FLUSHING, N.Y. — In his team’s lead-up to the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs, New York City FC coach Dome Torrent repeated the same refrain, that in knockout games, when the margins are thinnest, mistakes decide games.
Little did he know how prophetic he would be.
A pair of defensive errors resulted in Alejandro Pozuelo's brace as NYCFC’s best season in club history came to screeching halt in a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Toronto FC Wednesday night in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
“It's about the mistakes,” Torrent said. “That happens tonight and I think the players deserved more and more, especially in the second half but in the last moment, penalty.”
“They played really well for nine months and for they deserve to at least draw the game and go into extra time,” Torrent said. “But it is what it is. We make a mistake and we are out.”
Pozuelo opened the scoring three minutes into the second half on a rare gaffe from centerback Maxime Chanot, who finished fourth in 2019 MLS Defender of the Year voting. The Luxembourg international tried to head a ball back to Sean Johnson, but didn’t get enough on it, allowing Pozuelo to pounce and tap past Johnson.
“I remember, for example, how important Maxime Chanot is for us. I don't want to talk about individual players because they deserve more and more and sometimes it happens,” Torrent said. “Sometimes the strikers make a mistake, and the media never talk about the the striker, just the keeper when the keeper makes a mistake or the defenders.”
Johnson also backed Chanot after the game.
“It’s just one of those moments where things don't work out the way you really planned them,” Johnson said. “That’s the game of football. He’s a terrific defender so it doesn't define him by any means. I'm sure we’d all have that moment back and do it differently next time.”
What baffled Johnson was NYCFC’s sluggish start as visiting TFC were the aggressors, pressing high and making the hosts uncomfortable. If not for a few spectacular saves by Johnson, the Reds would have been deservedly ahead at the break.
“Simply we just weren't good enough today,” Johnson said. “I think you look at the course of the game and we start off for 45 minutes and think get lucky to escape 0-0 at halftime. We didn't show up with the right energy, the right focus and mistakes happen, but i think is a collective. In big games, in big moments, we have to show up.”
Although the circumstances are different, the feeling is the same for Johnson as last year’s postseason ouster to Atlanta United in the same round.
“The offseason’s here and it's a harsh reality for a lot of guys who haven't experienced that yet,” Johnson said. “For those who were here last year it's a repeat and I said it last year, it wasn’t good enough and we’d do all we could to come back this year and make things better, but we fell short again.”