Toronto FC lost a tough one 1-0 on Sunday afternoon to Vancouver Whitecaps FC.
Former Red Tosaint Ricketts scored the game’s only goal in the 90th minute, tapping in a Lucas Cavallini ball on a fast break up-field with TFC pushing numbers towards the Whitecaps goal – his muted celebration was a sign of respect for his old club.
It was a game with a lot of talking points – a saved Alejandro Pozuelo penalty kick, a controversial foul call that denied Jayden Nelson the opening goal – but none of that changes the result.
“I feel bad for the group,” said Bob Bradley post-match. “A lot of guys put big efforts out there today and to come away with nothing.... Yeah, I feel bad for these guys.”
“[It’s] a reminder that sometimes it's not fair and yet we've got to keep a positive way, we've got to keep fighting together,” he continued. “I really want to make sure that they keep coming in and helping their teammates every day and realize that if we stick together and do the right things, we'll get through it.”
One could go to the thesaurus for any number of adjectives, but tough is good enough.
“It’s tough. That was a really tough game,” said defender Shane O’Neill. “I thought we had a lot of control for most of it, the game was there to be won.”
“Maybe if we had just raised our level a little bit we would have won. We had big opportunities. There were chances to win the game, but it's just so frustrating to give up a late goal like that,” he continued. “In those moments, myself included, obviously, we’ve just got to raise our level a little bit because that was a winnable game.”
Minutes away from a clean sheet in difficult circumstances, Toronto were stung by that late Vancouver strike. Other than the goal and a handful of half-chances, TFC had largely kept the home side at bay.
“Guys were really committed,” said O’Neill of the defensive effort. “Lukas [MacNaughton] made some big plays, Kosi [Thompson, playing as a right-back in the second half] made some big plays, Alex [Bono] made some big saves like he's been doing. And collectively I thought we were a lot better. We were a lot better dealing with dangerous situations.”
“Just in the last minute or two, we started to really throw numbers forward and the game got a little bit hectic. Those are the moments where you’ve got to be really dialed in defensively,” he added. “So to give up a goal like that, it's really, really frustrating.”
After a busy three-game week that saw trips to Cincinnati and Vancouver, TFC will have six days to rest, recover, and prepare for a clash with Orlando City SC on Saturday at BMO Field.
The disappointment will linger, but not for long. Athletes must have short memories.
“The last week has been challenging,” levelled O’Neill. “It's been a big challenge. It's a mental test – that's what it is really.”
“It’s a challenge of everyone’s collective spirit and our togetherness and how much belief we have,” he continued. “Today we took a step in the right direction because we started the game strong – the last few weeks we’ve started games slowly. We backed ourselves from the very beginning and we believed in ourselves and that's extremely important.”
“I know those are just buzzwords, but at the end of the day it's important. Now we’ve just got to find a way to raise the level when the game is tight in the second half because I think if we had done that we would have for sure won the game,” O’Neill added. “Now it's just about that a little bit more when the game is tight.”
Call it tough, call it a challenge, call it growing pains.
Whatever one terms it, it’s about moving forward.
“[I tell them] that if we can manage the frustration, if we can manage the challenges of having things coming at us in different ways, tough ways – between missing some players and days where maybe either we make a mistake or we don't take advantage of something, little football things,” stressed Bradley. “But if the bigger part can continue, if we can keep finding the right ways to push forward, I believe this team has it in them to get better.”
“Just try to keep finding the part that reminds them that this is how teams grow,” he continued. “The work for this group to become a good team was always going to take some time and was going to have ups and downs. This last stretch has been downs, but we've got to have the mentality and be strong together.”