Toronto FC picked up a tricky away point on Saturday night with a 1-1 draw at Minnesota United.
Lorenzo Insigne put the Reds ahead in the 58th minute, capping off a devastating attacking move that began when Federico Bernardeschi burst up the middle of the pitch, skipping past a few defenders. Bernardeschi tried to thread a ball for CJ Sapong, but recovered possession when it didn’t come off to play wide to Richie Laryea. Laryea then played a ball from the right through the box for Insigne to put home at the back-post.
Minnesota ratcheted up the pressure, but Toronto held firm and were minutes away from a massive win on the road. Toronto survived a scare in the 87th minute when Aimé Mabika got a huge block in on Ménder Garcia and Sean Johnson made an equally important stop two minutes later from a Bongokuhle Hlongwane header, but the rebound fell to Kervin Arriaga at the top of the box and his low drive took a deflection before nestling into the left-corner of the goal to equalize.
“When you work that hard, you want the group to take three points, especially when you consider the tough stretch we've been through,” said Bob Bradley post-match. “On that end there's real disappointment there tonight.”
“Late, it's just a matter of dealing with some plays,” he continued. “They're sending numbers forward and our ability to either stop a cross, defend a little bit better when the first ball got cleared. It allowed them to keep the pressure on. Yeah, a tough one.”
Said Mabika: “It's disappointing to drop two points there at the end.”
“We worked really hard, the team did really well, didn't give too much away and to drop points in the last two minutes feels similar to the Austin game,” he continued. “And even this week, on Wednesday, it feels like we dropped points, but then again, it's an MLS game on the road so a point isn't the worst thing ever.”
“The fact that we're getting to a point where we feel like a draw almost feels like a loss on the road is a good sign and a step in the right direction,” Mabika pointed out. “It's three games unbeaten now. That should have been a win. Earlier in the week the game should have been a win, but that's football. We move on and try to take as many positives as we can get from this game and try to keep going on that road that we've been on for the last 10 days or so.”
That both Insigne and Bernardeschi were involved in the goal was no surprise. Toronto’s best look in the first half came when Bernardeschi snuck over to the left to combine with his countryman to play Kobe Franklin down the left – his ball to the back-post couldn’t find any takers.
At half-time Bradley tweaked the formation, shifting Bernardeschi into the middle of the park and bringing Deandre Kerr in on the right. The Italians combined once more on the left in the 52nd minute to find Sapong close to goal, but he couldn’t turn and the passage ended with a Kerr shot from the top of the box.
Six minutes later the two were involved in the breakthrough.
“We always work to get those guys in positions where they can play off of each other,” said Bradley. “Even when they both play wide, we encourage them to come inside, to be narrow, we do different things so that they are not only playing on opposite sides of the field. We do that all the time.”
“And on a night like tonight it gets Fede into some spots more central,” he explained. “With the possibility that it's going to get him some shots, it's going to give us the possibility that he can play the right ball forward, and it's also going to give us a little something different with Deandre coming on fresh.”
After Toronto took the lead, Minnesota went to their bench, bringing on talisman Emanuel Reynoso for his first appearance of the season and the momentum shifted.
“It happens,” said Mabika. “Ideally, when you go up a goal, you want to keep doing everything you had been doing before, continuing to play in the opposition's half, but as the game goes on the other team starts sending numbers forward.”
“They leave some spaces in behind, unfortunately we weren't able to capitalize on some of our transition moments, but they started getting corners, a lot of shots; there weren't really big time chances,” he continued. “There was a big momentum swing, but we're on the road and a tough place to play. We knew at some point in this game we're going to have to dig deep and we were two minutes away from getting a really good result.”
Toronto couldn’t find a relief valve.
“We needed to, when we got the ball, find a way to play up the field and move out,” said Bradley. “They kept us deep, the set-pieces add up, and that leads to a lot of the pressure.”
Since the win over D.C. United last week TFC are unbeaten in three matches, as Mabika pointed out. Add in the draw against the New York Red Bulls and they have gotten results in four of their last five matches.
The performances are just about there, the results have not yet followed.
“When you look at our points compared to our performances, there's a lot of points that we've left on the table,” said Mabika. “When I got here the message I got is that games early in the season where we got a point should have been three points and I could point out two or three games [since].”
“That's football,” he continued. “We've been unfortunate in some of these games where the performance is really good, just that little missing touch. Today, on the road at Minnesota, really tough place to play, and we lead for 88 minutes of the game, don't give much away, and then we dropped two points at the end. We do have to be disappointed – I don't think TFC plays for draws – but we take it as a positive still. Everyone working hard, looks like a real team. If we keep going on this road, it's more sustainable.”
Through 17 matches, the half-way point of the season, Toronto has drawn nine of them.
“There is a feeling of disappointment when you draw games that you probably should win and then there's some draws where maybe you're happy with it,” balanced Mabika, asked if the side was tired of sharing the points. “A draw is better than a loss, especially on the road, so it depends on the game.”
Added Bradley: “You look at each game and you take away details.”
“Tonight a lot of guys competed and physically put a lot into it, especially with a quick turnaround,” he highlighted. “There are things there that if we can continue to build on are positive moving forward.”
Toronto will now have a full week to prepare for their next outing with the visit of Nashville SC to BMO Field on Saturday.
“They're on a great run. They've been one of the better teams in the league. Really good players, they have the reigning MVP, [Hany Mukhtar], they have really good players, but so do we,” said Mabika. “We expect a really good game, we’re at home.”
“The next couple of days will be about getting some guys rested. We've had a lot of games, so just rest and getting ready for that game,” he closed. “It will be another big game.”