Toronto FC

Reds fall to D.C. late in Season Opener: “Next part of our learning is continuing to dig deep"

Toronto FC lost their season opener 3-2 away to D.C. United at Audi Field on Saturday night. 

The opening half saw Mateusz Klich open the scoring in the 13th minute with a low shot from the top of the box that picked out the bottom corner and Lorenzo Insigne forced off after 34 minutes. Toronto regrouped in the second to pull level from the penalty spot in the 66th minute with Federico Bernardeschi converting after Richie Laryea was fouled in the box. 

Mark-Anthony Kaye put the Reds in front come the 83rd, acrobatically forcing the rebound from a Bernardeschi free-kick that was tipped onto the bar by D.C. goalkeeper Tyler Miller, but two late goals – a header from Christian Benteke in the 90th minute and a tidy finish from Theodore Ku-Dipietro in the 98th – saw the home side take all three points.

“Disappointing,” summed up Bob Bradley post-match. “A positive response in the second half, pushed the game in a good way, took the lead in the 83rd minute and between 83’ and 90’ we were managing things very well.”

“A play down our right side we didn't handle well and that led to that little sequence to cross to Benteke who just backed up and and got away from our defenders. At 2-2 we had one real good chance and they had a chance, and then the play at the end we do a good job of actually playing out as they step up and then we just didn't do well enough in the transition and the ball that got cut across,” he detailed. “There's a lot to take, but there are certainly positives in the way we went about things and we'll try to build on that.”

Immediately after the final whistle Bradley didn’t have an update on Insigne: “I don't have word on Lorenzo. He felt something in the lower leg, couldn't continue. That's all I know at the moment.”

The first game of the season was a bit of the ol’ tale of two halves: D.C. were on the front foot in the first half, TFC were come the second.

“In the first half we didn't do a good job of [controlling] second balls,” said Bradley. “They played long, it became loose in the middle of the field at times, and there were some moments in transition.”

“It didn't amount to much to be honest with you. Even the goal was a shot from distance,” he continued. “We, towards the end of the half, started to become more dangerous and then I thought we were able to continue that in the second half.”

Toronto took control after the restart. 

“We were able to play out of pressure, create opportunities going forward, get our attacking guys running into the box. Tyler had to make some saves and we were close on a couple chances,” listed Kaye. “Defensively they posed a different challenge today – playing long balls, trying to pick up the second balls – and if we want to be a really good team, we have to know when to adapt on the fly and deal with whatever a team is trying to throw at us.”

“It was a challenge today. We were sloppy in certain areas, I was sloppy in certain areas, we need to go back to the training ground and understand how important it is to be clean every day, understand that when we go out here it's going to be tough, it's not going to be easy,” he continued. “Teams in this league are getting better, the competition level is getting better, and it's a fight every day. I'm happy that we got our first game together in this intensity out of the way. Now we have a better understanding of what it's going to take to stay in games and to create more opportunities, but yeah, today was a weird one.”

An inch-perfect long ball from Michael Bradley sprung Laryea behind the D.C. defense in the 65th minute, he rode the initial shove prompting teenage defender Matai Akinmboni to stick a boot in and bring Laryea down. 

Bernardeschi placed the penalty kick right up the middle, having sent Miller diving to his left, to level the match at 1-1. Another dead-ball situation from the Italian’s boot would put Toronto ahead in the final ten minutes. 

Miller got a piece of Bernardeschi’s free-kick, tipping it onto the woodwork, but Kaye was on hand to put in the rebound.

“Obviously, I'm hoping that Fede just scores right off the bat from the free-kick, but I just wanted to have been in the box, in the right spot, just in case there was the save and a rebound,” he explained. “I just made sure to hit the back of the net.”

“It's bittersweet, losing and scoring a goal,” said Kaye. “But it's a long season and hopefully I can add more to my tally and help the team win more games.”

It was his first goal for his hometown club, a fact he seemed to relish, lying prone on the pitch for a moment. Seemed to, at least.

“I cramped honestly, as soon as I scored,” Kaye corrected. “So it went from joy to ‘Oh no.’ I was fine after getting stretched by Ayo [Akinola]. I didn't even realize it was my first goal for TFC.”

“Now that you’re saying it, it's a good feeling,” he continued. “I had my wife and all her mom's side of the family here, like 20 people, so I'm glad that they were able to see that. It's one notch on the belt, I just want to keep getting more. I'm happy that I could contribute.”

Up a goal with less than ten minutes plus stoppage time to play, TFC looked to see out the result.

“We understood that the game wasn’t over,” said Kaye. “We wanted to keep doing the same thing, dealing with how they're trying to attack us and making sure we can create opportunities. They were just clinical in moments and we weren't.”

“If you look at the last 15 minutes, we have good chances, they have good chances,” he added. “They just capitalized on more of theirs than we did.”

Summarized Bradley: “We didn't make some key plays and that's what cost us.”

The new partnership in the middle of the defense – Matt Hedges and Sigurd Rosted – were solid. Sean Johnson made some good saves. Raoul Petretta took to MLS like a duck to water. 

“You see signs of really good things,” replied Bradley, asked about the centre-back pairing. “When you look at the game as a whole, what's most frustrating is to give up three goals on a night where it's not like we're given up too much in the way of big chances.”

D.C.’s xG (expected goals) on the night was 0.9 – Toronto didn’t give up good chances, D.C. made the most of minor ones.

“But in key moments, down the stretch, we weren't quite able to make a play,” Bradley continued. “I know Sigurd well, he'll look hard at the play that led to 2-2 because he'll feel he needed to stay with Benteke and get tight. He got caught a little bit flat footed and obviously against a striker like that you can't do that.”

“There are little things, in the whole team, that when you give up three goals we're not satisfied with, but I thought overall defensively there were a lot of positives,” Bradley noted. “And if we can continue to grow in those ways and not give away too many chances and control games then I'd like to believe that that will make a big difference in the overall defensive record by the end of the year.”

In the lead up to the match Bradley said one of the things he wanted to see was the mentality of the group when the going goes against them. There were signs of that in D.C.

“I think so,” said Kaye. “To go in the half down, understanding that you're going to have to lift the tempo of the game and really go after it, I was really proud of how we showed up in the second half; really took the game to them and changed the game. You go and you score two goals, you go up.”

“The next part of our learning is just continuing to dig deep and not let a team back into the game,” he closed. “It was unfortunate the way it ended, but the way the second half started, I'm glad that we were able to push through and really be resilient.”