Toronto FC picked up their first point of the 2024 MLS season on Sunday afternoon, drawing 0-0 away to FC Cincinnati at TQL Stadium.

An opening test against the top team in the Eastern Conference, defending Supporters’ Shield champions, was the measuring stick John Herdman wanted for his revamped side as their journey began.

“It was exactly what we needed for the first game of the season,” said the TFC coach post-match. “We were able to get our first point in this stadium, which was nice.”

“[We] had to fight for it. When you come up against [2023 Landon Donovan MVP award winner Luciano] Acosta, a very organized team, it’s really tough to get anything here,” Herdman continued. “We had that in our mentality. The opening exchanges, if we had managed to get something early I thought that would have made a bigger difference to the game, but, all in all, we were resolute, we showed that fighting spirit, we stayed connected right until the end.”

“It was a good start to the season,” he added.

“But there's still work to be done.”

Wearing the armband as newly-minted captain, Jonathan Osorio too was pleased: “A really good performance.”

“Away from home, a difficult place to play, the reigning Supporters’ Shield champions, it’s not easy playing here, getting results here, and the team fought really hard,” he elaborated. “First 20 minutes we were the better team. They found their way into the game, but we weathered that storm really well and we stuck together.”

“The second half again I thought we started well,” Osorio continued. “A good team like that is going to find their moments. We were really solid defensively; it was a professional performance from the whole group collectively and a very good point won on the road.”

A pair of newcomers – Deybi Flores and Kevin Long – made their debuts for the club, one bossing the middle of the park and the other keeping things under control at the back, exactly as advertised.

“Deybi was man of the match for us. He really pushed a level of performance there,” said Herdman. “We had to recruit that type of player. The front office did a great job in bringing that profile, that combative, destroyer-type profile that TFC lacked in the middle of the park.”

“Him and Alonso have built a good relationship through preseason, but his intensity is special,” he highlighted. “I watched him for Honduras, had to play against him, and I always worried about the player that was on his side, whether they would be left standing after the game. He's so intensely passionate.” 

Osorio was once that opposite player.

“It's much better having him on your side,” he smiled. “He’s always on top of you, he doesn't let you breathe.”

“He gives us a different dynamic that we've missed. He’s a dog in the middle of the field, he bites, he covers ground, and recovers so many balls for us. He gives us a little bit of calmness there in the middle, just that reliability to know that whenever the ball does come through the middle it's going to be difficult for the other team to play,” Osorio explained. “He's a big part of that, but the other thing is he's bringing that out of other players. You see a lot more bite from the whole team this year; that starts from him. Amazing debut, looking forward to many more performances like that.”

The Irishman, meanwhile, was a calming presence in the heart of the defense.

“Long did what we expected him to,” said Herdman. “We've done well with the profiling. We were pretty clear on what we wanted, that connection with the front office, Jason Hernandez and his team, has been class. They've looked at the profiles and Long was perfect for TFC.”

“He brings the experience, the composure, doesn't get rattled, and you could see in that moment, that last 5/10 minutes of the match where you’re chasing the point,” the coach added. “He brought his experience.”

And Richie Laryea? Well, he picked up exactly where he left off when last with TFC: nearly winning a penalty kick in the opening minutes and constantly threatening the opponent.

“It’s no surprise; that's why we wanted him back,” said Osorio. “We value him a lot. It took a lot to get him back and today he showed why we were willing to go through all that.”

“Richie is going to be one of the most important players of this team going forward. He’s here for the [foreseeable] future now and he's going to establish himself as a leader on this team, on and off the field,” he continued. “For a guy that hasn't really had a preseason to come in and play the way he did is a testament to the level of player he is.”

Toronto had chances throughout the 90-plus minutes. 

Lorenzo Insigne tested the goalkeeper early from that Laryea-won free-kick, Federico Bernardeschi’s blast required a goal-saving intervention from a defender, and Insigne looked to give Toronto the opener at the end of the first half only for his shot to carom off Prince Owusu.

“The chances were there,” said Herdman. “Fede’s was heading to the top corner, the little deflection. Prince made a great save on Lorenzo's shot – what were the chances on that.”

“The first 15 minutes of each half, the last five/ten minutes of both halves, we had good chances there, good moments where we needed to capitalize,” he urged.

“We’ll go back and we'll review those elements and just close those gaps. That's what the beginning of the season is for.”

So too did Cincinnati.

Corey Baird stung the palms of Sean Johnson with an acrobatic attempt, Sergio Santos found a pocket after a neat back-heel from Acosta, and the 2023 MVP had a few good looks himself, but Toronto’s keeper was equal to all of them, earning the 100th shutout of his MLS career.

“He was a great signing for TFC,” said Herdman. “Little injuries and other things that occurred last season, it was tough for Sean, but we've got a strong central spine. With Sean in there, adding Deybi, adding an experienced centre-back, that's been a big part of that.”

“We know he's got that in him,” he continued. “He made two big chest saves, from tough angles for the opponent, but all of us, we just expect him to do it. When you come to a stadium like this, with players like this, you know he's going to be busy at some point. He's all in.”

A team needs their keeper to stand tall.

“It's huge,” said Osorio. “It's huge for any successful team to have a keeper that is going to keep you in games and be a huge reason why you steal points in a game like this.”

“Sean has proven himself for a long time and he showed again today why he's one of the best keepers in the league,” he added. “To be a part of that milestone for him is great for everybody here. He's one of the leaders of the team and he really showed why today.”

Toronto huddled together on the field after the final whistle.

“It was an important moment,” began Herdman. “Sean Johnson's 100th clean-sheet, that's a really special occasion for any player. It was a moment where we got our first point in that stadium against a very, very good team. [Cincinnati] has been killing it in MLS last season. We knew it was going to be tough coming here: it’s a home opener, the energy of their fans.”

“Lorenzo spoke, [said] ‘It's just the start. The right step forward,’” relayed the coach. “And as he said, ‘We're fighting together now.’ Whether it's Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty, a 19-year-old, coming off the bench – Kobe Franklin, Kosi Thompson – to solidify the game, those players can be trusted because there's a connection here. They know that these veteran players have got their backs and we're going get through this season together. That huddle was just a symbol of that first step.”

It’s a connection that is bigger than the 11 on the field, the 20 on the game day roster, the entire squad, the front office and the rest of the club itself.

Osorio brings that knowledge with him on the pitch, printed inside his captain’s armband.

“I have the logos of each of our supporters groups,” he revealed. “I wanted that in there. I wanted to show them that I carry them with me on the field. I’m one of them: a hometown kid, a kid that used to sit in their section way back when.”

All together now.

“Going into the season one of the main things was making a united group, making a group that was together and fighting together,” explained the captain. “That took a lot of work from the end of last year.”

“Now we're all fighting for collective goals that we all want to reach together and we have the same mindset,” he continued. “That showed on the pitch. Everybody was working for each other, everybody knows the system, knows their jobs, and what they have to do.”

“We want to show that we really care. That's important this year,” Osorio closed. “We care, we care a lot. We want to fight for this club, fight for these fans, and this was a very good first step.”