At the end of a busy week, Toronto FC picked up a valuable away point with a 0-0 draw against the New England Revolution at Gillette Stadium.
If anything, with Federico Bernardeschi rattling the woodwork and Lorenzo Insigne seeing his penalty kick turned away, TFC felt they deserved all three.
“It's never an easy game here,” said Bob Bradley post-match. “The mentality of the team was good. We raised our level in the second half and that's important. You hope that when you do those things and you create some chances, especially a penalty, that you take three points.”
“We've got to keep going on that end,” he added. “But there were positives.”
Gillette has never been particularly kind to TFC.
“Since I've been here this has been one of our toughest away trips,” said Alex Bono, who made his 150th MLS appearance for the club. “To come in with a 0-0 draw... I thought that we had enough to win, everyone in that locker room thinks we had enough to win and it was just a matter of we didn't quite put it in the net.”
“We defended really well. I felt really comfortable all game, the centre-backs were awesome,” he continued. “Michael [Bradley] did a ton of work, Oso [Jonathan Osorio] and Jayden [Nelson] too, controlling the midfield for us. I thought we had enough to win and so a little disappointed that we didn't, but you take the point and you move on.”
TFC has conceded just one goal in the three matches this week, earning back-to-back clean-sheets in MLS play.
“We've taken a turn in terms of trying to be stingy defensively,” noted Bono. “The guys that are putting in the work in front of me have been working their asses off to limit crosses, limit chances. That's exactly, as a goalkeeper, what you like to see.”
Between the addition of Domenico Criscito, Chris Mavinga’s return, Lukas MacNaughton stepping up, and Doneil Henry getting his first minutes back with the club – not forgetting some stalwart performances from Shane O’Neill who was rested on Saturday, it’s been a marked change.
“It was good to get Chris back on the field; he and Lukas worked well together,” said Bradley. “New England is a team that plays a lot of crosses and so they handled the crosses as well. Mimmo continues to get fitter. He's smart, his positioning is very good. On that end, good game.”
“I would also mention that in some of these recent games, Lukas MacNaughton has been more and more confident; has done well,” he added. “Those are important so that we can be a stronger, more balanced team. Then when Chris had to come off tonight, Doneil was solid, helped us finish the game.”
That end secured, the designated Italians, Insigne and Bernardeschi, were nearly the game-breakers.
Insigne was dangerous throughout the 90.
He nearly opened the scoring before half-time when his countryman Bernardeschi played him down the right, only for Djordje Petrovic to stay big and get the block. Insigne returned the favour with a lovely ball down the right when play resumed, but Henry Kessler read Bernardeschi’s intent to cut onto his left-foot.
“He's stayed in the game in a good way,” said Bradley. “He’s disappointed afterwards with himself.”
“As the game went on, you get a little bit more used to some of the bounces. He had some moments where he was just frustrated with touches and things like that, but he stuck with it, he got some chances,” he continued. “He's always, in terms of finding space, seeing certain passes, being creative, he does a lot of good things.
And when Deandre Kerr was fouled in the area, there was no doubt Insigne would be taking the spot kick. After a lengthy video review, his attempt was denied by Petrovic in the 81st minute.
“It was a great save,” said Bono. “He was at full stretch, he read it right. Lorenzo put it on target and he made a save, what are you going to do? You know that Lorenzo was disappointed, but these things happen and we move on.”
Bernardeschi, who provided the inviting cross that led to MacNaughton’s equalizer in Vancouver on Tuesday, nearly broke open the game himself in the 58th minute with a venomous strike that caromed off the woodwork.
“I had a really good angle, there was no one in the way of me, Federico, and the post,” positioned Bono. “I had my hands up. I thought for sure it was going to go in and it almost just kind of knuckled at the last second and just rang off the post.”
“You could feel the air leave the building for a second as it was travelling,” he explained. “You can always tell how hard a shot is when it hits the post by the sound that it makes. And that was thunderous. That would have been a pretty special goal.”
Three games into their MLS careers, Insigne and Bernardeschi went 45 minutes in their debut and each played a full 90 – Bernardeschi in Vancouver and Insigne at New England – while putting in a solid shift in the other match. In a week they have sampled a lot of the challenges the league presents.
“It's trial by fire for them,” said Bono. “Welcome to the league, you get a cross country trip and time difference to Vancouver to play inside on turf in a final and then quick turnaround you got to fly out again and play in a football stadium on turf in New England.”
“I'd like to tell them that they've seen some of the toughest conditions with the flights and the fields,” he added. “And tell them that it gets better, so just stick with it.”
Said Bradley: “For both Lorenzo and Federico this is still like preseason.”
“There's been so few training sessions that we've even had, regular, full training sessions – the day before a game or recovery day, those aren't real training sessions. These guys are trying to jump in, understand the league, get a feel for things, travel, different kinds of surfaces,” he elaborated. “It's not easy.”
“I really appreciate the way these guys go about it,” Bradley added. “They see what we're trying to do and they feel good about it and those are things that we want to build on.”
Saturday was a special one for Bono, not only for the clean-sheet and the 150th appearance, but because his family was in attendance.
“I was really happy that they were able to make it,” said the goalkeeper. “Every time they make it to a game it’s special for me. I know the effort that they put in and the time they spend to come and watch me play. They know that I appreciate it more than anything to see them up in the crowd and look at them after the game and see their smiles. It means the world to me.”
A hectic week in the rear-view, attention now turns to the training field ahead of another away trip to face Nashville SC on Saturday.
“Rest, recover, look at some tape from this game and take what we can from it. We should feel confident that we had enough to win the game today,” said Bono. “Get our bodies right, get our minds right, and keep pushing for a playoff spot. That's the goal.”
“Everyone knows it and there's not one person that thinks that we can’t do it,” he added. “We're excited to keep pushing.”
Toronto are not satisfied.
“Would we prefer three points? Absolutely. Do I think we could have taken three points? Yes,” levelled Bradley. “But what I've seen in these three games gives me a positive feeling about the direction that the group is going.”
“As you get near the end, every game is hard. There are no easy games. And as you throw in travel and different conditions the challenge of this time of the year in MLS is great,” he added. “There's a lot to work on, but the group is resilient, strong, and getting better.”