MONTREAL – Toronto FC waited nine years for playoff soccer. It took all of 20 minutes to bring the Reds back down to Earth.
On Thursday night at Stade Saputo, Toronto FC and their three stars – Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore, and Michael Bradley – saw their season end unceremoniously, the club’s first-ever postseason appearance rendered a disappointing footnote rather than triumphant moment.
The trio combined for 40 goals during the regular season as Giovinco established himself as the league’s leading MVP candidate, but when the Audi 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs finally came calling, they didn’t have any answers for Didier Drogba and the rival Montreal Impact.
“It's not easy to find answers,” Bradley admitted following a 3-0 defeat. “Talk doesn't do a whole lot of good.”
“In a perfect world [the team would come together] quickly, smoothly,” he continued. “Unfortunately, a lot of times there are going to be these steps along the way. You have to keep going. ... It's not the night to sit here and talk and make excuses, to act like anybody's got all the answers.”
“This is a project and it's a process, it takes time,” head coach Greg Vanney added. “The group has to grow together, learn to trust each other. It's not supposed to look like it did tonight, but they have to go through these situations. Seba [Giovinco], Jozy [Altidore]. ... All these guys have to get the sense now, the feel, of the playoff environment.”
On Thursday night, that environment seemed to overwhelm the Reds as a parade of defensive errors saw the game slip from reach after just 40 minutes.
Patrice Bernier burned Toronto on the break to start the scoring, Ignacio Piatti pounced on loose ball after a slip on the backline from Josh Williams and Didier Drogba did what’s he done since arriving in MLS and hammered home the final nail in the coffin.
“Once we got behind, it was about finding a single goal,” Vanney said. “We had players on our team who were trying to find the game, to fight through with the other team on their back and get back in.
“[They were] trying to do the right thing. It's very difficult, they need everybody. And everybody needs to be on top of their game when it comes to playoffs.”
Collectively, Toronto were nowhere close to that standard, and it cost them their first-ever playoff home game and a shot at MLS Cup.
For some, that represents a failure. For Vanney, it's simply part of the club's growth curve.
“It's not the same old TFC,” Vanney said. “We made the playoffs, did a lot of things this year that haven't been done in years past, for this club, for this team.”
“That was not a good enough. But that's part of becoming a championship team,” Vanney added. “Countless franchises don't win in their first year.
“For us, it has to be a learning process. We have to grow from this, we have to get better in the offseason, add some pieces, continue to grow the core of our team. We need to get better.”