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Being more 'aggressive' continues to be Toronto FC's focus down the stretch

TORONTO – “We didn’t lose, but it feels like a loss.”

That was the sentiment expressed by Omar Gonzalez following Toronto FC's 1-1 draw with Orlando City SC at BMO Field on Saturday night.

Once more, Toronto bossed large sections of the match, but despite a handful of good looks – Jozy Altidore sent a header in the first half just wide of the post and in the second Alejandro Pozuelo hit the post – it was Orlando who took the lead in the 69th minute through Benji Michel.

Substitute Patrick Mullins would pounce on a loose ball in the box in the 77th minute to salvage a point and TFC would be on the front-foot for the remainder of the match, but a game-winner would not materialize.

“We've got to play more aggressive to put teams on their heels, not let them off the hook when we've unbalanced them,” urged Greg Vanney. “We do a lot of that.”

“Today it was fair amount of us not trying to get to the end-line enough, not trying to get behind their back-line, not being aggressive enough with the ball,” said Vanney. “There are times where we get the ball at our feet and we turn back and play backwards when we can drive to the end-line, get them into their box. Richie [Laryea] finally did it after 55 minutes: he had space in front of him and he just drove. We've got to take that chance. We always pull it back and play backwards.”

For the coach, the challenge has been: “finding the balance between players who want to play in-between the lines and players who want to play in the space behind the back-line. We've got a lot of guys who want the ball at their feet, who are creative between lines. It's finding the balance on the day of guys who are willing to take off and run, stretch the back-line out, create some of that space and get to the end-line.”

“The possession is good. The purpose of [it] is to find somebody who can then attack the back-line,” explained Vanney. “Sometimes it's a lot of passing that doesn't end with a final run, a final drive, a final attack. We created a fair number of chances, good chances, throughout the course of the game. We've got to bury some of those, but it starts with that energy and that mindset to get to the end-line and deep into the box.”

It wasn't until Orlando took the lead that Toronto found that extra gear.

“It’s a bit flat the entire game really, until they scored on us,” said Gonzalez. “We started to pick up the energy a little bit. The onus is on us to bring the energy from the first whistle because we have the calibre to do that. We just have to go for it, play smart, do the right things, be organized, stay compact, but go after teams. We have the ability to do that.”

“Disappointed,” was the word Gonzalez used to describe the feeling amongst the team.

“It’s a game where, frankly, Orlando didn’t have much. They get a chance on one play and they score. It’s disappointing that the play wasn’t ended further up the field, but it’s on us,” continued the defender. “We have to realize the mistakes that we made.”

“The thing that I’m happy about is that the second half is better,” Gonzalez added, referencing his pre-match comments. “It was always a tale of two halves: first half was always solid, second half we always would fall short. Tonight it was two good halves and we fell asleep on one play. We kept on pushing and pushing, but we couldn’t find the winner.”

Shortly after Orlando took the lead, Vanney brought on Mullins for Marky Delgado. Having been denied on an earlier penalty shout, Richie Laryea once more drove into the box and was brought down. Initially the referee pointed to the spot, but video review determined the foul began outside of the area.

Pozuelo stood over the free-kick on the right-side of the 18-yard box, cutting a low ball to Michael Bradley in the arc rather than try to force it into the goalmouth from his tight angle. The initial shot was blocked, but Mullins was on hand to right-foot the rebound into the net.

Vanney credited Mullins' introduction with the late surge: “We really came to life when Pat came onto the field.”

“In terms of the dynamic hard-running, the vertical running, really threatening them in a consistent way,” continued Vanney. “The energy he brought, the sprinting and the running that he brought, the game just went to a whole other speed. Part of that is that we’re now chasing the game, but that was a great entrance.”

The goal was his first for TFC since arriving via trade from Columbus Crew SC and it was a vital one.

“My reaction said it all: I ran straight back to the halfway line,” explained Mullins. “Before entering the game, when I’m doing my warmup paces, in my head I’m telling myself, 'We’re going to get a goal back; you're going to get a goal back and we’re going to go win the game.' So that was my first thought and that’s why I tried to get everybody back as quick as possible so we could go after it and get it.”

“Looking back I wish I could have shown the fans how happy I truly am to score a goal,” confided Mullins. “Scoring a goal, it’s the best feeling in the world. In that moment I was so focused to try and get the three points because that is what we wanted to get out of the match tonight.”

Nine league matches remain on the season for TFC. Up next is the second leg of the Canadian Championship against Ottawa Fury FC on Wednesday at BMO Field before a visit to face Mullins' former side, Columbus, next Saturday.

Results elsewhere saw the Eastern Conference stay much the same, if possible even more congested.

“In terms of our standing, we are still in the same spot,” lamented Gonzalez. “We have to stop making these silly mistakes because it’s crunch time and every game is super important.”