Toronto FC lost their first game back from the international break, falling 2-0 to the New York Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena on Saturday evening.
Lewis Morgan, who netted a hat-trick in the previous meeting between the clubs, opened the scoring in the second minute with a header from a corner kick. The Red Bull pressure was a problem in those early passages, but TFC found ways to have their moments.
Jayden Nelson had a good chance four minutes after the Morgan goal, a lovely ball from Deandre Kerr played in Jesús Jiménez in the 10th minute, Ayo Akinola fired a right-footer from the top of the box just wide of the post in the 20th minute, and Nelson carved through a pair of defenders shortly thereafter, but couldn’t pick out a spot on frame with his attempt.
New York’s second goal, a cheeky floater from Luquinhas at the edge of the area after Quentin Westberg had denied Tom Barlow on the break, in the 56th minute all but sealed the result.
“It's a really poor way to start a match,” said Bob Bradley post-match. “It took us a few minutes after that, but then we started to increase the tempo of our play, we started to get forward quicker and as the half went on we had four to five big chances to get back to 1-1. The response in that period was good. We hoped that we could continue that and felt strongly that it was a game we could win.”
“The second goal is a killer,” he continued. “That's disappointing. We had the one really big chance after that to get to 2-1 with Jacob [Shaffelburg].”
“When you play Red Bull teams, they play off of chaotic moments, they try to play quick, they try to take advantage of second balls and loose balls,” Bradley reminded. “Our ability to react and compete on all those plays in some stretches was good, but in other moments we come away second where that gives them an edge.”
Those opening moments proved crucial.
“First ten minutes it felt like a Red Bull game: chaos,” said Shane O’Neill. “They were all over us, which was tough.... Yeah, chaos.”
“Once we got the ball, the rest of the first half was really solid: moved the ball well, created some good opportunities. Coming in at halftime I felt pretty confident we could get a result in the game. I think we all did,” he continued. “We started the second half decent and then we just couldn't find ways to get out of our own half for maybe 10 minutes – I don't know exactly the minute they scored, but I felt like there was a seven/eight minute period where we couldn't get out.”
“A second goal, in a situation like this, is such a tough blow,” O’Neill added. “We couldn't find that goal to bring us back in the game. If we could have gotten one, it was a very winnable game. It’s frustrating to let these opportunities slip.”
Toronto will not have to wait long to get back on the pitch as Saturday’s match kicked off a busy and important stretch.
On Wednesday they welcome CF Montreal to BMO Field for the semifinal of the 2022 Canadian Championship. Then comes a flurry of home matches in the league with the visits of Atlanta United, the Columbus Crew, and Seattle Sounders FC in quick succession.
The five-match home stand across all competitions ends on July 9 with the visit of the San Jose Earthquakes and coincides with the anticipated arrival of Lorenzo Insigne.
“We know it's a really important stretch,” stressed O’Neill. “We’ve got to be dialed in and we need to compete and do whatever it takes to get results in these next five games. It's a huge stretch for this team.”
The intensity of a Red Bulls game on the back of an international break, even if it didn’t end as hoped, may have been a useful kick start.
“It's always good to have intense games,” said Bradley. “If we’re going to get players where we want them to be, their ability to play in games that go fast, that have intensity, that demand that we can play at that speed and do the things that we want to do – that's always important. We know that the semifinal of the cup is going to be a tough match and hopefully we can take from this match.”
Bring on Montreal and the cup.
“We got a little bit of a taste with the 2020 game,” compared O’Neill, referencing Toronto’s shootout win over Forge FC earlier this month. “It's a good competition, really cool competition, and it seems, based on the last six/seven/eight years, it's been between us and Montreal. So you know the importance of the game.”
“They seem to be firing all cylinders this year. I'm not sure how they did tonight (Montreal lost 1-0 at home to Austin FC), but they seem to have been pretty solid. It's going to be a tough game – make no mistake about it – there's no easy games.”