Toronto FC lost 3-0 away to the New York Red Bulls on Saturday night at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey.
A hard-fought first half saw the two sides go back and forth with Toronto absorbing and containing, matching the energy brought from a New York side playing for their playoff lives. But just as half-time approached a turnover saw the home side take the lead when Elias Manoel pressured a turnover and squared to Tom Barlow in the 45th minute.
Luquinhas would add a second three minutes after the restart with a low shot that nestled in the far-bottom corner and then added the third in the 65th minute when Kyle Duncan found him in a pocket of space in the box.
Every goal changes the game, but it’s particularly hard to concede at the beginning or ends of halves.
“During my tenure we've given up some tough goals,” said Terry Dunfield post-match. “That is part of being in a difficult situation where your confidence is a little bit low or maybe you second guess yourself, but I thought there were some nice passages of play. The guys stuck to our strategy, punched back at times in transition, and finished with some nice football as well, albeit, easier to play at 2-0 down.”
Through 44 minutes Toronto’s strategy was working well.
“In the first half, we do a good job forcing them to play out wide,” pointed out Alonso Coello. “They were creating some chances in the process and getting down the touch-line, but overall we were doing a good job stopping them from playing through us and we were able to hurt them in the counter attack, creating some chances.”
“Conceding a goal right before half hurt us,” he continued. “The second half we're able to take a little bit more of control of the ball and the possession, and then the very few chances that they create, they punish us.”
That first goal hurt.
“We're in a comfortable situation, the Red Bulls aren't coming flying out, we take an extra second on the ball, turn it over, and it's in the back of your net,” recounted Dunfield. “That's what the Red Bulls can do with that high press.”
Said Coello: “Every goal conceded is painful.”
“Happening right before half-time, when we were feeling like we could probably take this game home and take the three points from it hurts even more,” he added. “It’s not a great feeling.”
Toronto regrouped at half-time, but were quickly down by two, and the third 20 minutes into the second half, just as TFC had made some substitutions to change the game, basically sealed the result.
“The second one comes from a little bit of sloppy play, a turnover,” said Dunfield. “We're six vs two in transition, we should be able to make a play on that one. It is a good finish.”
“And we just changed structures to be able to dominate the ball a little bit more on the third one and they find a free player in the box,” he continued. “If our structure is a little bit tighter as it was in the first half, we're probably good in that moment.”
Toronto crafted a handful of opportunities in transition, but were not able to unlock New York.
“Teams in MLS are organized,” highlighted Dunfield. “They don't give up some of the goals that we do and we have to work really hard for opportunities.”
Saturday’s result was too familiar.
“It's the same story as Miami – probably, in Miami, the team was playing even better than today,” recalled Coello. “At this point with so many losses, we can hide from anything, but we've come to a point where everything that can go wrong goes wrong and even when we might be deserving to go into half-time tied, every little mistake we get punished from it.”
“It's been the story for the past three months,” he added.
Despite those repeated body blows, Toronto kept fighting.
“We've got a group of players that just love football, that love competing, and, same as me, didn't think twice when the opportunity presented itself to re-sign, to come through the Academy to be part of the first team, or come in as a new transfer,” laid out Dunfield. “We believe in Toronto FC. We're here to continue working hard to get this club back to the mountain.”
“There is no easy fix. It is going to take hard work and good decisions and staying strong,” he closed. “There's a lot of character in that changing room.”
One game remains before the 2023 MLS regular season comes to a close for TFC. They will host Orlando City SC on October 21 at BMO Field.
It has been a year full of lessons.
“These are the times where you get better,” said Coello, asked what he was taking from these experiences. “In order to move forward and improve and learn you have to be challenged; you have to make mistakes and you have to lose.”
“Those are the times where you show what kind of professional, what kind of soccer player, you're going to be and you are,” he continued. “I've tried to be one of the players that was showing that he wanted to win, he wanted to be a part of a winning group, and trying to make the team better.”
“Obviously, it hasn't gone the way that I would have wanted it to go,” ended the 23-year-old midfielder. “But it's one of those seasons that for me, especially as a young player, I will remember as a year of a lot of learnings.”