Toronto FC continued their unbeaten run – now stretching to five games – on Sunday evening with a 1-1 draw against Nashville SC at BMO Field.
Omar Gonzalez opened the scoring with a free-kick routine dreamed up on the training ground, nodding a quickly taken Yeferson Soteldo ball into the Nashville net in the 20th minute.
The visitors, however, were able to find an equalizer in the 41st minute from a throw-in when a dead-ball launched into the box by Dave Romney skipped off the head of Robert Castellanos to sneak in at the short-side.
Though both sides had a series of half-chances and threatening moments through the second half, neither could find a breakthrough and were forced to settle for a share of the points.
Results elsewhere saw TFC move up one more spot on the table, in a three-way tie for tenth in the Eastern Conference, eight points off the current playoff line, but the club knows wins are the way to close that gap.
“Every game needs to be three points,” began Omar Gonzalez post-match. “Before we walk out onto the field, this is at the forefront of our mind, that this is a championship game. We need to win. We are at home in front of our fans. We have to get three points and so when you walk away after the final whistle and it's another point at home, you're disappointed.”
The silver lining is that we are five games unbeaten, we're much better than we were a month ago; we're improving,” he continued. “Today we controlled the majority of the game with our possession, and we looked a lot better. We just have to keep moving forward. The wins are going to come and the group is united in that mindset. Now it's on to the next one.”
That both goals on the night came from methods identified and worked on at the BMO Training Ground this week was just another reminder that theory is one thing, execution another.
“[Omar’s goal] was a very important goal,” explained Javier Perez. “We worked on that in training and that had a reward tonight. We worked as well on throw-ins on the other end – we knew that they had long throw-ins – we worked on that consistently and even like that we conceded the goal. Sometimes we work on things and they work in the game and sometimes they don't.”
“But I think overall, it's a very important goal for Omar, for the confidence of the team,” he continued. “We knew that set-pieces were a part of the game that was weaker for them. They conceded five goals in the last ten games on set-pieces – half of the goals that they conceded. And that was a part that we were looking for and we capitalized.”
Added the goal-scorer: “That's exactly what we worked on. We caught the other team sleeping.”
“I've been dreaming about getting another goal,” Gonzalez continued, having last scored in the 2019 season. “I'm always working so hard on set-pieces to try to get to the right spots and find the right timing with Yeferson, his service and my runs, and so for it to finally come off today is very gratifying.”
“I'm so happy and hopefully the floodgates will open for the next game and give me more confidence to keep on attacking the ball and keep on making the runs and knowing that the service is going to come,” he added. “It's something we have to keep working on. As the season goes on and as the games keep getting tighter and tighter, these moments are huge for us. Set-pieces are huge.”
That proved true later in the half as well when Nashville equalized.
“Yeah, it did come out of nowhere,” agreed Gonzalez. “It didn't catch us by surprise, we knew they were going to do a long throw and we worked on it. And, sure enough, they still managed to score off of it. That's really disappointing. Everyone was in the right position and it just sneaks through,” he continued. “[Eriq] Zavaleta is fronting [CJ] Sapong, I'm behind him, and it goes off to the left of us, hits off [Castellanos], sneaks in the near-post.”
“It was very upsetting. You could see our heads drop a little bit right after the goal because we know that we cannot let goals in like that. We let them off hook,” he continued. “They had nothing, absolutely nothing going on in the first half, and then we give up that goal and they are back in it.”
Unbeaten in five, goals against has decreased dramatically under Perez, but TFC are still chasing that elusive clean-sheet.
“We talked about how we're the team with the most goals allowed,” highlighted Gonzalez. “We've done much better by only allowing a single goal in the previous three games. Our goal tonight was to get the clean-sheet and then we let in that goal.”
“As a defender, I love scoring goals, but I love getting clean-sheets as well; it's something I live for,” he continued. “And so the fact that we are not getting clean-sheets is a real pain in the butt right now. We all know it. We need to be better. Maybe next game we will get that clean-sheet.”
18 games remain on the schedule. Wednesday’s trip to face the Philadelphia Union will be the official halfway point of the 2021 season.
The last five matches have gone some distance towards arguing that the opening to the season was not a true representation of the team. There is some urgency, but one step, one game, one position in the standings at a time is the only option.
“We need urgency to get more points because we need to get closer to the teams close to the playoff positions, but we have to remember that we are not even halfway through the season,” levelled Perez. “Like I said to the players at halftime, ‘We have 45 more minutes to play.’ Here it's a little bit the same: we still have half the games in front of us.”
“What is more important is that you cannot rush into the games. You need to focus on the process and the different things we need to fix and the different things we need to improve to get those points,” he stressed. “Tonight was a step forward towards that direction, not just for the point, but as well because the team showed a face that we didn't see until this point. We are in a good place now to build upon everything we have been working on previously and get better performances in order to get the points.”
Added Gonzalez: “Right now, we have a lot of confidence, but we're still hungry.”
“We want three points,” he continued. “We're not satisfied with just one and so we're going to keep on working.”