Toronto FC

Toronto FC fall to Orlando City SC: "We have to be able to adapt"


Toronto FC lost 2-1 to Orlando City SC on Wednesday night at BMO Field.

Derrick Etienne Jr. gave the side the lead in the 5th minute, arriving into the box to slot home when Raoul Petretta nodded down a Federico Bernardeschi cross at the left-post, but Mártin Ojeda equalized with a header of his own in the 27th minute and an own-goal when Facundo Torres’ shot caromed off Nicksoen Gomis in the final minute of the first half proved the game-winner.

“We started brightly. It looked like we were going to get control of the game pretty early,” said John Herdman post-match. “I'm proud of the lads that took their opportunities tonight – Aimé Mabika, he’s been waiting a while for that shot. Kosi Thompson, as well, they put honest shifts in, fought for the club, fought for the jersey – and the lads that came into the game, the Jahkeele [Marshall-Rutty]s, Kobe Franklins, Shane O'Neills, they had a big impact, but we had a 20-minute period.”

“It's the story of TFC this season,” he continued. “These 20-minute periods where, whether we are playing home or away, it's just not [got] that desire or intensity. It's like the game gets too easy, we score a goal – and it was the same with Nashville, just a period where we take the foot off the gas. It's a mental trap we keep falling into and once it's one guy or two guys, then three follow, four follow, and you're not getting the rhythm of the pressing or the attacking.”

“This has to be a turning point for the club tonight,” Herdman underlined. “I said that to the players after the game, ‘It has to be the turning point.’ There's going to be some hard conversations in the next two days starting with all of us looking at ourselves in the mirror for that 20-minute period. What happened there? And why is it happening? Why do we fall into that trap game after game after game?”

“I'll start with me and my staff, we'll have some hard conversations, and then internally each individual player will need to do that themselves,” he added. “Because if this isn't a turning point, then the season can slide away very quickly.”

Etienne took his goal well, but was forced off early in the second half.

“We’re hoping it’s just cramp. We'll be assessing him,” said Herdman. “He's been one of the bright sparks in our team. Wonderful attitude he always has on the pitch. Always energetic and plays with a smile. The fans have probably enjoyed what he's contributed to our team.”

Taking the lead is usually a benefit, but it has “worked against” TFC the last two times they have scored early, according to Herdman.

“You have that edge in the game, but it's almost like we fall into a comfort zone. We go out there and we take the game to the opponent – Nashville, we could have been two, three up – but as soon as we scored that goal we just took the foot off the gas,” observed the coach. “You see it. When the ball is on one side of the field, we should have nine players on half a pitch.”

“We've got players standing and walking, and that can't happen, not at this level. Not at this level,” he continued. “We had some principles that have been driving our success when we have been at our best. We kept the team tight and they shift as one, work as one, collectively, up the field, across the field, and we lose that.”

No match will go entirely in the side’s favour.

“There’s going to be times in games where we’re not getting it not quite right and what we have to do better in those moments is get tighter and stick together and follow the game plan,” said Mabika. “In that 15, 20 minutes they didn't have any big chances and that’s where we have to get better, to understand that, okay, maybe we are suffering a little bit, but let's suffer together and stay a tight team and get out of it. We don't always have to concede whenever a team is dominant.”

Toronto has not found a way to manage those moments where the opposition is in the ascendancy.

“We have to be able to adapt in that moment. There's got to be a circuit breaker where at home you're allowing the opposition to impose themselves. There's a clear sign there,” said Herdman. “We're walking, we’re walking at home, that was the message loud and clear. You’ll never see that again. Players that can't commit that level of consistency with the energy, the intensity, other players that are willing to bring the passion for 90 minutes will get those opportunities.”

“That's a hard conversation I've got to have with the group, but more importantly they have to have it with themselves,” he continued. “We had a fan base that are just endlessly supporting the team. In that 20-minute period, it's not like the fans stopped. We stopped. Since Chicago, it's been a consistency we've seen. Atlanta, I thought we turned the corner there, that intensity was brilliant. Whistle-to-whistle, we kept going, but Chicago, Nashville, Red Bulls, we had that 20-minute period as well in the first half. It's got to change.”

An own-goal against Orlando, the shock ending in Atlanta, Mabika would not accept it as just being ‘unlucky’.

“You can only be unlucky so many times; you have to create your own luck,” he said. “Right now, we are not getting any of those bounces, so we have to look at ourselves and put ourselves in positions where things like that don't happen.”

“This is a critical part of the season, this little stretch into Leagues Cup. I spoke last week about trying to get out of this stretch in a good way so when we come out of Leagues Cup we set ourselves up in a good position for that last home stretch,” Mabika repeated. “We can call it unlucky all we want, but this is professional football, that's not really an excuse.”

With the defeat, Toronto remains in playoff positioning, one of three teams battling for the two play-in spots in the Eastern Conference. The race is heating up.

“Any time we lose there’s reason for concern. At the same time we have to understand this is a process and the season is not done,” said Mabika. “What I'm proud of is we've been able to stay together through it. It's not turning into four different teams. You saw in that second half where we’re pushing. Yeah, we couldn't create that little bit of quality in the final third to get a second and third goal, but it has to turn for us.”

TFC are back in action on Saturday when they travel to Ohio to face the Columbus Crew, who have been charging up the table since losing the final of the Concacaf Champions Cup.

“A tough game – every MLS game is tough, especially away,” anticipated Mabika. “We have to do a lot of the things that we did today, that first ten minutes and then that second half.”

“There's going to be moments in that game where we suffer, but can we do it together and come out in a good way, in a clean-sheet way, and then just have that quality. Players understand how important every game is,” he closed. “Tough game, of course, but we're going to be ready.”