Toronto FC

Toronto FC battle to a 2-2 draw against D.C. United: "We'll learn from it”


Toronto FC collected a second-consecutive point on the road with a 2-2 draw against D.C. United at Audi Field on Saturday night.

Derrick Etienne Jr. opened the scoring in the 2nd minute, arriving at the top of the box to get on the end of a ball from Federico Bernardeschi, placing his finish to the right-side of goal and Bernardeschi himself added the second in the 33rd minute when a ball from Raoul Petretta played him up the right and he was allowed to pick out the far-corner with a low shot.

D.C. would pull one back in the 79th minute when Ted Ku-Dipietro reacted quickest to the rebound from a Jared Stroud shot saved by Sean Johnson setting up a dramatic finish.

Both Bernardeschi and Nicksoen Gomis were sent off for second yellow cards, Mateusz Klich equalized for the home side in the 95th minute from the penalty spot after video review overturned the on-field non-call, and D.C. nearly stole the winner, but an offside in the build-up denied Stroud’s game winner.

“We carried on from where we picked up against Philly,” said John Herdman post-match. “It was a terrific start for us, first half. We probably could have been in 3-1, had some really good chances.”

“Second half, 2-0 scoreline, we were in that balance of trying to control the game, [Christian] Benteke goes out and you think all the cards now are stacked in your favour to see the match out,” he continued. “In football matches, the goal, the red card, the second red card, they're all turning points. From what I've seen in MLS, there is no ‘game over’ on the road, ever.”

“We're disappointed, the dressing room,” Herdman levelled. “We've said what needed to be said, players have owned key moments. Last year we would have celebrated a point on the road, but this is a different mindset from this group – they know they dropped two points tonight that might be crucial in the race, but we picked up a point and that might be crucial as well.”

“Two away results,” he concluded, adding in the scoreless draw at Philadelphia midweek. “We'll take that at this stage, but we’re disappointed for sure.”

Getting off to a bright start was part of the grand design; conceding twice late was not.

“We had a very good start to the game,” said Etienne. “We emphasized that, had a game plan, we went out there to executed well. The second half we just didn't play enough, we didn't do everything that we needed to do to get the three points.”

“Everyone is disappointed in that because we feel like that's two points lost,” he continued. “To go up 2-0 and tie the game 2-2 that’s very disappointing. We knew that 2-0 is a dangerous score-line, but we just weren't able to get that third goal. It makes it tough when you're playing a team like D.C. who are fighting for points, fighting for their lives. A good start, but weren't able to put a full 90-minute spell together, so that's disappointing.”

“We let that game slip away and we're a team that is striving to be a championship team, that's striving to win trophies,” Etienne added. “We had the game in our hands and we weren't able to put the game away. When you leave desperate teams in the game, this is exactly what happens. We'll learn from it.”

Herdman was pleased with the attacking elements on the night. Both goals came from deliberate, well-crafted moves.

The first saw Kevin Long find TFC captain Jonathan Osorio on the right touch-line, he drove in-field before playing Bernardeschi down the right with a neat ball. The maverick Italian drove into the penalty area before spotting the lane to Etienne arriving at the top of the box. Rather than blast it, the newcomer steadied himself and picked his spot, cushioning his finish to the open side.

Etienne wheeled away in celebration, of the wiggling-finger moose-eared variety, with a smile on his face.

“Scoring is the most fun part of the game, so to be able to score was good,” he explained afterwards. “My parents were in the crowd, it's their anniversary. My mom told me I was going to score, so when I scored, I was happy I was able to get a goal in front of them.”

“[Scoring against D.C.] is special for me, being born in Northern Virginia,” Etienne smiled again. “More so being able to give my parents an anniversary gift.”

The Richmond, Virginia-native has been a quick fit with his new side, having arrived at the end of April.

“The guys, the quality that's in the locker room, makes it very easy for me,” replied Etienne, asked how he has adapted so seamlessly. “Prince [Owusu], DK [Deandre Kerr], Oso [Osorio], Fede [Bernardeschi], Lorenzo [Insigne] – I can keep going, there is just so much quality.”

“When you play with good players, it brings out the best in you,” he continued.

“The guys have welcomed me, they've been encouraging, and they’ve let me be the player that I am. I felt like when I got here I could help bring something to the team and I just want to continue doing that.”

It was his first MLS goal for TFC and second in all competitions, having scored in the Canadian Championship against CS Saint-Laurent.

He is enjoying his football.

“I was excited to be here, to play with the guys in the locker room,” Etienne explained. “When you're playing with this much quality, it makes the game easy for you. You have more time, have more space. When you have guys like Fede, Oso, Lorenzo, everyone is really worried about them, so you get less attention and I'm able to make little plays when I can.”

