Toronto FC will be back at BMO Field again this weekend with the visit of Inter Miami CF on Saturday evening.
A 1-1 draw with the Columbus Crew last weekend was somewhat bittersweet. Collecting a point in a second-straight match after the draw in Atlanta is always a positive and it was great to be home after opening the MLS regular season with a pair of road matches, but having taken a lead in the first half Toronto were forced to share the spoils when Columbus levelled on a play that developed out of virtually nothing.
“It's frustrating at that moment, but at the same time, athletes in general, you’ve just got to adapt and leave things in the past,” said Ayo Akinola on Friday. “In that moment it is frustrating, you're close to a win but then you give up a late goal. Leave that in the past and just focus on the next game.”
TFC has held a lead in all three of their outings this season, but has not yet been able to see one out.
One of the major areas to be addressed in the off-season was the number of big chances the team allowed their opponents.
D.C. scored their three goals on an expected goals (xG) of 0.8, Atlanta needed a pair of deflections to beat Sean Johnson in the second, and while Columbus caused some trouble it took a line-breaking pass shortly after an innocuous throw-in (and a little help from the VAR) to find the back of the net.
“The goals are sometimes a little bit strange, coming from situations that are not easy to replicate,” said Bob Bradley, asked how he was using the lessons of the opening three matches in training. “The play last week, how it developed, is a little bit weird. It's not a good goal to give up.”
TRAINING SOUND | Bob Bradley - March 17, 2023
“Are there things, positionally, that could have been better right away on the throw-in? Yes, so we'll look at stuff and make sure they understand that, for example, every time the ball goes out – goal-kick, throw-in – are we organizing ourselves quickly enough?” he continued. “There are little details of just doing things right as a team, doing them faster, that we're trying to emphasize.”
In each outing Toronto had chances to either extend their lead or respond after the opponent levelled, but has not made the most of the opportunities created.
“We've done fairly well to get up and around the box at times, but I don't think we've been as sharp as we can be,” laid out Bradley. “That can be a pass, that can be the timing of a run, that can be getting more guys in the box. All of those things need to improve.”
Going forward Akinola wants to see that killer instinct from his side.
“When we’re in the lead, being a lot more lethal, just try to kill the game where the team doesn't have any chance to recover,” he urged. “We’ve got to have that mentality of just trying to end it.”
“If we get one, let's get the second, let's get the third, where they really can't come back,” Akinola added. “If we get a little bit more of that then I think we're in a good spot.”
Bradley also highlighted the need to manage the ebbs and flows of a match.
“Games usually have periods where maybe you have a little more possession, periods where it drops a little bit,” he outlined. “Second half last week, the first five minutes we stepped up in a good way, they had a hard time getting over midfield. And then for the next 10 minutes, it wasn't that much was happening, but a series of set-pieces, a series of fouls, meant that the game was in our end, it was choppy, we never managed to get a good, firm grip on the game and get back into their end.”
“So our ability to deal with these different moments of the game, be a little more consistent, keep everybody a little bit sharper, more engaged,” Bradley continued. “Ball goes out, how quickly do we organize ourselves? Are we still spread out? Are there still guys thinking about the last play? We hurt ourselves with some of that stuff sometimes.”
All that is the work of this part of the season.
TRAINING SOUND | Ayo Akinola - March 17, 2023
“We’re in good spirits, we're still very positive,” said Akinola of the mood in the group. “It's very early in the season.”
“It's not like we're late in the season, still trying to figure things out,” he continued. “We have more sense of clarity, more understanding of each other and the style of play that Bob wants us to implement. We have a clear understanding of what we need to do on the field.”
Toronto will put that to the test once more this weekend when they welcome Miami to town.
Through the first three matches Phil Neville’s side has been one of the upstarts of the Eastern Conference.
Miami won their opener 2-0 over CF Montreal and followed that up with a 2-0 win over the Philadelphia Union the following weekend. An own-goal proved the difference in a 1-0 defeat away to NYCFC last Saturday.
“It's a different team than last year, effectively five or six different guys,” said Bradley of this weekend’s opponents. “[Sergii] Kryvstov the centre-back, [Franco Negri] the left-back from Argentina is good on the ball. They've added [Corentin] Jean, they've added [Josef] Martínez, who we know, but obviously is different, [Nicolás] Stefanelli – they’ve gotten new parts, some of the ideas are the same.”
“They've had different kinds of games. It's hard when you go through the game last week at Citi Field in New York because it's a tight field,” he continued. “There's good football in the group. [Rodolfo] Pizarro is back, he has qualities that you would say are a little bit like [Alejandro] Pozuelo – somebody who is creative and can make certain kinds of passes. A different team, but still in the same style.”