Toronto FC lost 3-0 away to Charlotte FC at Bank of America Stadium on Wednesday night.
Karol Swiderski opened the scoring from the penalty spot after eight minutes and then made it 2-0 in first half stoppage-time after TFC were penalized for another foul in the box.
Brecht Dejaegere added a third in the 56th minute with a deft back-heel flick to seal the result and collect the three points for the home team.
“Charlotte, we knew coming in, were a very motivated side,” said Terry Dunfield post-match. “They get a little bit of a lift with the early penalty. I thought there was some nice spells of football from us where we created some chances, we're not able to score, and then a second penalty is tough for our guys to handle mentally.”
Another tough night for Toronto.
“It’s frustrating,” said Jonathan Osorio. “We're very frustrated with how the season has gone. We know that we've let our fans down. We know we’ve let ourselves down in a lot of these games. You would hope that a bounce or two would go our way and it just seems like we can't even make that happen.”
“It's difficult right now mentally for everybody, but guys are trying; we’re giving it our all,” he continued. “In a game like today when calls don't go our way, two penalties and we go down, with the way the season has gone and the state of everybody's mentality, it's difficult against a team that's fighting for their lives to get into the playoffs. All we can do is look forward to the next game and try to put out a better performance than today.”
A corner kick in the fourth minute bounced through the TFC area and resulted in a collision between Luca Gavran and Charlotte attacker Kamil Józwiak as they both went for a loose ball. Play continued on, but when it stopped the decision was made to award Charlotte a penalty kick for the infraction.
It was a very early setback.
“It's difficult mentally, for sure,” said Dunfield. “The resilience we showed against Cincinnati, coming back from 2-0 down, showed that we can do it – that was important.”
“How tough this year is is going to set us up for the rest of our careers – I don't think it's going to get harder than this,” he added. “And the fact that we keep continuing to move forward is important.”
The game had barely begun. What goes through a player’s mind at a moment like that?
“It's really hard to explain,” replied Osorio. “That can go either way. I haven’t seen the replays of both the penalties, but it just seems like every call like that goes against us. Every one.”
“This year we've been very fragile when it comes to going down a goal,” he continued. “When calls like that go against you it's very demoralizing, it takes real mental strength to come back from that. We showed a little bit of that last game against the first place team, at home coming back after going down 2-0, but today we weren't able to.”
The second penalty was just as devastating. Toronto is carrying the scars of a long hard season full of punches.
“We're all human and these tough results do build up – a body blow is a good way to say it,” outlined Dunfield. “But we can't feel sorry for ourselves for too long. We've got a game in less than 72 hours.”
“We try to focus on the positives. It would be easy for us to go towards the two tough calls on the penalties, but that would just feed a mindset of just feeling sorry for ourselves. We have to remain positive,” he added. “There were some good individual performances that [John] Herman and his staff will have seen.”
Herdman, the new coach, was in attendance taking in the match as a fly on the wall.
Osorio is certain the former coach of the Canadian National Team, women’s and men’s, is just what TFC needs.
“I’m very confident he can do it. I've seen that happen,” he said. “I've been a part of a project that he has taken and turned around; he also has a track record with the Women's National Team as well.”
“And so yeah, I'm confident he can do it. He came in on Monday, introduced himself, as well as the staff, and had a very interesting and intriguing first meeting. He caught the attention of everybody,” he continued. “Since then he's just been watching training and getting to know everybody, doing his due diligence, and doing what he should be doing.”
And on the field goalkeeper Luca Gavran was a bright spot, making his third-straight start since debuting against NYCFC on August 23.
The 23-year-old native of Hamilton, Ontario pulled off a pair of stunning reaction saves, clawing an Enzo Copetti header off the line with a diving sweep of the paw in the first half and somehow getting his arm on a Derrick Jones shot from close range in the second half.
“He's earned the opportunity with his performances with TFC II, how he's been training over the last three months,” explained Dunfield. “He’s been big over the three games. Nothing fazes him, he's got a fantastic personality where he just sticks his chest out and gets after it.”
Added Osorio: “Great kid. Great talent.”
“He has shown it in these last few games, the potential and the talent that he has. We’ve let him down on some of those goals, but he has kept us in games,” he continued. “He’s proven he can play at this level. He’s got a bright future ahead of him.”
Toronto is back in action on Saturday when they travel to Red Bull Arena for a match against the New York Red Bulls.
Two games remain.
“Travel back tonight. We'll review the game, go over it with the guys tomorrow,” outlined Dunfield. “The guys that didn't play a ton of minutes will train tomorrow, the guys who played heavy minutes will regen, and then we start to shift towards the Red Bulls.”
It’s been a uniquely tough season, no doubt, but each and every game is a chance to chart a new, better direction.
“I've been a part of a few losing seasons, unfortunately, in my career, but I can say, honestly, I've never gone through a year like this year,” said Osorio. “I don't think anybody has. It’s been a very tough year, but we can’t feel sorry for ourselves.”
“The first thing everybody has to do is look at themselves in the mirror, to see what everybody individually can do better,” he continued. “Then we have two games to put in performances that make the fans proud, of at least these last two games. And for ourselves, we have to play for our own pride as well.”
“We can't just back down because we're not in the playoffs now and whatever. It is easy to do that. We have to go into these two games really playing with that feeling that there's nothing to lose and everything to gain,” he closed. “That's the mentality that we have to go with moving forward.”