Toronto FC

Toronto FC clinch persuasive victory over FC Dallas: “Proud of all the boys tonight”


It was only a matter of time.

Federico Bernardeschi scored twice and set up the third in Toronto FC’s 3-1 win over FC Dallas on Saturday night at BMO Field.

Denied a goal in the 39th minute by an offside flag, Bernardeschi saw his penalty saved in first half stoppage-time only to pounce on the rebound and score his first goal of the season, giving TFC a lead into the break.

The Italian then doubled it seven minutes after the restart with a trademark left-footed blast to the top corner having cut in from the right-flank.

Matty Longstaff added the third in the 82nd minute, arriving in the box to receive a pass from Bernardeschi before slotting past Maarten Paes in the visitor’s goal. Dallas would pull one back in the 87th minute through Sam Junqua, but Toronto saw out the result.

“Proud of all the boys tonight,” said John Herdman post-match. “That was a really good home performance against a Dallas team that you could see came in with a bit of confidence. Once we settled into our rhythm, we were in control there.”

“It was nice,” he added. “I enjoyed it.”

“The fans are starting to believe that this TFC team is going to, one, put a shift in for them,” Herdman listed separately. “Two, turn up, and three, keep them in the running.”

Bernardeschi had gone 19 MLS matches without finding the back of the net. It was becoming a whole thing.

When Jonathan Osorio found him in a pocket of space, Bernardeschi turned and picked out the corner with a low shot, kicking off some wild celebrations until a video review silenced the festivities.

“It was a nice moment. The whole team felt relief when it happened,” reflected Herdman of the denied dam-breaker. “When they took it away, I just thought, ‘He’s cursed. This guy is genuinely cursed, there’s something going on here.’”

When Osorio was impeded in the Dallas box in the first minute of stoppage-time, Bernardeschi took the penalty, only for the Dallas keeper to deny him once more. He stayed alive though and tucked in the loose ball.

The celebrations the second time around were somewhat muted, but just as vital.

“The curse broke,” smiled Herdman. “I said that at half-time to Fede, when he missed the penalty and was able to nick it in there. That was it. I knew.”

“We had a chuckle at half-time – that curse that was on him is lifted,” he continued. “And it showed in the second half.”

“Getting the penalty and then when he missed it, I was like, “This can’t be happening,’” added Herdman. “But, great he knocked it in.”

“It set him up – he's been setting that left foot shot up for nearly a year-and-a-half, hadn't he, waiting for that one,” he chuckled. “But it was a beautiful goal and one that only he can score in this league.”

Opponents must not be even more wary of his threat than they already were.

“With Fede's performance, what you’ll start to see is teams put more attention on him now – similar to what was happening with [Lorenzo] Insigne when he scores two wonder goals and all of a sudden you have three players over to that side of the field quickly,” Herdman anticipated. “Fede is starting to show that he can win games on his own again.”

Despite being left out of the goals, Bernardeschi has been a leader for Toronto this season.

“Fede is massive for us,” said Longstaff. “He’s shown, in the good streak we’re on, how important he's been.”

“But I always say, it's not just his ability, [it’s] his determination,” he continued. “His mindset is unbelievable and we see it every day in training. When you've got your top players who are training like that and have the mentality, you have to get on board, you want to get as close as you can to their level.”

“Everyone is so happy for him because of all the hard work he's put in and all the running he's done for the team,” Longstaff added. “He deserves it.”

Through the drought Bernardeschi kept himself focused on the larger aim.

“We’ve had a lot of conversations, I really enjoy working with Fede [Federico Bernardeschi], so many different layers to him,” shared Herdman. “I asked him just to stay focused on his leadership and, as I keep saying to him, if you keep focusing on modelling the way, good things happen to good people, and the universe will turn. And it did – that's what happens.”

“It was on the [anniversary] of my sister's passing, so I knew she would do something for us tonight,” he paused. “She made some good things happen. There's probably some divine intervention going on.”

Longstaff’s goal was his first for the club, put the game out of Dallas’ reach, and it too was tinged with familial sentiment: his brother Sean scored earlier in the day for Newcastle United in a victory over Burnley.

“With Longy, we watch the Newcastle matches at the same time, so we’re usually flicking texts back and forward,” said Herdman. “I sent him a text that said, ‘Your bro scored, so I fancy you scoring tonight, Longy. You’re going to score’”

“And funny enough he did,” he added. “So I went and grabbed him a match ball. I'm proud of him.”

