Toronto FC lost 3-0 to NYCFC on Sunday afternoon at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey.
Andrés Perea opened the scoring inside the second minute of play, meeting a ball from Santiago Rodríguez at the back-post.
New York City were awarded a penalty kick in the 31st minute, Toronto goalkeeper Luka Gavran made the save on his debut, but the home side doubled their advantage in stoppage-time when Andres Jasson picked out the bottom corner with a low shot from the top of the box.
Half-time substitute Julián Fernández added the third in the 54th minute after Talles Magno played him up the right and he cut in-field to find the far bottom corner.
On the heels of defeats at home to Vancouver Whitecaps FC last weekend and away to Inter Miami CF on Wednesday, Sunday wrapped up a difficult stretch.
“It's been a long week,” said interim head coach Terry Dunfield post-match. “What I said to the group was in key moments, we weren't able to execute.”
“We knew New York City had quality and they punished us for two really difficult turnovers in key moments of the first half,” he continued. “At half-time we spoke about not letting this get away from us, the guys went out in the second half and were professional. New York City's third goal was a well-worked goal.”
Many times this season mistakes have overshadowed all the good work. That’s football.
“A tough one,” reflected Gavran. “Right away when you put yourself down in the first minute, it's not going to be easy, especially with the second goal coming in the last minute. We really put ourselves in a tough situation, but I really feel that we don't see the good things that we do because of the poor things we do more often.”
In the build-up to the match, Toronto had talked about the need to take a punch and keep going. They were afforded the opportunity to test that out quickly with NYCFC taking the early lead. Gavran’s save extended that spell.
From the moment it was clear that the play was being reviewed for a handball in the box, the 23-year-old keeper knew what lay ahead.
“Honestly, when VAR started I had a real good feeling that they were going to give the penalty. I knew right away,” he explained. “I was already mentally prepared – this is a moment where a lot of things can change if you come up big for your team.”
“As a goalie you can tell whether he's going to wait for you or pick a side,” Gavran continued. “I watched his run up and I was going to fly to the one side. He hit it low and luckily I got my foot there.”
The goal in stoppage-time all but sealed the result.
“We reacted well to going 1-0 down and handled the punch to a degree,” said Dunfield. “What made the second goal difficult was the turnover in midfield. There was a pass to play forward and now New York City are down our necks.”
Regardless of the result, it was a big moment for a young man making his debut.
After a season-and-a-half of strong performances with TFC II, Gavran signed for the first team on August 20 and had been waiting patiently for his opportunity. He knew this day would come.
“With the amount of games Tomás [Romero] has had in recent weeks, the travel with El Salvador, it was in the plans to give me a game and really see what I could bring, what I could do for the team,” he explained. “There's instances in the game where I can manage better, whether to play short or to play long, the older guys on the team are going to let me know and that's going to come from experience.”
“I had a few days to prepare mentally for the game,” Gavran added. “What happened with the game being postponed threw some stuff up, but that's no excuse.”
Sunday’s match was originally scheduled for Saturday night, but a broken water main forced it to be postponed.
That extra 18 hours to think about it was just another factor to be overcome. Conceding early wasn’t in the plan either.
“The nerves are obviously going to be there the first game. I really wanted to get 10/15 minutes into the game, get my legs going, and the first goal came really quick,” Gavran said. “But having a PK save really settled me down, connected a few passes, and then the game flew by.”
The well-wishes were flying in post-match.
“My phone is blowing up with messages, everyone's proud of me,” smiled the goalkeeper. “I'm thankful for my family and friends that are supporting me. They make it much much easier. I'm sure they're excited with the penalty save.”
His coach was pleased as well.
“Luka was excellent today. His presence and profile helps on the penalty save. His distribution was good. He can be proud of his performance,” said Dunfield. “Unfortunately, on his debut you want to be leaving the changing room with a nice feeling and three points, but he's worked his ass off for that opportunity.”
A little more than a month with the first team has “been really good,” according to Gavran.
“I've made a lot of good relationships, especially with older guys on the team. This past week [on the road] especially, you have a lot of conversations, you learn a lot of things,” he continued. “In training I’ve been doing well, just trying to be a professional and pushing everybody. I'm hoping to really gain from this experience and hopefully get a few more games and really improve on myself.”
Gavran and TFC now turn their attention to next Saturday’s match at BMO Field where they will welcome FC Cincinnati, the final match of Dunfield’s tenure with John Herdman set to arrive permanently in October.
“We were naive in certain moments, for sure, but we kept going,” said Dunfield of the performance in New York. “I'm disappointed in the result. Those difficult moments at the start and end of the first half defined the game. In between there was some nice football; that's probably how you could paraphrase my tenure.”