A week on, the late loss to Austin FC was still on the minds of Toronto FC.
“It's a cruel game,” said Aimé Mabika of Gyasi Zardes’ 91st minute game-winner on Friday. “We weren't able to get going as much as we would like, but there comes a point in the game, on the road and in a tough place to play, you take a point.”
“Stuff like that happens and stuff like that will probably happen again, whether it's to us and to other teams, you just have to move forward,” he continued. “It was a cruel way to end that game, but I think we can learn from it.”
May has been unkind to TFC.
Losses to the New England Revolution and CF Montreal, both in MLS and the Canadian Championship, were followed by a scoreless draw against the New York Red Bulls. Just when it looked like the team had done enough to take a point back from Texas, maybe turn their fortunes a little, a defensive header popped high and Austin stole all three.
“Frustration,” summed up Matt Hedges earlier this week. “We were two minutes from getting a point in Austin, which is not an easy thing to do, that's not an easy place to play.”
“We're just frustrated,” he added. “That’s really all I can say about it to be honest.”
It’s been that kind of season so far for Toronto.
Fits and starts, injuries galore, and, as Bob Bradley said during that unbeaten streak littered with draws, the margins are thin.
“We've seen moments, positives, but we've also had too many days where we've left points on the table,” outlined the coach. “It's about results. It's about making sure that on that end we're better, everything we do is designed to that.”
“The most recent game was defensively very solid until the play that led to the goal,” Bradley continued. “When you do that, you leave points on the table and since we've done that before that is what you have to work through on the inside. Yes, there are frustrations. Yes, there are tough discussions. Yes, there are things that need attention every day – many of them football things, football areas where we must improve.”
“There are times where we move forward, get into certain spots, but our idea of the timing, our idea of the right pass, our idea of the right touch – or sometimes it's not the idea, it's the execution in that moment that's going to make a difference – we've hurt ourselves on that end,” he added. “By and large defensively, it's been solid other than when your margin is so small, then you leave yourself open. You've done a lot of the team defensive things well for 90-plus minutes, but all of a sudden there's a moment that you don't handle right.”
May has weighed on the side.
“It’s been like when you've lost a game or you've given up a few results in a row,” said Mabika of the atmosphere around the group this week. “It's a combination of a little bit of frustration, a little bit of anger, but at the same time knowing that there's another game coming up.”
“It’s guys training a little bit harder, it’s some tough conversations,” he added. “When you lose a game the next week is not supposed to be all sunshine.”
With five games in 15 days, a full week between matches was a mixed blessing.
“When you lose a game you want to play right away to make it right,” said Mabika. “But at the same time, it has been good physically for the guys.”
“We have a big game tomorrow,” he added. “It feels like the last few weeks every game has been a big game, but we feel like we're close. Last week, giving up a decent result in the last minute, so this week has just been about making it right, trying to stay as positive as possible, and that's where we are right now with the players that we have available for us tomorrow. Good training this week, good training today.”
Winning doesn’t cure everything, but it certainly helps.
“The job is to help them get out of a tough stretch, to give them confidence. It's about getting some results,” said Bradley. “What they need more than anything is a win and we are going to continue to do everything we can to prepare them during the week so that that part can be in order.”
“That's going to take care of many, many other things,” he continued. “But that's the challenge that sits there for us right now.”
Back in the opening match of the season it was a pair of late goals from D.C. United that vexed TFC.
Having gone behind in the first half, Toronto took a lead in the second, only to concede twice in the final moments of regulation and stoppage-time. It was a result that still rankles with Hedges.
“Absolutely,” he replied, asked if the side still thought about that defeat. “We were there in the last minutes, we just gave it away.”
“Two goals that were very preventable,” added the defender. “We still think about it.”
Toronto will have a chance to put that right as well on Saturday when D.C. come to BMO Field.
Wayne Rooney’s side comes to town in good form, unbeaten in three matches, most recently a 3-0 win over the LA Galaxy on Saturday.
“They've improved. They've had a good run lately,” said Bradley. “They're playing a little bit more, let's call it 5-4-1, but it's fluid, they've got interesting ways of moving forward. We know from the first game how important [Christian] Benteke is, they've done well with how [Mateusz] Klich works off of him – comes inside from the left – Lewis O'Brien has been a good addition.”
“It's a team that has improved and is playing pretty well,” he reiterated. “Had a very good win against the Galaxy last week.”
Benteke leads the side with six goals through 13 appearances, while Klich has five assists in 14.
“A hard-working team. They do well with second balls, stuff like that,” highlighted Mabika. “We expect it'll be a physical match, tough match, as any MLS game really is.”
“At home, it'll be about making it right from last weekend and the little run that we've had,” he closed. “It’ll be a really good game of football.”