COLUMBUS, Ohio – On Saturday night in Columbus, it seemed that the all-conquering Toronto FC of 2017 had returned.
Toronto led 3-0 after the first hour of the game, having dominated Columbus in nearly every way. But after Crew SC made a triple substitution and shifted formations in the 63rd minute, the floodgates opened for the home team.
Goals in the 67th, 81st and 90th minute sealed the comeback for Columbus, and left Toronto devastated by what may have been considered a good road point before the collapse.
After the game, TFC head coach Greg Vanney said he was disappointed by his team’s inability to deal with the change when he said Columbus got “desperate and start pushing a lot of numbers high.”
“For me, we don’t adjust our mindset when that happens,” he said. “When that happens, we’ve got to play forward, we’ve got to get behind, we’ve got to try to shift the game into the opponent’s half of the field. And for some reason, we kept trying to play through this massive amount of pressure and kept putting ourselves in problems. Really, all three goals came the same way.”
The difficult night was particularly hard for Toronto’s Michael Bradley, who was directly involved in allowing all three of the Columbus goals.
Vanney didn’t blame his captain, who was deployed as an emergency center back once again, saying TFC gained their 3-0 lead “partly because of Michael” as well.
Bradley took some responsibility, but said the performance indicated that Toronto’s “mindset” isn’t good enough.
“We didn’t do a good job of dealing with some plays at the end of the game, and that starts with me,” he said. “The ability to handle what’s being thrown at you at the end of the game, to be able to make sure all the good things you’ve done over the course of the game count for more at the end, that’s our biggest challenge right now.”
Toronto now sit only above D.C. United in the Eastern Conference, eight points off the playoff pace with the sixth-worst points-per-game mark in MLS. But Bradley said he thinks there’s plenty of time left for the Reds.
“There’s still two-thirds of the season to go,” he said. “There’s a reason they don’t pass out any awards or trophies after 11 or 12 or 13 games.”
Vanney still believes the team is capable of working their way back into contention, but said they’ll need to make marked improvement.
“The difference between today and a year ago is we win this game a year ago,” he said. “We find a way to dig down and get a result, and today we didn’t. That’s the mindset and the grind and the shift that we have within us, but we’ve got to bring it out again.”
The team is “looking at ourselves in a pretty hard, honest way,” according to Bradley, who said he feels there are enough positives to build on as the season progresses.
“Things haven’t been easy, but the mentality has to continue to be to keep going, keep going,” he said. “That’s the only way you pull yourselves out of a situation like this.”