A slow and uninspired start left Toronto FC behind the curve against New York City FC on Sunday and they never caught up, head coach Greg Vanney admitted after his team’s 3-1 Round of 16 loss at the MLS is Back Tournament.
“I thought everything for us was too slow. The tempo of the game, too slow,” said Vanney after the match. “The ball movement was too slow, too much dwelling, too many touches. It wasn't what I would define is the best version of what we're trying to do and what we're trying to be tonight. And that is what it is – in a knockout, if you're like that on one night, you're out and you go home.
“So tonight, that's what happened. They were better than us and they deserved the win and we go home.”
TFC entered the night undefeated both at MLS is Back and in the 2020 season overall, while NYCFC had to back into the event’s Knockout Stage after two losses and a narrow win over expansion side Inter Miami CF. You’d never have known it by their respective levels of intensity, organization and effectiveness from the opening kickoff, however.
“We started the game very poorly,” said Reds captain Michael Bradley. “Got ourselves going a little bit at the end of the first half, but just in all ways weren't good enough tonight. So that part is pretty simple, there's not much more to say. You play these knockout games and obviously you know things are going to be tight … every part of the game is so important and we we got off to a really bad start, and from there we never really found a good way in the game.”
Vanney had to craft his lineup without several regulars, as striker Ayo Akinola was sidelined by a hamstring problem and Jozy Altidore and Jonathan Osorio were limited to substitute work due to injury and fitness issues of their own.
That opened the door for 17-year-old Homegrown Jayden Nelson to make his MLS debut – and Vanney made sure to single out the youngster’s promising display – but TFC were always chasing the game and a litany of attacking substitutions after Valentin Castellanos doubled the Cityzens’ advantage could only conjure up a late consolation goal for Patrick Mullins.
While Vanney praised his team’s desire and resilience throughout their MLS is Back experience, he hinted at deeper issues to resolve in the days ahead.
“There's a lot of individual and collective things that I will take away from the game, they're not for the press conference, that we will deal with in terms of our group. But everything was too slow. It lacked urgency, it lacked intensity,” said the coach.
“The guys have grinded, it's not been easy. So I don't think anyone didn't want to win. I don't think anyone was giving up mentally. I think guys are fatigued. I think guys are tired. But I think we could have dug down a little deeper and just we could have played better.”