Momentum is a curious thing.
When it’s at one’s back, the sky's the limit – when it’s not, everything seems to go against.
Toronto FC will be looking to flip their current heading on Saturday when they travel to Washington D.C. to face D.C. United at Audi Field.
Kickoff has moved from afternoon to early evening with the anticipation of soaring midday temperatures - the match will now begin at 6:30 pm ET.
Interestingly, it was a 2-1 win over D.C. at BMO Field that began TFC’s four-match unbeaten run that spanned the March international break and the start of April, culminating in a victory over the then league-leading Philadelphia Union.
Since then, a series of defeats – away to NYCFC, home and away to FC Cincinnati, away to Vancouver Whitecaps FC, and last weekend in Toronto against Orlando City SC – have followed.
Bob Bradley is not one to overreact.
“When you're in this type of situation and you're building a team, what you don't want to do is come in with different ideas every week,” he said on Thursday. “So there's a consistency of how we want to play and what we want to be about. The response of the players has been positive.”
This season was always going to be full of ups and downs.
“We knew that there was going to be a lot of work to do,” levelled the TFC coach. “We went through a four-game stretch where we felt pretty good and now it's turned into a five-game stretch where we don't feel very good, but that is the nature of team building.”
“The ability to continue to engage guys in a positive way, constructive way, help guys understand that no team becomes a really good team without going through tough stretches – that's a tough part of the job,” explained Bradley. “But coaches know that when a team is still growing in different ways, the balance of how you work through things, the message everyday, the tone, all those things are very important.”
That firm constitution filters through the side.
“We're going through a rough time, but we're doing things that are going to help us to change this. All we have to do is just keep working with the same mentality,” said Carlos Salcedo. “If you analyze the games, we're killing ourselves, but we’re all conscious that now is the time to raise the bar, to do what we have to do, to learn from the mistakes we've made, and to keep moving forward. We're close to getting those good results.”
Having found the back of the net in each of the first nine matches this season, TFC has been shutout in the last three.
The team has been doing all the things that build into goals, just that final piece has been missing.
“We get up around the box enough good times, but the final parts of decisions – the right pass, the right finish, getting enough runners in the box,” listed Bradley. “There's a lot of things there that we must continue to work on.”
“Sharpness, decision making, those are things that determine when you get advantages; whether you get a really good chance, whether you score, whether it just goes away,” he continued. “When we look at our group right now, that part is not at as high a level as it needs to be.”
“It doesn't change the ideas,” Bradley added. “I still think that the advantages are there and we just have to continue to work to improve on how we handle them.”
TFC are certain they are better than their record of late.
“Sometimes numbers lie,” replied Salcedo. “That’s football sometimes.”
This period has coincided with a number of challenges – injuries, health and safety protocols, red cards and suspensions, bounces, luck, and refereeing decisions – it’d be easy to make excuses.
“We don't want to blame it on all those things,” stressed Salcedo. “That shows the character of the team, the team spirit. We've gone through all these things and that's going to help us: these things make you closer to your teammates, closer to the coaching staff, closer to everyone that works at the team. That's the mentality we have.”
The team and Salcedo himself.
“I'm always positive. I'm one of those guys that believes that everything happens for a reason. That’s life,” he said. “I'm not that guy who's going to be crying for the things that are happening to me. I focus more in the present. And the present is to go to D.C. and be ready for the match on Saturday.”
D.C. enter Saturday’s action on the back of a 2-0 loss at home to NYCFC on Wednesday night, snapping a two-game unbeaten run.
The team parted ways with Hernán Losada following a 3-0 US Open Cup win over Flower City Union at the end of April, Chad Ashton has taken over the managerial duties on an interim basis.
Since then D.C. has gotten results in three of five league matches – home wins over the New England Revolution and the Houston Dynamo either side of a defeat away to the Columbus Crew – the defeat by NYCFC was preceded by a 2-2 draw away to Inter Miami CF.
D.C. were however bounced from the cup, losing 3-0 at Audi Field to the New York Red Bulls in the next round.
The arrival of designated player Taxi Fountas, who has five goals and two assists in six matches, has helped.
“Ashton has kept some of the same ideas,” outlined Bradley. “Still primarily playing with three in the back, some version of 3-4-2-1. Fountas has been a good addition, his quickness, his intelligence as one of the two underneath the nine. His ability to create for others and to get goals has been very important for them in this last stretch.”
“They rely still on [Julian] Gressel coming forward, [Brad] Smith coming forward as wing-backs, getting different kinds of crosses into the box,” he continued. “Pretty good on attacking set-pieces. They have had some issues defending corners, which hurt them [Wednesday] night. A team that responded to a coaching change and are now working through things.”
Fountas’ five goals has him level with Ola Kamara for the team lead, Gressel, who was partially rested midweek leads the side with five assists.
United took the lead in that March meeting with Russell Canouse scoring in the 10th minute, but Alejandro Pozuelo responded in the 24th minute and Jonathan Osorio scored the game-winner shortly after the restart.
TFC will be looking to that result, hoping to build on it.
“It's more up to what we do with the ball, without the ball,” replied Salcedo, asked about the upcoming opponent. “And try to get a shutout. We’ve been close – Vancouver, NYCFC here at home, this past one against Orlando. There's things that us as defenders have to provide, we take that responsibility.”
“We've played them already. We're reviewing the video,” he added. “Every week we expect the best team from the other side.”