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Recap and Highlights: Toronto FC lifeless in 1-0 defeat to NYCFC

The depleted Reds looked completely out of sorts from start to finish and fall three points behind in the quest for the Supporters’ Shield.

MLS: New York City FC at Toronto FC
New York City FC defender Ronald Matarrita (22) moves the ball against Toronto FC midfielder Richie Laryea (22) in the first half
(Butler II/USA TODAY Sports)

Toronto FC were completely overwhelmed on Wednesday night, falling 1-0 to NYC FC after a listless performance.

After weeks of going undefeated, TFC’s match last week against the Philadelphia Union was a particularly cruel reminder of what losing felt like. It goes without saying that the Reds would be looking to bounce back tonight; however, NYC FC has been a recurring thorn in their side; while Toronto won their most recent contest, it came only after a miracle penalty in the 90th minute—victory was far from assured for the Reds, especially with a lineup that was still a reasonable distance from full strength.

In light of last week’s Frankenstein’s monster of a starting lineup, Vanney would turn to the young guns Liam Fraser, who would share the midfield alongside Michael Bradley, and Tony Gallacher, who has looked very respectable when his feet are on the pitch, to patch up the XI. Relatively-young gun Patrick Mullins would also start up top in lieu of a still-missing Ayo Akinola.

The early game was unhinged for both squads. Each had runs and chances, but neither was composed in their execution; specifically, the defence for both sides was sporadic and felt like an afterthought.

By the 10th minute things had settled down somewhat, but the Reds’ defence remained spotty—sometimes they were quick to shut down the opposing press while at other times they would allow players to breeze through the defensive line and take up dangerous positions.

On the offence, Toronto—when an opportunity would present itself, usually by way of transition—would approach with all the menacing flair of yesteryear, but in the actual aspect of creating opportunity looked pallid. Fortunately for them NYC FC had a similar problems early on, often approaching the box with pace and then tossing an elementary cross right into the lap of a TFC defenceman.

New York were quick to adapt, though, and by the 20th minute had streamlined their attack. They were applying pace at the right moments and sectioning off the Toronto defence before pushing the attack right into the heart of box.

In the 23rd minute, NYC FC split the defence with a beautiful through-ball, forcing another big save out of Quentin Westberg.

By the 30th minute Toronto FC was looking lost. In select moments it seemed it was all they could do to just hold on, their few instances of transition offence (read: not structured attacked) simmering out inconsequentially.

The final ten minutes were a dark blue blur. Borrowing a page from Philadelphia’s playbook, NYC FC applied severe pressure on every inch of the Toronto box. The Reds’ had no room to breathe, and as the game grew closer to half-time it felt as though New York was adapting ever quicker while TFC was barely surviving.

It is somewhat supernatural, then, that New York could not finish any of their multiple chances. Despite a late attempt courtesy of Nick DeLeon (which sourly met the post), TFC had little offence to speak of and were lucky to survive without relinquishing a goal. Regardless of performance, at the 45 the score remained 0-0.

Toronto FC came out a little more aware of themselves in the second half (as well as the fact that they could still, like they have done so many times before, purloin three points from a thus far inauspicious night) and were playing a slightly more focused game.

Despite the marginal improvement, however, five minutes into the second half a large defensive over-commitment (and simultaneous lack of commitment) found Jesús Medina completely alone in front of net with a rebounded ball. The tap-in was elementary.

That quickly New York was back in control, and they wasted no time in leveraging their advantage. They continued with wave after wave of fierce pressure, the Reds scrambling to deflect the attempts.

By the 65th minute Toronto was drowning. Fatigue was clearly setting in, and when the window to attack showed itself, the Reds were rarely able to do more than approach the box and get stymied at the line.

By the 80th minute it was clear that Toronto was running on fumes. New York was creating chance after chance, but could not finish. (This is due in small part to TFC’s defence which, while in no way beautiful, and certainly not good, was scrappy enough to at least cut down easy angles or pressure the ball carrier.)

Oddly, in the closing few minutes Toronto found a small vein of effort where they looked something like the TFC we are all used to. They were, however briefly, able to move the ball with some modicum of craft look for openings. However—as has been an issue all game—they could not create genuine opportunities.

As the time wound down, the match found itself much as it started, with NYC FC at the throat of Toronto FC while they messily held them back. Ultimately, despite the proliferation of wasted chances, New York got the victory they rightfully deserved and the game ended 1-0.

A lot of key personnel were missing for Toronto FC, but even from those present it was a lacklustre performance. Michael Bradley, while not looking his old self, was playing much better than against Philadelphia (although that’s not a terribly high, or even middling bar); however, in the second half he was clearly tired, and as his exhaustion set in he was playing the ball much sloppier.

Patrick Mullins, on the other hand, was a ghost. There was rarely an instance where he did not lose possession in front of net, and it’s clear he is not a substitute for an actual striker.

On top of this, teams are learning how to lock down Alejandro Pozeulo, and without Pablo Piatti there to take the attention off of him, the Reds are suffering to try and create any convertible plays.

While it is too early to relinquish all hopes of the Supporter’s Shield (though, yes, it is leaning that way), the reality of the situation is becoming clear: Toronto FC have found several miracles for many of the games they won. Now, with the roster depleted, the results are looking barren as well.

A painful choice might be approaching, if it’s not already upon the team. Vanney might need to choose to give the injured players optimal rest before the postseason (lest he risk the team being run over early) and relinquish the manhole cover; if this is the case, then the half-strength Reds need to start performing more miracles if they want a shot at the best record in the league.