Toronto FC suffered another heart-breaker on Saturday afternoon, losing 1-0 to Orlando City SC at BMO Field.
Kyle Smith scored the game’s only goal in the 92nd minute, getting a flicked header on a corner kick to the near-post from Alexandre Pato in stoppage-time to deny TFC their share of the spoils.
In a game of innumerable actions and decisions, it came down to one play, one moment.
“It felt like we deserved some sort of result today,” said Alex Bono post-match. “Not the one that we got, but such is the game – sometimes when you learn lessons, you learn the harsh way.”
“Ordinary corner kick, whipped into the near-post, just kind of beats our first guy and [Smith] gets a flick on it; before I can really set myself or see it, it's already going the other way,” he detailed. “So yeah, it hurts – especially being the second game in a row we give up a shut out really late. That's definitely painful – for me and for the rest of the guys – we're disappointed about that.”
“We work the whole 90 minutes and then it comes down to one play. Teams that are strong on set-pieces, teams that got big guys, that have ability in the box, can punish you, that's what happened for us today,” Bono added. “We’ve got to get back up on that horse. We’ve got a lot of games left. We still have a lot of lessons to learn. And so, from our perspective, it's take what we can from it and move on to the next one.”
A fifth-straight defeat is tough to stomach, but Bob Bradley can’t fault the effort his side put out there.
“It’s a big effort, guys giving everything they have, helping each other on the field, things that hopefully will help us down the road. In the moment, you can't have words for these guys,” said the coach, making his debut in the long-closed press conference room in the bowels of BMO Field. “As we grow and, lately, can't really find a way to get ourselves a break, everybody feels it, every one of us. And as a coach you obviously feel for the players.”
“In terms of just an effort on a day where with the number of guys out, the different factors, then you just call on everybody to be ready and give what they have,” he added. “And I sure thought they did that.”
Carlos Salcedo returned to the starting XI, but Alejandro Pozuelo missed out after experiencing some tightness in the build-up to the match.
“We've caught the bug a bit more than other teams at this point in the season, but one thing I will say about today is that guys who are called upon came on and did their jobs,” stressed Bono. “For a long stretch of that game we had the better chances, we had a pretty good run of the play, defended really well.”
“Guys that were asked to step in today did a fantastic job,” he continued. “We can talk about shorthanded, we can talk about veterans, we can talk about young guys, all we want, but at the end of the day, throughout the course of the season, you’re going to need to call on people.”
Particularly galling for the goalkeeper was that for a second straight match a late goal denied TFC their first clean sheet of the season.
In Vancouver last Sunday it was a fast-break in the final minute of regulation time, against Orlando it was a late corner kick.
That weighs on Bono, ‘a lot’.
“As a group, we have an expectation, personally, an expectation, that you need to be a team that's difficult to score against. When it gets down towards the end of the game, it’s 0-0, it's kind of end-to-end, we’ve just got to make the plays. Two games in a row now where we've had legitimate chances to have shutouts... yup, it keeps me up at night,” he explained. “It really weighs on me that we give up goals the way we do sometimes. As a group, you work for 90 minutes and it comes down to one play. That's the way the game is, we all know that. I live on shutouts, so the fact that we haven't had one in a while is slowly killing me.”
It’s not about personal glory, Bono would take a 4-0 win where he did nothing over a 0-0 where he stood on his head any day.
“All I care about is that we put points on the table, that as a group we can walk into the locker room and be proud of each other, can look at the guy next to us and say we gave it all,” he added. “The guys today gave it our all and a lapse or a good play and that's the way it goes.”
Whether an experienced pro or a youngster, these are the knocks players have to take.
“This is part of the deal,” levelled Bradley. “Anybody that becomes a really good pro knows that in certain moments you get kicked around and then you get up and you're stronger and you learn.”
“The job as coaches is to continue to find the right ways to keep them going, keep them alive, keep them engaged,” he added. “But this is what it's like if you want to really move yourself forward as a pro.”
If the weather on Saturday was any indication, summer has truly come to Ontario. For TFC the last few weeks have been anything but celebratory, but the season has only just begun.
Two more MLS games – away to D.C. United and back at BMO Field for the visit of the Chicago Fire – and a pair of Canadian Championship games – a quarterfinal away to HFX Wanderers FC in Halifax for this year’s edition and the 2020 Final against Forge FC in the debut of yet-another Ontario derby – await before the international break.
The MLS season is long.
“We're a third of the way through, not even close to halfway through,” assessed Bono. “As frustrating as it is, we have to take the lessons and be better because of them. The locker room is never going to give up. The guys aren't going to give up on each other, so the only thing we have to do is dig ourselves out, one play at a time, one minute at a time, one game at a time, one training day at a time.”
The idea of taking two days to clear the heads before getting back on the training pitch was suggested.
“Resoundingly everyone said, ‘No, let's get back to work. Let's get back into training on Monday and really, as a group, individually, dig ourselves out of a tough rut that we're in,’” relayed the goalkeeper. “So if that doesn't tell you.”
“Guys aren't just going to take a day off. We're in there. We're working. We're trying our hardest to get ourselves out,” Bono continued. “We don't like losing. You don't like watching us lose, losing sucks. So it's not the time to give up. It's the time to double down. It's the time to come in, work harder, and make sure that we have this feeling as few times throughout the rest of the season.”
Said Bradley: “Stick with us. We know the results, we’re honest, but I also think people can see that there are positives going forward. We believe that we just have to take the little pluses, keep working to improve areas that aren't as good as they need to be, and keep fighting for each point.”
“Hopefully our fans can see that and appreciate that,” he closed. “And as we grow they'll be right there with us.”