Toronto FC

Toronto FC claim home victory over Charlotte to maintain unbeaten streak: "We’ve just got to get the points"

Toronto FC extended their unbeaten start to the campaign with a 1-0 win over Charlotte FC on Saturday afternoon at BMO Field.

Lorenzo Insigne, as he did last weekend, scored the game’s only goal, another stunning strike, blasted into the same top corner he picked out more delicately in New England.

For the first 80 minutes the home opener had been a buttoned-down tactical stalemate. Charlotte were solid, daring Toronto to attempt to break them down, while stealing moments to threaten. 

Both sides had half-chances: Kobe Franklin twice had good looks in the box from Federico Bernardeschi’s threatening up the right, while Luka Gavran, in goal for late scratch Sean Johnson, came up with two big actions when Enzo Copetti looked to provide the breakthrough for the visitors – getting just enough to put take the ball off the striker’s foot in the first (surviving the dreaded video review as well) and getting down well to deny a low shot before half-time when the attacker broke down the middle.

TFC found another gear in the final 30 minutes as the two sides began to make substitutions and it was Insigne who provided the needed moment of quality. 

Picking up the ball in space deep on the left, Insigne darted forward, off-balancing his marker to make space for a right-footer into the top far-corner. 

He made a beeline toward the Toronto bench in celebration, leaping into the arms of John Herdman on the touch line.

“I didn't realize he was that heavy. He nearly took me right off my bloody feet,” laughed the TFC coach post-match. “No, it was amazing. I said today would be a tough game – [Charlotte] are a very direct team, second phase, you've got to fight for everything, two strong forwards – we're proud of the lads. They put a shift in again and our quality came through.”

“To do well in MLS you need your DPs performing at that level and Lorenzo certainly came up trumps today,” he continued. “For me you’ve got to talk about ‘next man up’ Luka Gavran, made a big save. He didn't have much to do, but he made one big save that kept us in the game. And then Sigurd Rosted, [Kevin] Long had to go out at half-time and big Sigs has come in and we did well in the second half with him managing that back line.”

“All in all, you could feel it was on a knife edge. The fans stuck with us and when Lorenzo scored I felt this is what the stadium can feel like through this season,” added Herdman. “I think they felt we might be back. We're getting close to it.”

With the opening day draw away to FC Cincinnati, a win in New England, and this win over Charlotte, Toronto are undefeated, on seven points from three matches, and yet to concede a goal through 270 minutes of MLS action.

“It's a good feeling,” said TFC captain Jonathan Osorio. “Three clean-sheets is great – that's the first step of building a team, you’ve got to build the foundation, that block, and be hard to play against. When you're on the journey to becoming a championship team, that's always the base.”

“The group has worked really hard and to get three clean-sheets in the first three games, you can't ask for more,” he continued. “Moving forward we know we can improve, we're going to improve as the group gets settled and we find our way in the season and find our way to playing our style of football. We want to score more goals and create more, but this team is a very hard team to play against right now. We're finding ways to win and that's the most important thing.”

For Herdman keeping the opponent off the scoresheet has been the key to the bright start.

“It's hard to get a clean-sheet in MLS,” he highlighted. “It’s such an open league and you have these crazy 20 minutes in MLS where the game just tends to open up.”

“There was no way a Dean Smith team was going to do that. His team is never going to open up,” Herdman said of Charlotte. “We wobbled a little bit. We were too open, I addressed it at half-time. We bent, but we didn't break. That's got to get better, but the consistency has been the effort of Bernardeschi – he has been an absolute warrior for us – and then you see Kobe Franklin coming in, had three big opportunities. There seems to be an [attitude] of ‘next man up.’”

“No matter who we put out there, we can trust they’ll put the work in and deliver it the best they can,” he added. “That’s all I can ask of my players.”

Gavran, who made his MLS debut towards the back-half of last season, noted the difference between then and now.

“Tactically, we're just way more clear,” he stressed.

“There's more clarity of what everyone's job is and how we're going to play off the ball.”

“We really emphasize that in every training session, every video session, every time we can, emphasize that everybody has to be on the same page and wanting to do it, not making excuses or blaming other people, but everyone just do your job,” Gavran continued. “We have a system that we follow, everything's clear, you have any questions you ask, everybody knows what to do.”

“Going into games now is completely different,” he added. “We go in knowing we're going to score, knowing we’re going to keep the clean-sheet, knowing we're going to win instead of the opposite. Last year we struggled with adversity, giving up goals early, we’d get down on ourselves right away, but not this year.”

