Toronto FC picked up their first point of the 2021 MLS regular season on Saturday afternoon with a 2-2 draw against Vancouver Whitecaps FC at Exploria Stadium in Orlando, Florida.
Luke Singh opened the scoring for TFC in the seventh minute, pouncing on a loose ball in the Whitecaps box to score his first professional goal, but Cristian Dajome levelled from the penalty spot ten minutes after the restart and Andy Rose added a header via a free-kick come the 70th minute to overturn that early lead.
Undaunted, second half substitute Jonathan Osorio, making his first appearance of the season, found an equalizer in the 83rd minute when a bouncing ball fell to him in the Vancouver box and Max Crepeau could not handle his goal-bound effort.
It wasn’t perfect, but Chris Armas thought his side deserved more on the day.
“The players have put so much work into everything that we're doing that on a day like today, where they come out against a team that's coming off a big win against Portland,” he said post-match. “I'd love for the players, all of us, to get rewarded for the way they work, the way they showed up, but that's not the case.”
“We get the lead and feel like we're in a pretty good situation. We just have to keep pushing and try to get that second goal while we mitigate counterattacks and set-pieces – we knew this was their strength on the day,” Armas explained. “It's disappointing – a free-kick set play, the other is a penalty – that’s hard to sit with. The good news is the guys made a real push at the end to get back into the game and, maybe, we leave on somewhat of a positive.”
Singh capped off a whirlwind few weeks that saw him sign a short-term contract, make his Concacaf Champions League debut, sign another short-term contract, start against Club Leon in the second leg, sign a first team contract, start his first MLS game, and then score his first goal for TFC.
Just rewards; a long time coming.
“Luke has done so well,” said Osorio. “A guy that has been patiently waiting for his time and it's paying off – he was with us in Hartford last year. Amazing to see a young kid like that get his first goal in only his third or fourth game.”
“He's got a bright future, as well as all these other young players on our team,” he continued. “We're all very excited to see how far they can go.”
And as for Osorio’s goal, a symphony of bounces... well, they all count the same.
“One of their players tried to clear it, they had trouble, and it ended up coming to me, luckily,” he recounted. “I just tried to get it on net as quick as possible. I actually didn't hit it the best, but it had enough to put the keeper off balance and the ball had the spin to get away from him and go in the net.”
Unlikely to win any Goal of the Week awards, it was emblematic of something Armas has been preaching.
“We talk a lot about urgency,” said the coach. “Urgency on the pitch and none more than in each box, that 18x20.”
“Can we have reactions to defend goals with more urgency – that showed up on some plays today, although we let ourselves down in a few moments, but on the attacking end to think about the second ball, really anticipating,” Armas stressed. “That shows that guys are hungry to score. Thrilled for those guys, especially Luke getting his first in just his second game.”
New season, new coach, new style. Time moves at its own pace. It cannot be rushed.
“It's early for our team. We're slowly getting healthy, we're getting fitter, the sharpness is going to come. It's all going to come together,” said Armas. “What I do see, what I love most, is a major commitment to what we're doing.”
“And I see that because I know it poses challenges for us. If we're going to play with intensity and be aggressive, stepping to plays and playing up the pitch, it leads to sometimes fouls and leads to transition moments, but I see a big commitment every day from the whole crew,” he continued. “A couple of months in we're playing more vertical, we're playing with more intensity, we're able to score and in the run of play we're not giving up a ton, even against Leon. There's a lot of work to do. We’re early on in the process. We'll get back to work starting tomorrow.”
Focus now shifts to the Champions League and the first leg of the quarterfinal series against Mexican side Cruz Azul on Tuesday.
“Very easily,” replied Osorio, asked how they shift attention to the next opponent. “Now we put our focus on them.”
“They play today, so we're going to watch that game and see what we're up against. We know we're up against a really big opponent, a really big team in Mexico, a team that is doing very well in the league,” he continued. “It's going to be a tough match, but that’s something this club is always up for.”
“This competition puts out great games and great quality and you're against the best in the continent. As a player that's the kind of games that you want to be a part of, so easy,” he added. “We put this to the side for now and we look forward to Tuesday.”