Toronto FC drew 0-0 with the New York Red Bulls at BMO Field on Wednesday night.
On the back of losses to the New England Revolution and a pair of defeats against CF Montreal, it was a strong response from a depleted side. Toronto had the better of the clear cut chances throughout the 90 – most notably a lovely ball floated to the back-post by Federico Bernardeschi which Lorenzo Insigne directed towards goal, only to be denied by a fine stop from the New York goalkeeper. Other than rattling the crossbar in the second half, the Red Bulls were largely kept at bay.
“The mentality of the group was good,” said Bob Bradley post-match. “We had some good chances, we weren't able to take advantage of that. Guys came in tonight and you could tell when they walked in that they understand the importance of where we are; there was a focus, there was a sense of everybody pushing each other for the whole game, which is important and positive.”
“When you're going through a tough stretch, you need everybody to pull together and understand you can't look for magic,” he continued. “You've got to keep going and you've got to show it when you step on the field. There are still many plays where the quality needs to be better, that includes build-up situations, that includes playing out of the back of times, and some of the moments where we created advantages and got forward.”
POSTGAME SOUND | Bob Bradley - May 17, 2023
With Mark-Anthony Kaye added to the list of players unavailable – Bradley anticipated he would be returning shortly, TFC were without all three of their usual midfielders and both centre-backs. Kosi Thompson and Deandre Kerr, who have seen limited action this season, stepped into the middle of the park – Kerr would be forced off after a clash of heads in the first half – and newcomer Aimé Mabika made a third-straight start, albeit with yet another different partner on the back-line.
“Short numbers, people having to step up, it was good,” said Richie Laryea, after his debut at centre-back. “To get a clean sheet is very important in this league and then we have three/four very clear goalscoring opportunities and we limited them to maybe the one they had off the bar, their real chance the entire game.”
“We defended well, we attacked well, we progressed up the field pretty well especially with some guys coming in that haven't really played a whole lot. That's a big kudos to the guys,” he continued. “[For] a lot of guys that haven't really had minutes to come on and play like that, overall there should be a good feeling in the group. Obviously you're at home and you want to win – I want to win – it’s simple as that, but I thought everything was pretty good today.”
Laryea has been a driving force all season, but even more so in this difficult stretch. Even from an unfamiliar position he was pushing the side forward.
“Never, first time today,” replied Laryea, asked if he’d ever played centre-back. “Bob spent a couple of minutes with me letting me know positioning, moreso the defensive part.”
“On the ball I've played with enough centre-backs and know the spaces that I like them to be in. Defensively, he took me through some stuff,” he continued. “I think I picked up on it well, I had to pick up on it quickly or else.”
Said Bradley: “Richie has been amazing.”
“You can put him anywhere on the field and Richie says, ‘No problem. I'll play here, I'll play there, I'll do whatever for the team.’ His attitude, his mentality, the way he competes,” he continued. “Richie has been amazing lately. Really really proud of him and what he's done for the team in this last stretch of games has been incredible.”
When it feels like results, plays, or calls are going against, it can be hard to keep going. Managing those frustrations is part of the job.
“You’ve got to work on that every day. When teams go through stretches like [this] it can be for a lot of reasons. It can be injuries, it can be bad luck, it can be some key guys are not in great form, but this idea of how you deal with it and how you keep everybody going,” laid out Bradley. “You challenge your big players that they've got to set the example. You challenge your young guys that when it's their time, they're ready to step up. You get everybody to tune out noise.”
“I've been through this enough,” he underlined. “I tell them, ‘Don't be afraid.’ I tell them, ‘Don't listen, don't read. Believe in the work we do every day. This is what it takes, this is football.’”
Echoed Laryea: “It's football.”
POSTGAME SOUND | Richie Laryea - May 17, 2023
“Teams go through stretches like this. We have a good team. We're missing a lot of people. We have young guys playing that haven't had a ton of experience. Everyone's growing right now,” he continued. “It's better to go through stretches like this now versus summer or later in the season.”
“So I understand, but I feel, honestly, proud of the guys. Guys are still trucking along, going, fighting, we come to training every day, we put in the work,” Laryea explained. “[There are] things you guys don't see. You guys just see the results after the games and it might look bad to you, but within the group everyone's working really hard, which is a very positive thing for me.”
“Keeps me going, keeps guys going. It's going to click soon,” he anticipated. “Hopefully this weekend we can go and get a big three points and then start getting a few of the guys back and start going from there.”
Toronto will hit the road this weekend, Texas-bound for a clash with Austin FC. A week later another flurry of matches sees the visits of D.C. United and the Chicago Fire before moving into June with an away date at Minnesota United.
What’s visible above the water line, from the outside, on the match days and in the results is only a small part of the bigger picture. The club feels they are getting closer to where they want to be.
“The conversations that are being had, the meetings that we have, the club wants to win, that's the ambition of the club,” said Laryea, peeling back the curtain a touch. “Everyday we're reminded of that and guys on the team remind guys of that. I'm constantly reminding people of that, it's a big [point of emphasis] of a lot of the veteran guys. It's good that we have many different voices saying the exact same thing and everyone wants to win.”
“Sometimes you hear people say that and they don't really mean it. This group means it,” he closed. “You see it when we come to train, the mood in the group. Yeah, could obviously be a better season, but it’s football. You see people hang their head, probably see me hang my head a few times in games as well, but we keep trucking along. You don't really get to see within our walls, our discussions, arguments amongst ourselves. It shows that everyone cares.”