“To be enjoying football is the most important thing for me,” he continued. “I grew up watching Ronaldinho, he was one of my favourite players growing up, and the way he enjoyed the game is the way I saw myself.”

“To be able to enjoy the football that's being played brings more confidence,” Etienne added. “And I think you guys are able to see that.”

Toronto’s second was just as clinical, a deep one-two between Petretta and Alonso Coello carved through the D.C. midfield allowing the former to slide a pass up the right-side for Bernardeschi. He again drove into the area and before the defenders could react slotted the finish across former TFC goalkeeper Alex Bono in the opponent’s net.

“Attacking-wise the team found a real top level tonight, particularly in the first half,” said Herdman. “It's just game management, that's the critical part of it.”

The two goals should have been enough.

“At 2-0 I thought we were in control and then it's all about game management, which this team have got to develop,” continued the coach. “Championship teams are able to settle on the ball in those moments and take away that direct rhythm. We just needed to shift rhythm. You can go direct, but then you've got to start getting back into our draw, the play-behind strategy, and opposite-opposite rhythms that you saw in the first half.”

“We were just about to get into that rhythm when they scored their goal,” Herdman observed.

“It was a tricky time: when the crowd gets behind them, fatigue is starting to set in, you're in an away environment where the pressure is coming. We've got to learn how to manage these games.”

The pressure ratcheted up when Ku-Dipietro tucked a rebound into the open net and reached a crescendo three minutes into stoppage-time when Gomis was sent off and D.C. awarded a penalty kick to equalize.

Lost somewhat in the fog of the home side’s first was the return of Richie Laryea, who came on in the 79th minute for Etienne, making his first appearance since the opening game of the season.

It was a more dramatic reintroduction than Herdman had anticipated for the Canadian international.

“I hadn't predicted we would be down to nine men. He was only supposed to be doing something like 15 minutes and it ended up with 12 minutes of extra time,” noted the coach. “It was great having him back.”

“Of course everyone was excited, but I'm sure he'll be not happy conceding two goals,” he continued. “He'll not be happy with that – I know how much of a competitor he is – but it's a big step for this club to have him back.”

“There is no doubt he's going to bring another level to what we've seen already in both attacking and defending,” Herdman highlighted. “Experience is what Richie [Laryea] can bring and the passion for this club. Yeah, great to have him back.”

With the conclusion of the match, TFC have reached the halfway point of the 2024 MLS regular season.

17 games played, 17 more to go.

“There is another level to come from the team,” anticipated Herdman. “Over this last phase, you've seen the growth in areas in our performances, whether it's the clean-sheet at Philly, whether it's being able to deny Benteke and pretty much nullify the threat of D.C. United – he’s scored 13 [goals] prior to this.”

“There’s growth there, but there’s another level and we have got to demand that next level,” he continued. “Where we started, with the players that we had and inherited, they've took big steps together. They can see the steps they've taken, but they want more – we all want more from this club, we all want more in the dressing room, behind the scenes – and we're going to keep pushing for it.”

“The fans have seen what we said we would do: we would fight every game; we would bring the work ethic every game; we’d give them a team that would entertain them; they could be proud of – that's as far as we've come,” Herdman listed. “The level still to be reached is when we see Lorenzo and Richie consistently with Long, Osorio, Owusu back, etc.”

“That consistency in the starting XI,” he closed. “Fingers crossed, one game I would like to see that group playing together. Hopefully when the lads get back from international duty we'll see that.”

Toronto next plays on June 15 when the Chicago Fire come to BMO Field.

Two weeks seems like an eternity given the congestion of May’s schedule. Even Herdman himself, the hardest working man in football, will take a brief pause – after getting some details sorted.

“Follow the process, review the game, look at the stats, get the package ready of the game review, have a look at where we sit in the league, what games surprised us over the weekend, recalibrate our points tally, and then I'll go and walk my dogs,” he said. “Head back to Vancouver, walk my two dogs. I miss them.”

“Get to see my son play, which is something I haven't been able to see all year. A bit of family time,” Herdman closed. “Not too much, but just enough to reset and go again.”

The D.C. result will sit with the side for a bit, but also fuel them when play resumes.

“It's both to be honest,” confirmed Etienne. “Because we don't have a quick turnaround, we're going to be able to sit there and think about things that you could have done differently, things you could have done better, things that you did that you can continue to do, but then it definitely lights a fire under you. It gives you an incentive to get back to training and fighting every single day.”

“Everyone in the locker room is going to reflect on this loss for the next two days, then have a little bit of time to reset the body, reset the mind, and then I’m pretty sure everyone is ready to fire back up and get going,” he closed. “We feel like that's four points dropped in the last two games and that's unacceptable for a club of this stature.”