Toronto FC

Reds fall to Atlas FC ending Leagues Cup run, turn focus to  Regular Season 

Toronto FC were bounced from the 2023 Leagues Cup on Sunday night with a 1-0 loss to Atlas FC.

Jordy Caicedo put the Mexican side ahead inside the opening two minutes when Aldo Rocha pounced on an errant pass and played to the Ecuadorian striker at the edge of the box. Caicedo got inside his defender to pick out the far side-netting with a right-footed finish.

With the heavy midweek defeat away to NYCFC weighing in the balance, TFC knew they needed to win by three goals to continue in the competition.

“We changed a couple of things, brought some freshness into the team, changed our structure a little bit, and we're ready to go,” said Terry Dunfield post-match. “We had a mindset of ‘just one goal at a time’ and then, after 90 seconds, it's another tough goal [to concede]. I don't think we can hide from that.”

“The character the group showed was incredible,” he continued. “They trusted in the process, our work, not only over the past couple of days, but over the last month, and we continued to play. We didn't let the goal bother us.”

“It was always going to be difficult to create real good looks against Atlas’s defense – that's their strength – and we missed a little bit of quality, a little bit of patience, in the final third,” Dunfield added. “Overall, the performance was solid and the boys can be proud of themselves, but it’s another defeat.”

That early goal played into Atlas’ hands. 

They would have been content to keep it scoreless, but the goal gave them something tangible to hold onto, something to protect.

“It's even more difficult,” said Raoul Petretta. “It was not the [worst] game, but at the end we have to score to win.”

Jesús Batiz’s pass was a little too close to Rocha. Franco Ibarra was a little too far away to be a safe option. Sigurd Rosted had drifted wide to be available and couldn’t get back inside to disrupt Caicedo. 

Those are the little details a team works out with time.

“[Midseason] it's a little bit difficult to get across some of our ideas,” said Dunfield. “There has been a change of philosophy since I've come in, but one thing that we need to continue to work on – we spoke about this at half-time – is finding the right balance of playing direct versus building out of the back and being businesslike. That's something that Atlas does very well.”

“Once the pressure started to come, we needed to skip a line, especially in the first couple of minutes,” he continued. “It's a tough giveaway. The passing angle was probably there if we're able to get across a little bit more. And then we weren't able to put the fire out – maybe a tactical foul could have been committed at the edge of the box and we move on. It was a really good finish as well.”

Toronto tried to rally, found some half-chances before half-time – a deflected Osorio shot from range tested the goalkeeper and Ibarra ripped a left-footer after Batiz and Latif Blessing combined on the right – but the closer the final whistle got the less likely the comeback became.

“After the goal, it was a good response, we have pretty good chances,” said Osorio. “They don't have much, but with the situation that we're in it's not enough to say that.”

“As players, we have to look at ourselves. As a club, there's a lot of work to be done,” he continued. “Maybe this is a blessing that we have these two weeks now to really prepare for the last 10 games and to show the fans that we will do everything to make them proud.”

Toronto are now off until CF Montreal come to BMO Field on August 20, exactly three weeks.

“We've started to put some work into a contingency plan if we didn't progress,” said Dunfield. “We're going to find the right balance of continuing to build on some of our work tactically and technically, but finding the right levels, almost a mini-preseason, to make sure we're ready.”

“There’s still a lot of football to be played,” he continued. “Our fitness levels continue to grow. In the second half today, we were full of running; this is the first time we finished the game strong.”

Said Petretta: “We have to work harder, we have to be better. Now we have a few weeks off, so we will keep going and work harder.”

Three weeks is a long time, as Osorio said it may be a blessing.

“Maybe. Hopefully,” added Petretta. “In three weeks we will see.”

With the search for a permanent manager continuing there remains some uncertainty ahead. It’s possible that Sunday’s defeat was the last as interim head coach for Dunfield.

“I was just saying to my technical staff, it's been an incredible ride and such a privilege to help lead Toronto FC,” he relayed, asked about that possibility. “Unfortunately the results and goals for haven't represented the work that's gone into it, but we'll continue to keep pushing, finding a way to help give a result to an incredible fan base.”