For Osorio it’s simply: “That we don't break.”

“We've suffered in games,” he continued. “Today was a different kind of suffering than the New England game, this was a game where you could easily be frustrated by a team that's very organized defensively, very hard to break down – mid low block, two banks of four. We could have easily gotten frustrated and derailed from the plan, but this team is becoming mentally very strong.”

“We believe in each other. We believe that we're going to win the game at some point. We've shown that in the three games,”

Osorio underlined. “That's the big thing that I take from the first few games.”

It is an attitude that begins with the coaching staff and then filters into the squad.

“A lot is John's influence, his staff,” pointed Osorio. “It's collective; everybody. John shows the way, he shows the blueprint, but then the group has to buy in.”

“On both sides, there's been so much work put into this,” he added. “I know that the staff, the amount they work, their work ethic, is second to nobody in this league, for sure. And it's showing, it's paying off.”

Keeping the other team off the board sets the table for a moment of quality to take the day.

“When you watch a goal like that from behind, you get to see everything,” recounted Gavran of his unique view on the game-winner. “Honestly, every time he gets the ball outside, I know he's looking. He does it a million times in training, so I'm not surprised he did it today. What a goal.”

Earlier in the week Insigne joked that he texts Herdman more than he does his wife. Herdman was asked about that in the press conference.

“I’m wearing his perfume at the moment, you’ll have to ask him about that,” he laughed. “We've had some fun. He’s a real character.”

“He's starting to enjoy the club, enjoy his football,” Herdman continued. “He knows that we're trying to get the best out of him, every player is committed to try and get Lorenzo in and around the ball.”

“[Charlotte] did a good job today of trying to nullify him, but he's a top player. And I'm willing to listen to him, that's an important part of this,” he laid out. “He's got his ideas on tactics and he's forgotten more than I know about football. I've tapped into that and I'm really enjoying the relationship.”

“At times it's intense. He doesn't give you a second, you’ve got to be at the top standard and if you're not, he’ll let you know,” Herdman added. “And I've built a trust where I can let him know as well. That's where things are starting to blossom.”

It wasn’t the four-goal first half against Charlotte that marked the beginning of the first Insigne age at TFC; perhaps it was something more.

“Today was marked on our calendars for months now,” said Gavran of the home opener. “The build up with the past few games, two big performances away from home, a win and a tie, is not easy. We built that momentum into tonight – not tonight, today, it's a two o'clock kick off.”

Gavran has said in the past he prefers night games.

“Everyone was ready. Coming off a turf game is tough. People had heavy legs, everyone's dealing with it throughout the week, soreness and all that, but everyone sucked it up, knew what was needed tonight, today,” he corrected himself.

“The mentality is completely different. Everyone's ready to change BMO again, like [it was] before.”

From the mostly packed house in a drizzling rain, the smoke-hazed march to the match, the roar of the crowd when Insigne scored, the audible gasp in the press box, there were glimpses of what once was in game one at BMO Field.

“It was amazing,” replied Osorio, asked about that sound when the ball found the back of the net. “To hear the stadium like that... it's been a while.”

“That was great,” he continued. “For the team that was big, for the stadium, for the fans, those that came today, not knowing if the rain was going to hold up or not. It was a great turnout. That just goes to show the amazing fans that we have in the city and to pull off a win the way we did: the fans want a team that tries their hardest and cares and fights.”

“That's what we're giving them right now,” he added. “And then we have players that can conjure up a little bit of magic anytime. That's what happened today. A very good collective effort from everybody.”

When the dust settled on the third Saturday of the MLS season, TFC found themselves in a four-way tie at the top of the Eastern Conference, one of six teams on seven points at the top of the league.

It is far too early to put much stock in the standings, but it is nice to be part of that conversation.

“We set our goals. The players set their goals, they've seen the track, they know, through this phase, the points track that's going to get them to where we want to be by the end of the season,” said Herdman, after a long pause when asked if this is where he expected the side to be at this point. “They're on track.”

“All I'll say is it's a process,” he continued.

“The effort, the intensity, the desire, but the clarity, the clarity to fight for that point. I said to you before the game, the guys were so clear. There was so many story lines to this game and it could have been a bit of a circus, but we just brought it to the clarity of ‘We’ve just got to get the points.’”

“Doesn't matter how it happens, we've got to trust that we’ve got good players in this team that can make that happen and if we stick to the process, it can happen,” Herdman closed. “I'll be saying the same thing all season, just stick to the process.”