Toronto FC lost 3-1 away to CF Montreal on Friday night at Stade Saputo.
An early red card to Noble Okello for a high boot, after just five minutes, altered the course of the night before the contest had really begun.
Montreal would take the lead in the 23rd minute when Samuel Piette reacted quickest to a free-kick save from Quentin Westberg tucking in the rebound. Toronto would see out the rest of the first half and find an equalizer in the 58th minute through Ifunanyachi Achara. It was a tidy passage of play: Achara played a through-ball down the right-channel for Yeferson Soteldo, who drew in three defenders before squaring a return pass into the middle for Achara to finish.
But Joaquin Torres added a second for the home side in the 68th minute, finding a gap at the top of the box, and Romell Quioto made it 3-1 seven minutes later.
“We find ourselves with a red card, with a player down, very early in the game,” said Javier Perez post-match. “We know exactly what happens in these kinds of situations: it's just a matter of time until you concede a goal.”
“1-0 at halftime, which is a decent result and then the plan in the second half was to play tight with a 4-4-1, have Yeferson up top, keeping away two defenders at least, and then playing nine vs eight with our goalkeeper from the back. This is the only way to play these kind of games,” he mapped out. “We played well, given the circumstances, and then we scored that goal, but the moment you leave a space in between lines, especially against a team like Montreal that live off the quick transitions, it's a risk and we conceded a couple of goals.”
A difficult month closes with a fourth-straight defeat.
“It was a disappointing result, but the effort was there from the start,” said Achara. “The red card was unfortunate but the guys fought through to the end. Unfortunately the result is what it was.”
Having picked up an assist in his first game back from a lengthy injury absence, the goal was the first for Achara this season and his second in MLS.
“We were working all week, Richie [Laryea] and I, standing on the wing and trying to run off Yeferson and [Alejandro] Pozuelo, that was one of the moments,” he explained. “When I made the pass, I realized that if he turns around, there's going to be an open space in the back-post. So I just tried my best to get there in time and luckily the ball dropped right there.”
“It means a lot,” Achara replied, asked what it meant for him. “I was really excited to get on the score-sheet and help the team comeback to 1-1. It's like all the work we've been putting in over the last 17 months, that was my reward right there, so that was good. Excited about it, happy and we'll just work off it next game and try to score some more so we can win more games and win some points.”
With 12 games left and as many points, before the rest of this weekend’s fixtures, between TFC and the final playoff spot, the club is not throwing in the towel.
“It's still possible and if there's a little possibility, we're still going to push to make the playoffs,” said Achara. “One game at a time. Our focus is on the next game, Cincinnati, and if we win that game and get three points, we go from there and one by one we see where we're going to be at the end of the season.”
“But the full focus in everybody's mind is to win the rest of the games we have,” he added. “And, hopefully, teams in the front drop some points and we'll see where we're at.”
Until the math says so, nothing is impossible. But Perez did allow that other objectives lie ahead as well.
“We cannot rule out the playoffs because we can still go on a run, but we have different tasks,” he explained. “One is keep trying to climb to the playoff spot. As well we have the cup ahead of us. It's going to come very fast and we are going to have to build the team for that competition because that's always one title that we can fight for.”
“And [finding opportunities for] the younger players is something that we cannot dismiss,” Perez added. “Noble was today on the field, but five other players were playing today with TFC II. These players are the future of the club. We have to keep looking at them and developing them.”
Toronto will next take the field on September 11 with a trip to Ohio to face FC Cincinnati.
“We have work to do,” began Perez. “The next couple of days, the players are going to be off for the weekend, they are going to come in on Monday and from Monday we are going to work again. We have a number of players that go [on international duty, but the rest of us] have some time to work together.”
“We can get a fresher look to the performances that we have and give a final push for the end of the season,” he closed. “I firmly believe that [this struggle] is going to make us stronger. This is going to be an experience that we have to go through as a team, individually together, and as a club.”