There will always be adversity, what matters is the response.
Toronto FC put a strong foot forward in the opening round of the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs on Saturday night at BMO Field with a 5-1 win over D.C. United.
Emphatic though that scoreline may appear, it doesn't nearly tell the full story of a team that took the lead and held it for nearly an hour, only to be stunned with virtually the last kick of the game. Seconds from victory, only to have to it snatched away.
A lesser side, on a different night, would crumble.
“Incredible response,” hailed Michael Bradley post-match. “We played very well in the first 90 minutes. [D.C. are] a team that causes trouble on set-pieces. We dealt with so many in a good way and, obviously, we couldn’t deal with the last one in regulation.
“But the mentality to not let that faze us, to regroup and be ready to go again, that part was the sign of a big team.” added the TFC captain. “In some ways we would have preferred to take the 1-0 and save ourselves a few minutes, but given the way the rest went, then we can use the next 30 minutes for some real momentum.”
Nick DeLeon, playing against his former team, said it best: “There was, for lack of a better word, some pissed off guys going into overtime – some very motivated guys – and I think it showed.”
Toronto scored, scored again, then scored again, and again.
“To respond like that and to come out that aggressive was great,” added Jonathan Osorio, who bagged an eight-minute brace. “It gives us a lot of confidence. Some could argue that the game finishing this way is better for us going into the next.”
Nevermind that they did so without two first-choice starters in Jozy Altidore and Omar Gonzalez.
With Altidore’s quad having been a talking point all week, it was the absence of Gonzalez that echoed around the stadium when it was announced prior to kickoff.
“It’s not serious, which is the good news: a very minor hamstring strain,” said Greg Vanney. “He started to feel tightness on Wednesday, so we gave him a bit of rest, we didn’t push him.
“Got a scan last night, minor enough that we wanted to fitness test him today. He just couldn’t open up into a maximum sprint,” he explained. “It became we don’t want to waste a sub tonight if he can’t get through it and if we don’t push him, it’s minor enough he could be ready for Wednesday.”
“I’m optimistic; he’s optimistic,” added Vanney. “A few days could do him a lot of good.”
Similar for Altidore.
“The risk outweighed the reward,” according to Vanney. “And now we’ve bought a few more days.”
“We can get him close – I don’t think it will be 100%, I just don’t know,” admitted Vanney. “Every day we’re pushing him a little bit more and he’s tolerating all of that. With three or four more days, I’m hopeful that he can play a role. I’m just not sure to what extent, but we’re getting close to the point that he is going to be able to give us something.”
Toronto will use those days wisely as they await their next hurdle in the chase for the MLS Cup: a date with NYCFC at Citi Field on Wednesday night.
“We’re looking forward to it,” said Vanney. “We’ve had good matchups against them this year. We’ll come off of this one and regroup.
“The mentality is there: we’ve gone 11 games unbeaten – one of those at their place – we had a PK late to try to win it, 4-0 earlier in the year here, so we’re confident that the matchup makes sense for us,” he laid out. “ Now we’ve got to recover, get everybody to the best possible physical state and prepare ourselves for them.
It's a challenge Vanney said he's relishing.
"We want every challenge that we can get at this point,” he said. “We look forward to it.”
As for the quick turnaround, Toronto were quick to brush it aside as a potential factor in the outcome of Wednesday's matchup.
“It doesn't matter, it's playoffs. All of that does not matter at all,” maintained Osorio. “We are going to do everything we can. That won't be an excuse.”