Toronto FC lost a tough one on Wednesday night, falling 1-0 to NYCFC at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Connecticut.
Jesus Medina scored the game’s only goal, converting the rebound from a wicked Valentin Castellanos shot in the 51st minute to hand TFC a second consecutive defeat and dent their Supporters’ Shield hopes.
“It was going to be a challenging night,” said Greg Vanney post-match. “We needed to come out and manufacture some chances. Right at the start, Michael [Bradley] plays a ball forward to [Alejandro] Pozuelo – we’ve got to turn and get a shot off there. Justin [Morrow] had a couple chances in the first half. [NYCFC] had their chances – I would say half to three quarters of their chances were actually delayed offside calls that they either called or didn't call, which changes the emotion of the game. It feels like you give away chances.”
“The first half the game was wide open with them getting much of the ball. We were trying to get some pressure on the ball. When that part of the game was over we needed to find our shape and defend a little bit more connected, but we were still trying to get pressure to the ball and then getting pulled apart a little bit,” he continued. “We dealt with a lot of that stuff and got through the half, reorganized a bit in terms of our set defending and, in general, we found our way into the game as the game continued. We had less chances in the second half, but we started to gain a little bit more control of the game and started to play in possession a little bit more.”
“We were fighting to have a good response from the last game in which we didn't get out and compete. Tonight we competed,” Vanney added. “Guys worked really hard – some of it effective, some of it not as effective as we'd like, but we created some chances, we gave up some chances too, but, in the end, we've got to execute on the one or two that we thought we were going to get. Tough opponent, tough situation, but I'm proud of the effort the guys put in and the shift that they put in to try to get something out of the game.”
At the tail end of a long, gruelling season in a year that has thrown every type of curve ball imaginable and then some, TFC face a conundrum. Perseverance through it all has the club in a position to challenge for the Supporters’ Shield, but is short-term gain worth long-term risk?
“Do you continue to risk guys and lose guys for the short term? Anybody you lose at this point you're probably going to lose for the playoffs. There’s always a catch 22,” explained Vanney. “We're trying to make the best decisions we can, that's where we're at.”
“The key for us is to take as many points as we can, but also to try to get our team whole because when we're all together we've seen that we're capable of being the best team in the league on any given day. That's been proven,” he continued. “So the question is, how do we get our team healthy without losing more guys in this last stretch? And if we can win the Supporters’ Shield in that process then that's what we're going to do.”
“We're not giving up on it, but we are what we are right now as a group and we have what we have,” added the coach. “All I'm asking from these guys right now is that they give everything they have to each one of these games and we work hard to try to get the result that we can get.”
A Philadelphia Union victory against 10-man Chicago Fire FC Wednesday night has them in the driver’s seat for the Shield.
Without Jozy Altidore, Chris Mavinga, Pablo Piatti, Jonathan Osorio, Marky Delgado, Ayo Akinola, Eriq Zavaleta and Alex Bono, Vanney has leaned on veterans and youngsters alike.
Nick DeLeon and Morrow were tasked with makeshift roles against NYCFC – DeLeon providing some dynamism in the middle of the park and Morrow probing the opposition’s defenses from wide midfield position.
“Nick was fantastic on the night,” highlighted Vanney. “For him, it was trying to give us some somebody who could, if we had to, play out of pressure. We wanted Nick to be a little higher, to be able to wiggle out of pressure, to hold the ball up for us, to give us a threat in the transition going forward.”
“He looked sharp tonight and he looked smooth with the ball,” he added. “[He] was important for us in many stretches of the game and gave us some good defensive work.”
“Justin we started a little bit higher,” explained Vanney. “Our intent – what we saw at the beginning, which really started to open up the game – was to work hard without the ball defensively, try to recover some balls and create some chances, and use Justin’s speed.”
“He gets in for what I would argue were two of the two of the best chances in the first half,” he added. “Unfortunately we weren't able to get one.”
And when fresh legs were called for, Jacob Shaffelburg, Ralph Priso, and Jayden Nelson answered.
“I just wanted to go out there and try to make a difference and get a goal,” said Nelson. “But it didn’t end up happening. We worked hard the entire game. We didn't really get in our rhythm.”
The experience in these kinds of matches is invaluable.
“These are big games with a lot riding on them, so just for their development and the experiences that they're putting under their belt,” reflected Vanney. “Normally this time of year they probably wouldn't be the second, third, fourth guys off the bench, but given the circumstances they are.”
“They came on and they were brave. They went after the game, they tried to stay aggressive, both with the ball and to help us defensively to recover the ball,” he elaborated. “Each one of these experiences is huge for them. These aren't meaningless games. They're showing that they're willing to get out there and compete and do a nice job for us. That bodes well for their future with the club and their careers.”
Toronto faces another short turnaround as they now prepare for the visit of expansion side Inter Miami CF to ‘The Rent’ at Pratt & Whitney Stadium on Sunday before closing the 2020 MLS regular season the following Sunday away to the New York Red Bulls.
Nelson is adamant they’ll be ready to go again.
“We’re a resilient group,” said the teenager. “We work hard in training every day. We’re going to bounce back from this. We're not gonna dwell on this. We still have two more games to go, so that's our main focus right now: put this behind us and get ready for Miami and New York.”
Vanney is expecting reinforcements soon and when they do, watch out.
“We need to get our team back together and we'll take anyone, anyone that wants to come along, we'll play anyone,” he emphasized. “That's where we're at right now and that's where we’re fighting to get back to.”
“Our group is working their tails off. They put up with a lot of crap this year,” Vanney closed. “We're going to fight to get ourselves back healthy and we're going for the trophy at the end of the day, that's what we're going to do.”