance of that – when to really slow the game down and get our structure,” he continued. “When you look back at the first half, we did give up a lot of chances, but we played some of the best football this year so far: we had a lot of chances, we were combining nicely through the middle, and it showed.”

“We were building out of everything, we were brave on the ball,” Gavran highlighted. “You need that, but also you need to go back to what you're good at and that's our structure and not letting a lot of chances.”

“Games when you don't finish your chances, it gets difficult,” he added. “We didn't come out as strong in the second half, they switched up some things, and we just didn't adapt well enough. That's what happens when you play a good, experienced team.”

That balance tipped in the second half. 

Osorio had the ball in the back of the Kansas City net, offside for the second time in the opening 50 minutes, but a few minutes later a hopeful attack up the right was headed half-clear onto the boot of Walter.

“We gave them that foothold,” said Herdman. “The first half we picked their press apart. We were finding the midfielders. It was risky, but we were bouncing it, being brave and confident. And [second half] we kept dropping it into that left side and getting trapped.”

“That led into them being able to live in our attacking quarter for too long,” he continued. “And when you give a team like that, an experienced team like that, that time and quality in your part of the field, they are going to find opportunities.”

“It was a hell of a goal they scored, a really good goal, but at the end of the day we give them too much time in that part of the field,” Herdman added. “You could feel something coming. Too many giveaways and not getting our centre midfielders on the ball early enough.”

Toronto went in knowing Kansas City were a threat from range.

“We talked about – us as goalies, our goalie coach – how they are a team that likes to strike from distance and how they have a lot of quality, guys that can hit the ball from distance, as we saw today,” said Gavran. “In a game where it's back-and-forth, a lot of transition, it's hard on the guys. You can nitpick and say, ‘Yeah, should have closed them down.’”

“The first one is a great finish – full stretch, I couldn't get to it,” he recounted. “That second one, he hit it pretty well with a knuckle. When it's moving a lot, it's tough, you need a really strong hand and I didn't get a strong hand today. In a transition game like that, you get spread out a lot and closing down stuff is more difficult.”

Herdman was in the middle of making changes as the game state altered.

“We knew we needed to get a shift in,” he said. “And just some confidence and energy into that midfield with Deybi Flores. That was the plan, to get him in quickly, and by the time he was about to step on the field, they had scored the carbon copy goal.”

“The response came too late, that's what I'd say,” Herdman continued. “I was proud of the response from the players – they kept pushing, but it was just a little bit too late. I needed to get that midfield closer to the game and combining like they did in the first half. When the confidence is ebbing that sub needed to come in and it was just a second too late.”

That second goal in short order put the game out of reach.

“They know how to manage a game when they are up 1-0,” said Gavran. “Once we give up that many chances, eventually one is going to get through, and unfortunately it did. I did not think one goal would define the game. The second goal came, not too fast after the first one, but it really killed us.”

“First half we had the fans behind us, we were at home, you have to really put them under pressure and really continue that drive we have after coming back last week with a win,” he added. “We felt we should have been up maybe 1-0 or 2-0 in the first half. It's a tough one.”

Herdman provided the message in the post-match huddle: “It just wasn't good enough and that can't happen here in Toronto ever again.”

“I was proud of the identity. They played to win. They were on the front foot. They were in Kansas's half most of the game,” he continued. “First half, I was proud of what they put out there. As I said to them, it just lacked that quality.”

“It went from sublime to a level that was going to cause us problems and we can't live at them ends of the spectrum. There's got to be an in-between there and when the quality diminishes, we have to find the tactical acumen or the togetherness to bring the team closer,” the coach relayed.

“So I said to them, ‘It just can't happen here, but I'm proud that you showed the fans how much you care. You're not going to quit on this team ever.’”

“They lost the right way,” Herdman closed. “They all put a good shift in and tried to help the team get a result. That's what I said to them, keeping it quite simple: ‘It can't happen again. It wasn't good enough, but you didn't quit and you played to win’ – and that's important for me.”