Following the high of winning the 2020 Canadian Championship, Toronto FC were brought right back down to Earth, falling 2-0 to the New York Red Bulls in Harrison, New Jersey.
The defeat marks TFC’s 16th straight MLS away game without a victory, as well as a club-record 23 straight league matches without a clean sheet.
Although the Reds dominated possession throughout the game (59%), goals from Lewis Morgan and Luquinhas ensured the Red Bulls got back to winning ways after a 2-0 defeat to Charlotte FC on June 11th.
If you thought the early goal woes were behind TFC, think again, as an unmarked Morgan headed home to open the scoring for the hosts after just two minutes of play. The Scotsman has now scored seven in MLS, with four of those seven coming against Toronto.
From there, the Reds began to look a little more lively, with Jayden Nelson coming closest to an equalizer during the first 45. In the first of two opportunities to level things up, Nelson was brilliantly put through on goal by Jesús Jiménez in the fifth minute, only for the young Canadian to fire his shot straight at Carlos Coronel.
Later on, Nelson would try his luck in the 22nd minute, but his curling effort would drift just wide of Coronel’s net.
The first half saw Toronto FC complete 286 passes, but only record two shots on target. With goalscoring opportunities scarce, execution in the final third once again proved problematic for Bob Bradley’s men.
Despite trailing at the break, Toronto has been no stranger to overcoming adversity of late, as seen by their games against D.C. United and the Chicago Fire. Yet, the Red Bulls would put the game beyond the visitors’ reach via an ambitious effort from Luquinhas.
The Brazilian would pounce on a loose ball, and with just one touch, the forward lobbed it over a backtracking Quentin Westberg to double his side’s lead.
Jacob Shaffelburg’s introduction to the match in the 66th minute injected some much needed life into TFC’s attack, as he came close to narrowing the deficit to one with nine minutes of normal time remaining.
A long ball from Shane O’Neill inside the Toronto half cut open the Red Bulls defence and found a charging Shaffelburg. The Nova Scotian seemingly had all the time in the world to pick his spot, but like Nelson in the first half, Shaffelburg drove the ball straight at Coronel.
That would prove to be TFC’s final significant chance of the game as the home side celebrated a well deserved victory in front of their fans.
From Toronto FC’s perspective, no joy can be taken from the result, but Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty’s return to the first team action off the bench in the 76th minute will have surely put smiles on the faces of the TFC faithful.
On the night, the Red Bulls moved level on points with Eastern Conference leaders New York City FC, albeit having played three matches more than the reigning MLS Cup champions.
As for Toronto, they remain 12th, but are now just one point above D.C. United and the Chicago Fire in 13th and 14th, respectively. In the context of the playoffs, the Reds are five points behind seventh place FC Cincinnati with 19 league games still to play. While the result at Red Bull Arena may have been disappointing, the business end of the campaign is still a ways away.
Ultimately, the defeat comes as yet another learning moment for Toronto’s young core, who have featured prominently for the Reds since the start of the season.
“I still think that we don’t have enough guys that when the games are fast and have a little more of a physical element are at the level they need to be,” explained Bob Bradley after the match.
“That’s part of the growth of young guys.”
With the youngsters continuing to adapt to playing at the highest level, one of the team’s seasoned MLS veterans, Shane O’Neill, described the importance of Toronto’s upcoming stretch of five straight home games in all competitions.
“This is a really, really important stretch,” said O’Neill.
“We have to be dialed in and we have to compete and be willing to do whatever it takes to get results in these next five games. It’s a huge stretch for this team.”
Up next for Toronto FC is a mouth-watering Canadian Championship semi-final clash against none other than CF Montreal on Wednesday, June 22nd. The game will mark the first of five straight matches at BMO Field for the Reds, with Toronto’s next away outing not until July 13th against the Chicago Fire.