Toronto FC dropped a tough one on Saturday night, losing 2-0 away to the New York Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey.
New York's first came in the 55th minute when Kaku weaved his way into the right-side of the area. Chris Mavinga tried to block the square ball only to see it loop over Quentin Westberg and nestle in at the far-post for an own-goal.
Daniel Royer squandered a chance to seal the result minutes later, after Marc Rzatkowski went down in the box under pressure from Jonathan Osorio, by sending his penalty kick high. Kemar Lawrence would eventually provide the insurance strike in stoppage-time when Kaku's right-sided cross fell to him at the back-post, but not until after Justin Morrow was sent off in the 89th minute for bringing down Bradley Wright-Phillips as the striker looked to get in clear on goal.
The goals only tell half the tale.
“It was a tale of two halves in some ways,” lamented Greg Vanney post-match. “And they took advantage of their opportunities in the second half.
In the opening 45, Toronto were on top.
Jozy Altidore looked to have continued his goal-streak in the 20th minute when an Alejandro Pozuelo through-ball played him in and he lifted a looping shot over Luis Robles, only for the offside flag to deny the opener.
Pozuelo himself hit the post come the 42nd minute, drawing a look of relief from the Red Bulls keeper, as the ball caromed off the woodwork and then hit his outstretched hard, mercifully or agonizingly, depending on one's point of view, rebounded wide.
Two minutes later Jacob Shaffelburg looked to have scored his first MLS goal, capping off a wonderful passage where Pozuelo picked out Altidore with a cross and the striker squared it to the teenage winger, but Robles somehow managed to recover with a stunning save-of-the-year candidate.
It was that wastefulness that bit come the second frame.
“With all the good chances we had, we should have come away with at least a couple goals, but we didn't,” said Vanney. “We knew, at the half, they were going to try to extend their pressure more and be more aggressive.”
“The first half they were very passive,” continued Vanney. “We were really able to play through them and create opportunities. The second half they were a little bit more aggressive; we looked a little bit slow to work for each other, to get into good spots for each other. Things became very random where guys were just moving into just random spots on the field and we weren't able to find some of the good combinations and some of the relationships that we were doing so well at finding in the first half.”
Losses elsewhere on the night, from the New England Revolution and Montreal Impact in particular, added to insult in that a result would have been useful in the Eastern Conference table.
“We needed to take better advantage of a good first half,” said Michael Bradley. “We were a little bit unlucky. We couldn’t quite get the final part of the play right to get the goal.”
“To come in at half up 1-0, given the way we played in the first half, given the way we were on top of things, would have made a big difference,” continued the captain. “But obviously, the goal doesn’t come and yet we have to find a way to take care of things in the second half in a better way. We do a poor job on the first goal, collectively. And overall, the level dropped too much in the second half. That part is disappointing.”
It did not help that two of Vanney's substitutions were forced with Nick DeLeon and Chris Mavinga coming out prematurely.
“Nick's hip was bothering him, so we had to bring him off, which was unfortunate, because I thought he was playing great,” explained Vanney. “So, we go with Richie [Laryea] up there just to try to use some of his speed and his wiggle to continue to create problems for them.”
“And then Chris was cramping up and was physically struggling,” continued the coach. “Our two centre-backs got off of being on the same page in the second half and started to become pretty individual. I think maybe fatigue had something to do with that, but we've got to get reconnected defensively.”
Laurent Ciman came on for Mavinga. And with his only free move, Vanney brought on Nicolas Benezet, the recently-acquired Frenchman, to make his debut.
“Get Nicolas in a game,” said Vanney. “See what he brings to the table and how we're going to use him as we move forward.”
The match kicked off a busy stretch of five games in 15 days for Toronto with the two legs of the Canadian Championship series against Ottawa Fury FC set to begin on Wednesday, interspersed between MLS fixtures each weekend – at home against Orlando City SC next Saturday and away to Columbus Crew SC on August 17.
Vanney's search for the “complete game” continues.
“Our last few games, we had some very good first halves, been able to get ourselves leads in some of those games, in most of those games. But the second half, we need to continue to maintain our discipline, adapt a little bit based on the opposition changing their way, but not get random. And we physically have to get everybody to the same page because guys are still cramping, guys who are coming back from injury still are not getting through 90 minutes clean and when it forces you into subs, it limits what you can do to try to adapt.”
“Also the relationships on the field go a little sideways when guys are getting a little bit tired,” added Vanney. “That's one of the keys. We've got to use this period to get guys the appropriate rest and push guys forward in a physical way so that we can be a little closer to playing a complete game.”