Toronto FC lost 3-0 at Inter Miami CF on Wednesday night at DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Federico Higuain opened the scoring when he pounced on an errant pass from Alex Bono in the 11th minute, Christian Makoun added the second in the final minute of the first half when he steered a corner kick in at the back-post, and an own-goal from another corner in the 61st rebounded off the back of Eriq Zavaleta.
The scoreline was not representative of the match according to Javier Perez.
“It wasn't a 3-0 game tonight,” he said post-match. “I don't think the scoreboard reflects what happened on the field.”
“It’s a game with two mistakes and two corners. Two mistakes. One, thankfully, was called offside; the second one we were not so fortunate and that was 1-0,” Perez outlined. “And then two corners.”
“For good sequences of the game we were the best team on the field, but at the end, it doesn't matter, right?” he added. “We end up losing. A loss is a loss.”
Justin Morrow, who made his 250th appearance for the club in all competitions, summed it up as, “some unfortunate errors.”
“When you give that up early in the game and you're facing a team that is fighting for the playoffs, it's going to be tough,” he continued. “But like all of these games at this time of the year, you try and take the positives out of it: getting the young guys some minutes was a positive tonight.”
“Jahkeele did really well,” Morrow highlighted. “Nice to see him do what he's been doing in practice and put that on the field tonight. It was a big step forward for him, so that was a big positive.”
While Morrow is taking the final steps of his playing career, 17-year-old Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty is making his first. Wednesday was career MLS start number one.
Having debuted last season with a single appearance away to the Philadelphia Union on October 24, Marshall-Rutty has had to wait patiently for his chance. He made two appearances off the bench earlier in the season and two more in September – away to FC Cincinnati and then in the Canadian Championship against York United FC.
More recently, however, he has been firmly in the match day squad, appearing in the last three matches as a substitute.
“Jahkeele was terrific,” said Perez. “It's no surprise for me. It was the right time for him.”
“He's so young and he's so talented. I saw his talent, but at the same time this [year] is helping him to mature a lot, as for many other younger players,” he expanded. “Jahkeele tonight was really good. I'm really happy with that experience that he has right now. He can contribute to the team.”
Marshall-Rutty was the architect of two of TFC’s best chances in the first half: the first a shot that prodded the Miami keeper into conceded a juicy rebound which Yeferson Soteldo tucked in only for the offside flag to deny and then when he whipped a dangerous ball through the goalmouth shortly thereafter.
He nearly found the back of the net himself in the second half when he dragged a left-footer just wide of the far-post.
“He was moving with the ball well, he made good decisions on the ball and some good attacking plays,” listed Morrow. “It was a big night for him. Each and every time that these guys get on the field, it's big lessons for them.”
“We've had a team, by and large, that has been so consistent over the years that these chances have been few and far between for them. So it's so important every time that they get on the field that they really cherish it, that they step up, and that they take personal lessons from it,” he stressed. “I'm a big believer in personal growth each and every time that you're on the field. And these guys have to have the same mentality. They really have to be chomping at the bit. These minutes are so important for them.”
Since his name first started circulating as a precocious 14-year-old talent in the TFC Academy, Marshall-Rutty has had to take the necessary steps that lead to a first-team debut.
“It's been a journey,” he replied, asked how it felt to get his first start. “The older guys have helped me throughout the season, telling me what I need to work on and where I can keep getting better.”
“They told me to be more aggressive, run more in behind and I’ve tried to do that more and more each game. It's coming along,” he added. “Us young players have to earn our time.”
Surrounded by role models like Morrow, the job now is to absorb the lessons of what it takes to be a professional. One doesn’t make 250 appearances over eight seasons without doing the right things.
With Morrow hanging up his boots at the end of the season, it was only fitting that he reach another milestone before then.
“It’s been a big story of my career being here, spending so many years [with TFC], trying to be a guy that's always available for the team each and every game no matter what the situation is or what the position is,” reflected Morrow on another special occasion. “And trying to be a good role model for the younger guys.”
“Throughout my career, I was trying to be a leader, trying to find my voice,” he continued. “That was difficult at times because I'm not naturally that type of guy, so I'd always just try and lead by example. And if I can be a guy that's consistently out there every day, doing the right things, giving the game the proper respect, then I think that's a good lesson for these young guys.”
The playoffs may be out of reach, but there is utility to every 90 minutes. Returning players have to get match sharp, the team needs to rebuild some cohesion, and there are new faces to work into the group.
The Canadian Championship semifinal against Pacific FC lies ahead. So too does a derby against CF Montreal set for Saturday at BMO Field.
“You cannot show up for one game – for the semifinal or the final or whatever game you have to win,” levelled Perez. “We all have to be sharp. As well to bring Alejandro [Pozuelo] and to bring Jozy [Altidore] at the best shape, the best performance possible, but not only them, as well to bring someone like Jahkeele that can make a difference and someone like Noble [Okello] that needed 90 minutes and did a good job. All these different factors that you have to take into account.”
The clock is always ticking in professional sports. One playing career comes to an end, another is just beginning. The game goes on.
“There's something to take away from every one of these games,” urged Morrow. “I want to see the team compete. This Canadian Championship match coming up is big, but we have another one on Saturday.”
“That's the good thing right now, that the games are coming quick and fast, so there's always a chance to rebound, to have a better performance pretty quickly. We need to show for our fans on Saturday,” he stressed. “There's so much on the line, even though we're out of the playoffs. I'm looking forward to that, the team is looking forward to that.”
It takes time to build something worthwhile. Patience will be tested, but lost in the flow of results, good or bad, are the little steps that make up the journey. They may seem trivial or be imperceptible at the time, but that does not diminish their value.
“The coaches gave me a few opportunities to gain some confidence, gain some momentum,” said Marshall-Rutty of the pathway leading to his impressive start. “I felt pretty good, but the result wasn't good, so I don't look at today as a positive.”
“We need to get back and work,” he added. “We have Montreal on Saturday, so we're looking forward to the derby and then we have the Canadian Championship. We’ll be ready.”