Toronto FC

Reds look ahead to take on Charlotte on the road: "This week, back to basics" 


On the back of two defeats, Toronto FC have spent this week digesting the first rough patch of the season.

The club responded well to the first defeat of the season, following up that loss away to NYCFC with a strong home win over Atlanta United, but back-to-back losses at home to Sporting KC and away to Vancouver Whitecaps FC, conceding seven goals throughout, has John Herdman urging his side back to basics.

There have been plenty of lessons to take from these last two outings. TFC were in both games until they weren’t.

Against Kansas City it was two goals in short order around the hour mark, while against the Whitecaps it was a little more gradual.

“We had good momentum at the beginning of the game after we conceded and then we chase things,” described Herdman of his team coming up short last weekend. “The second half we were good. We came out, we had good control. We started to get a good rhythm and momentum against them and then we self-destruct on our own set-piece.”

“It's just being too eager to try and get that goal back to swing the game,” he pinpointed. “That's something we've discussed, where we can be 2-0 down, but we can't go three. We can be 1-0 down, but we can't go two.”

“We've got to stay dedicated to the things that have kept us in the chase for the top of the league,” Herdman underlined. “Clean-sheets is a priority, defensive transition numbers, profiles in defensive transition, getting all of those details right when we're attacking. That's what has cost us in recent times.”

There can be direct causes of goals conceded, but often it comes down to little details well before the play in question that could have stemmed that tide.

Herdman spotted one on that back-breaking third Vancouver goal.

“When you see Cassius Mailula and Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty being your last two men on the back-line on your own set-piece, that's a massive danger sign,” he said. “They are two players that shouldn't be [in that position].”

“That's down to the technical staff, it's down to our in-game management of the senior players, we've all held our hands up and said that has to be better,” Herdman continued. “We were in momentum. That goal was coming against the Whitecaps, you could feel it. We were having a lot of entries into dangerous areas and then you put yourself in that situation where Ryan Gauld is literally 10 meters behind your last two players.”

“You expect that in the last two minutes of a game, not with 20/25 minutes to play. That’s a big danger sign for me,” he cautioned. “And just chasing shadows. Tactically we were set well and then about the 23rd minute the Whitecaps started to get a bit of a rhythm against our press and we had to adapt to the medium. We have to set back to then hunt again and the team just wasn't committed to setting quickly. We addressed that at half-time – that they needed to come back to a medium press then set to hunt. We were hunting, but not setting. That's part of chasing games.”

And on the other side of the ball, it’s a matter of time and space, but also execution.

Toronto are getting into the positions they’re looking for, but not coming away with the deserved goal.

“We had 13 crosses and only three of them got past the first man,” Herdman laid out. “Look at the positions we got into – and we showed a direct clip in the meeting – the Whitecaps got in the exact same position that we got Tyrese [Spicer] into and the difference is you've got 5’8” Fafà [Picault] heading it in at the back-post and we just can't beat the first man. Whether the pass is coming in too late or the timing of the cross or the runs aren't clear enough.”

Struggles are a part of the journey. Rome wasn’t built in a day; neither was Manchester City.

“I heard a great quote from [Man City coach Pep] Guardiola this week,” relayed Herdman. “He said the game against Real Madrid, in the first two seasons, he would have lost that game for 4-1, 5-1 (City drew 3-3 away in the first leg of the UEFA Champions League quarterfinal midweek). He said it was the maturity of the players in the chaos to be able to come back to structure and to know how to manage that moment.”

“We are still building as a team,” he contrasted.

“This is a group that have gone from bottom of the league to be within two points of second place. It's a group that's faced its adversity, this week particularly for the first time where it felt [exhales], but [Pep] said it takes time for that group to mature.”

“We haven't been able to get a consistent, cohesive lineup where you're getting the same guys consistently in positions that matter. That's a big part of where this team needs to get to,” Herdman added. “If it took Guardiola two years, it took [defending MLS Cup champions Columbus Crew’s] Wilfried Nancy a year. It takes teams time. It took [Vancouver’s] Vanni Sartini a good two years to get to where he got, which is top of the Western Conference. We just need that bit of time. So this week, back to basics.”

Toronto are still working in the background to add to the squad.

The Primary MLS Transfer Window closes on April 23 and, according to Herdman, the side is “pushing” for reinforcements.

“Absolutely pushing,” he continued. “We've got a pot of money that we've accumulated, maybe not enough to get what we need in and we’re still assessing what might need to go out. If those options or opportunities present themselves, we may make some quick decisions, and if it increases the pot of money that can bring in the quality we need, we'll do it. We'll absolutely do it.”

“If the pot of money is not there to bring in the quality in the area we need it most, then we're not going to put band-aids,” Herdman levelled. “That's been a commitment behind the scenes. Myself and Jason [Hernandez] are on the same page. We can't band-aid this team.”

“If there's a bullseye in a position – they fit the character, they fit the positional profile, they fit the age profile – and we can see them medium term at the club, we’ll pull the trigger, but we can't band-aid this and just panic buy,” he added.

“I'd rather be patient and then see what comes up in the summer window. And I know that will kill the fans, but it also kills the fans when a guy comes in and they feel like there's been no uplift.”

The Secondary MLS Transfer Window opens on July 18.

TFC will be back at BMO Field on April 20 with the visit of the New England Revolution, but before then a tricky away trip to North Carolina awaits.

Charlotte FC head into Saturday winless in their last two outings – a 1-1 draw at home against FC Cincinnati and a 1-0 defeat away to New England.

Toronto defeated Charlotte 1-0 in the home opener at the start of March, but Dean Smith’s side is not to be overlooked.

They are yet to lose through three matches at home and only one game, a 2-0 home win over the Crew, has been decided by more than a single goal.

“They're a very well-organized unit, the tightest team in MLS,” began Herdman. “As I said the first time we played them, they create the game to make it front-to-back very quickly. They're not a team that's going to allow any team just to settle into a rhythm in the game. It's front-to-back and the pressure comes from underneath there.”

“They've built physical profiles in their recruitment to allow that. You look at [Patrick] Agyemang who has come into the front line, 6’4” and gives you that sort of Emile Heskey-type profile where you can go front-to-back quickly, get players underneath, and then if you do give them that space and start to respect the depth that you've got to take away from them, then they will play,” he outlined. “They've got good players like [Ashley] Westwood, [former Canadian international Scott] Arfield, they’ve brought [Israeli forward Liel] Abada in, [formerly of Celtic FC] who is a very clever winger.”

Charlotte score by committee. Six players are tied for the team lead with a single goal, another five have an assist each.

“Where they've changed slightly since we've seen them last, if you watch their last two games, it’s direct football, underneath, second phase, Westwood on it, one pass square, out wide, early cross, regains, resets, force you to play it long, and then they’re back into that rhythm,” Herdman detailed. “At home I don't think we got enough credit for that result. We played some good football in that game. We were able to get possession and stifle them in periods and then it was ugly for a while.”

“We've got to be brave,” he stressed. “That's one thing in this game. We're not built as a team to go front to back. We're in between – we can be direct, but not a direct team – but we can play that way for a period.”

“That means we've got to be brave, we have to try to attack the centre of the pitch to open the width. That will put us at some risk, as it normally does, but the big lesson there is they were stingy and they've stayed stingy,” Herdman closed. “We've self-destructed twice now in the last two games where we just haven't shown that patience and control in a moment where one goal changes the game again.”