Toronto FC, simply put, didn’t have the sharpness required to keep dancing in the Audi 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs.
Head coach Greg Vanney was quick to acknowledge that after the East’s No. 2 seed got upset by Nashville SC, the East’s No. 7 seed, on Tuesday night in a 1-0 defeat at Rentschler Field. The Round One game-winner didn’t arrive until Daniel Rios scored in the 108th minute for the expansion side, but they generated plenty of chances throughout and had three would-be goals called back via offside decisions.
Everything that this season threw Toronto’s way reached a tipping point, Vanney said.
“I think our guys put an incredible shift in over the course of the body of work of the regular season,” Vanney said. “In the end, pushing, things caught up with us a little bit. Some of what you would call our top players, our guys that are difference-makers, our guys who are important to us in getting results in big games were in an out with injuries, starting to come back in the tail end of the season and I felt like we lacked a little bit of fitness, we lacked a little bit of sharpness, a little bit of continuity at times tonight.
“That might have been part of why we were a little bit slow in some of our actions and didn't connect as fast as we normally would or would like to, maybe some of that fluid combination play just wasn't as sharp, so I think we hit the tail end.”
Highlights: Toronto FC 0, Nashville SC 1 (AET)
Toronto were hit hard by injuries down the stretch, and it showed with the club going 1W-3L to end the year. The 2019 MLS Cup finalists were in the running for the Supporters’ Shield until Decision Day presented by AT&T, but they trended in the wrong direction as single-elimination soccer neared.
Club captain and center mid Michael Bradley took stock of the match in a similar light, noting Toronto couldn’t solve the riddle posed by Nashville. The Reds were credited with 850 passes to Nashville’s 530 and had nearly 62% of the possession, but were outshot 21-10. It was a case study in how those first two stats don’t always tell the whole story.
“By and large we had decent control of the game, but we weren't able to really put them on their heels consistently enough,” Bradley said. “We weren't able to really create situations of wave after wave of really being dangerous. Look, they're defensively a good team, a team that understands who they are and what they're about and they don't give away a ton of goals and they don't give away a ton of chances.”
Now, after spending the last few months playing in East Hartford, Connecticut – travel conditions with Canada around the COVID-19 pandemic meant TFC set up camp stateside – they’re looking ahead. Vanney highlighted as much, with Toronto denied a chance at a fourth MLS Cup appearance in the last five years.
“Obviously the playoffs will sting a great deal, just because we feel like we have a team that has quality and we should do better, so that will hurt,” Vanney said. “But we'll lick our wounds, we'll regroup, we'll continue to try make the team better and then set afoot again next year for another journey.
“Hopefully it won't look like this year, and hopefully we'll be able to get back into our stadium and hopefully teams will be playing in front of fans and some of that excitement will be driven back into the stadiums and the games and all that stuff. Hopefully it will look like a different season, but the guys will get themselves turned around and ready for another year when that time is right.”
Bradley assumed a similar tact, hoping that public heath in 2021 allows for more games at BMO Field. At the same time, he stressed they don’t want to make any excuses for exiting in Round One.
“I think when you look at the news that's come out in the last week or two in terms of some of these vaccines, you certainly hope that as we move deeper and deeper into 2021, that little by little the world can start to return to a new normal,” Bradley said. “Certainly, what that will mean for us as a team and as a club, hopefully getting back to playing at BMO Field as soon as possible with fans at a certain point. So we're certainly very excited about the prospect of that and hopefully that's coming quickly."