“I'm not sure on that,” considered Longstaff. “But I've been due a goal for a while and I’m just thankful it came today.”

“Obviously, my brother scoring earlier gives you a little bit extra push, a bit of rivalry in the siblings,” he smiled. “Nah, it’s always good when we both score.”

Upon seeing Bernardeschi on the ball in the area, Longstaff knew it was time to get involved.

“Someone of Fede's qualities, when he's on the ball you try and make runs because he can find you,” he explained. “He makes those reverse passes all the time in training, so I thought, ‘If I go, he'll see me.’”

“It was an unbelievable pass from Fede,” Longstaff added. “Made it easier for me to score.”

Not only was it his first goal for a new club, but it was also the first goal since returning from a long injury.

“Obviously, it’s good,” he understated.

“It’s probably cliché, but the most important thing was scoring to help the team.”

“We dominated for such a long period of the game and then we come in under a little bit of pressure, so when you score the third it kills them,” Longstaff added. “I know they got their goal, but there's no real danger of losing the game once you get the third.”

Junqua’s late goal would prove mere consolation, though it did deny Sean Johnson a 100th MLS regular season clean-sheet. With the victory Toronto have won three straight in the league; four in all competitions.

“We've got a top coach which always helps you,” credited Longstaff. “He sets really good plans. You’ve seen that in the games where we dominate, like tonight.”

“Towards the end we come under the cosh a little bit,” he continued. “We had a good structure defensively – obviously disappointed to concede the goal. That's nitpicking, but ultimately that's what the best teams do.”

“We've got a good squad,” Longstaff added. “It's been pretty big having everyone that’s starting and on the bench pulling their weight, rather than just one or the other.”

And with May’s schedule leaving barely a moment to breathe, it never hurts to kick it off with a solid result.

“It's critical,” underlined Herdman.

“This is our new phase and we knew we had to start strong.”

“The catchcry was we did a good job in Orlando, but it wouldn't have meant much if we didn't take the win here,” he continued. “The win here has solidified the charge that we are on at the moment, but more importantly, starting this phase the right way at home.”

“All in all, when I look at what this performance meant to the group, it’s just trust,” Herdman simplified. “It's trust that we can keep these winning habits – and it is a habit, winning.”

Toronto now shift their focus to Wednesday’s Canadian Championship quarterfinal first leg tie against CS Saint-Laurent in Quebec.

“We've already spoke to a group of players – we tend to set missions up – so one group is already on mission for this game,” set up Herdman. “They’ve been working as a unit, they’ve been looking at the scouting for the game. They’re ready to take Monday on, a heavy day tactically. We’ve got about nine/ten players that are ready to play this match and we've got another group that will be ready to come into the match to finish.”

“So as I've said to the lads, going into these games, we take nothing for granted,” he stressed. “This is a quarterfinal. You're two steps away from a Canadian Championship. It will be all hands to the pump, there will be no one getting left home, there will be no one allowed to take a day off. The best 18 players will be on that airplane and travelling to Montréal to get that result.”

Players relish these match-filled times, for the most part.

“I have to go to the gym straight after this, so someone will need to have a word with them,” joked Longstaff. “We've got a good squad here. I'm sure the team will get rotated throughout this month. It’s just about recovering right, doing the right things, and getting ready for Wednesday.”

The Phase Three goal was to be in reach of the top four; one game into Phase Four TFC sit in the top three, to even Herdman’s surprise.

“No chance,” he grinned, asked if this was where he expected the team to be at this point. “I mean, it's where you visualize – you have to visualize – and then you do everything you can to manifest it, with the culture, with everything that you're throwing into it.”

“But this team, for the last three years, have been nowhere near this sort of echelon,” Herdman continued.

“You'll get the narrative shifting – ‘This is a good squad; it’s where they should be' – but we're just focused on next game, next three points.”

“We've got a target for this window and if we stay as disciplined and committed we can reach that target, particularly with the home games we've got,” he closed. “So stay humble, keep our feet on the ground, one game at a time. Get the [Voyageurs’s] Cup game out of the way this week – that's going to be a tough match in Montréal – and then NYCFC. I know the lads are really looking forward to that match.”