Toronto FC

Reds suffer heartbreak with 3-2 defeat at Charlotte, despite Owusu's double strike


Toronto FC lost 3-2 away to Charlotte FC at Bank of America Stadium on Saturday night.

Kerwin Vargas opened the scoring for the hosts in the 39th minute, pouncing on the second ball after a long aerial pass before placing a low right-footed shot into the bottom left corner. Prince Owusu, off the bench at the start of the second half, drew TFC level in the 49th minute, redirecting a ball from Federico Bernardeschi at close range.

Charlotte retook the lead in the 70th minute when Liel Abada pounced on an errant pass to surge in down the right and bank his shot in off the far-post, but Owusu was on the doorstep again eight minutes later to respond off a good attacking move from Toronto.

Bernardeschi darted up the right before curling in-field to find Jonathan Osorio, who helped it on to Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty on the opposite side. His low cross took a slight deflection before falling into the path of Owusu, lurking at the back-post.

Back level, TFC were punished in the 85th minute for not regaining their shape quickly enough off a half-cleared defensive corner allowing Brecht Dejaegere time and space on the right to pick out the near-post run of Patrick Agyemang, much to the chagrin of the TFC head coach.

“We can't afford to give up goals like that,” said John Herdman post-match. “We had that conversation in the huddle. There were so many things that I liked about the performance – from a structural perspective, coming to a tough place like Charlotte with a team that's got a lot of quality in it, quality manager as well – so to score two goals away and not come away with something, it's really disappointing.”

“I was proud of the work that was put in; proud of how we were able to take momentum in big parts of the game. I wasn't happy with crosses that we're putting in the box and just not really taking the chances that I feel teams have been taking against us,” he balanced. “I have to look at those goals. That set-piece is just criminal for us.”

“The group are very disappointed that we gave some sloppy goals away. The direct play, we have three players underneath and they’re able to get a shot off,” described Herdman of the opener. “There's a giveaway on the edge of our own area when we are in control of the game, we have good possession – for an away match, we had control, and then the set-piece was, for me, mind-blowing.”

“But it's where we're at,” he added. “As a manager there's things you can coach, there's things you can organize, but there's some things that are going to take time for this team to understand, learn, and we're going to have to go through those tough moments. But massive amount of pride. As I said to them, ‘I’ll go to war with that team every week if that’s who we are.’”

The two-goal man was equally disappointed. 

“It's tough,” said Owusu. “We wanted to win this game.”

“I came from the bench and tried my best to help the team. We played a good game. Away at Charlotte, we knew it wouldn't be easy. We knew it would be a tough game,” he continued. “How we responded, getting those two goals, tells a lot about the team, we don't give up.”

“But this is tough. We put a shift in today and showed up to the game,” Owusu concluded. “Obviously the atmosphere in the dressing room [post-match] was not that good, but we keep going, keep doing our game, how we want to play, and trust in the process. We will figure out what we did good, what not so good, and play better the next game.”

On the heels of two losses, the first real tough stretch of the new season, Herdman urged his side back to basics in the build-up to Charlotte. Aside from a few looks from range for each, the first half-hour was very similar to those opening three matches.

“That's why I'm so upset with the goals we gave away,” agreed Herdman. “We were so unprofessional on at least one of the goals, but we were so professional in other areas in an away performance.”

“We grew into the game, which you have to in away matches. The discipline, the tactical tightness. We talked about how important it was to keep a tight team and then pick our moments to attack until the game starts to open up,” he continued. “We controlled the possession, had a higher percentage there, almost twice the xG they had, almost equalled their shots and crosses in a tough away environment.”

“That was what I said right at the end, ‘Lads, this is the sort of TFC performances that we have been asking for,’” Herdman shared. “‘We are back to who we should be, but those moments, we have to clean them up. We have to clean them up.’”

Production from the centre-forward position was another positive on the night with the big German scoring twice.

“I was really happy with Prince,” said Herdman. “He's been an outstanding professional over the last three/four weeks as we gave opportunities to different players and certainly took his opportunity.”

“Tactically we made a [midfield] adjustment from a diamond to a box. Attacking-wise, the last ten minutes of the first half we were getting a good rhythm in the game. We kept the box [in the second half] and that helped him,” continued the coach. “With a diamond, DK [Deandre Kerr] was a little isolated with Osorio trying to get underneath him, but with Prince up there and having two players underneath him really helped him get free and those channel runs opened him up off the front.”

“We saw some good play from Prince tonight. I was really happy with his threat in the box. He was in the right spaces at the right time and just showed a different desire to score,” Herdman noted. “Real big step for him. That's his first brace for the club and it's a positive step forward in an area that we have been challenging the players.”

Owusu now has three goals in his last four appearances.

“As a striker you have to be always calm and trust in your abilities and your game,” he said. “I knew I would get my chances. I knew if I [was] in the box, I will be a threat, a dangerous spot for the opponent team.”

“This is what I tried to do today – [try to do] in all my games – I thank God I could score two goals. For me personally it's a good feeling, but at the end of the day, we lost the game and the team is the most important thing, the three points, as well,” Owusu added. “I can't be that happy today.”

The striker wasn’t the only one not happy at the final whistle.

“Of course people are disappointed, angry and sad, but this is part of the game. Football can be really beautiful and also really, really tough and hard,” reflected the goal-scorer. “We deserved one point today and Charlotte punished us.” 

“They took advantage of their momentum. We had a couple moments on our side, but we didn't use [it],” Owusu added. “If you don't use it in an away game, especially in Charlotte, you get punished.”

It was a third-straight defeat for Toronto, but this one was not the same as losses to Sporting KC and Vancouver Whitecaps FC.

“The story last week was we were too eager and didn't manage those chaos moments trying to get a goal back and just being more patient,” compared Herdman. “Tonight, and I said at half-time, ‘1-0 down in Charlotte, you're in the game. Tactically, we feel good. You're right where you need to be. You can come back.’”

“And I genuinely believed that we would get good opportunities in this game and take them,” he added. “Tonight felt different, the comeback was there.”

Toronto will be back in action next Saturday when the New England Revolution come to BMO Field.

Nurse the wounds, get back on the training pitch, and prepare to go again.

“We trust in the process. We trust in our game, in our strategy. We know what to do,” underlined Owusu. “Football is a sport [where] if you make mistakes then the opponent [can] punish you.”

“We didn't make a lot of mistakes today, but the end result shows that we made one mistake too much and that's why we go home today with zero points,” he closed. “This game will not break us. We know we have quality on this team and we showed our quality in the long term of the match. So we keep going, go into every game with this mindset to win, against any team, and stick to it.”