TORONTO — This time of year momentum can be critical.
The Five Stripes now have a week to shake it off as they prepare for the Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs, which begin for them next Sunday when they travel for the first leg of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the highest advancing seed after the midweek Knockout Round concludes.
But it was not just momentum that was lost on Sunday. The Supporters' Shield, first place and subsequent homefield advantage against the New York Red Bulls, as well a place in the record books all dissipated. Those disappointments must be overcome.
“We've got to find a way,” urged goalkeeper Brad Guzan. “Luckily for us, we've got a few days to get things sorted, look back at this game and make sure this doesn’t happen. You can’t go into the first leg of a playoff game and concede four goals. You don’t give yourself a fighting chance to go back home and play for the return leg. We've got to figure it out.”
The defeat comes as a stark reminder that there is something different about the matches this time of year. On the heels of away defeats to the Red Bulls and D.C. United, two teams they may meet again in the coming weeks, the loss in Toronto was a warning.
There were few positives in the performance itself, but striker Josef Martinez ended his four-match goal-drought to cap his record-setting season, forward Hector Villalba returned from an injury layoff and playmaker Miguel Almiron could be ready to go come Nov. 4.
The solutions will be found where they always are.
“A good week of training, that's the only thing you can do,” said defender Michael Parkhurst. “We'll watch the games [midweek], see who we play, where we go next weekend and be ready to battle again. MLS Cup is still in front of us.
“I'm not going to sugarcoat it, we're disappointed, it's a big loss, but we need to regroup; need to digest this one. It'll take a day or two, but the season is not lost. We have another cup to play for. We've missed out on a couple this year, but the biggest one is still in front of us. We've got a first round bye and we know we are guaranteed two more games, so we've got an opportunity to correct it.”
The playoffs after all are a different beast; Atlanta United has an MLS Cup in their sights.
“It is something new that is starting now,” said Tata Martino. “The regular season is over. We put in a great a effort, had a lot success during the regular season, with the exception of this game. But at this point that doesn’t matter now. Our challenge now is to put this game behind us and get back to positive things in the playoffs.”