Toronto FC lost to FC Cincinnati on Saturday night, falling 2-0 at TQL Stadium in Ohio.
Brenner opened the scoring in the 39th minute, getting his foot to a floated ball to the back-post from Luciano Acosta who found a pocket of space on the left. Haris Medunjanin made it 2-0 in the 58th minute when his left-footed shot from the top of the box took a pair of deflections en route to goal.
It was not the return to action that Javier Perez envisioned during the international break.
“I see one-half where the team came out in a 4-4-2, trying to get runs inside the box, create opportunities, and instead we conceded a little bit of space in the middle,” analyzed the coach. “Between Medunjanin and [Yuya] Kubo, they were taking over that space. Then the second half when we changed the shape, we regained more control with the substitutions, but it was a little bit too little, too late. They scored the second goal and we didn't have the opportunity to get back in the game.”
“The players gave everything they have and we have another game on Tuesday,” Perez continued. “We will be tomorrow in regen at the training facility, preparation on Monday, and it's a quick turnaround for our game against Miami.”
After a trying August, it was a tough start to September.
“It was a difficult one,” said Dom Dwyer. “We were in the game for a while, couldn't really get a hold of the game or control of the game and we conceded. And then the second one hit us hard and we weren't able to get ourselves back into the game.”
“We're disappointed, but we've got another one Tuesday,” he added. “So we regroup, recover, train tomorrow, and then get back to work on Tuesday at home.”
Two weeks of preparation were altered when Alejandro Pozuelo picked up a late knock.
“We have Alejandro planning to start and the news comes Thursday night that he cannot play and we have to change the plan. Obviously everybody has to be ready, but that affects mentally the team, especially in the situation where we are right now,” explained Perez. “So between that and players coming from international break, it's a little bit difficult to get all the parts ready for the game.”
“Everybody tries to do the job, we were there for 40 minutes,” he added. “And then we conceded that goal that put us in a more vulnerable position.”
Coming off the first three-game international break, returning players were always going to be overtaxed. Perez opted to hold the likes of Jonathan Osorio, Yeferson Soteldo, Kemar Lawrence, Richie Laryea, and Eriq Zavaleta in reserve.
“We knew that some of the guys were coming – and this is new in the international break, three games in a row, 90 minutes pretty much in all three. Others like Yeferson travelled for almost 24 hours to get here, he got here last night, so we need to give a rest to these guys,” said Perez. “And then you've been working with a group for the past week-and-a-half/two weeks and these players deserve a chance to prove that they can play and they can compete.”
Saturday was the first of the 12 remaining matches that will close out the 2021 regular season. Refreshed and looking to reset on the heels of a seven-game winless streak last month, the baggage of this year remains a millstone.
“It's definitely the most challenging season of my personal career,” admitted Perez. “And most players in the locker room and the staff can say the same thing. I’ve never encountered so many difficulties and, as I said before, when it looks like things cannot go worse, they go worse.”
“But the only thing you can do is just to stay positive, stay calm,” he continued. “I know the group in and out. I see in the faces that they want to turn this around. We are in a really, really bad dynamic, but I'm positive that we can turn this around. It's only ourselves that can get out of the hole. We have to overcome all the difficulties and start to put points now that we go back home.”
Said Dwyer: “We're frustrated, but the group is together, and I think that's very important.”
“When things don't go your way, it's easy to step away from each other; the group is united and together and we know we can only get ourselves out of this,” he echoed. “So we'll dig deep, we'll stick together and get back to work. We know we have a tough hill to climb to make it to the playoffs, but we'll take it one game at a time.”
Toronto won’t have to wait long to get back on the pitch with the visit of Inter Miami CF to BMO Field on Tuesday night.
The search for answers continues.
“We have to find them in the game against Miami. That's the place we are looking for [them],” said Perez. “When we concede a goal, the body language reflects the frustration of the players, the way the season has been developing. We try mentally to overcome these obstacles.”
“I [told] them today that we have to put aside the position on the table and reboot and restart again,” stressed Perez. “This was not the best game to do that, but against Miami it has to be a game that we have a different mentality.”