Jun 13, 2018; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto FC forward Sebastian Giovinco (10) attacks in close as D.C. United defender Joseph Mora (28) attempts to defend at BMO Field. Toronto FC tied D.C. United 4-4. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
For the most part, Michael Bradley has looked for the positives through Toronto FC’s rough start to the 2018 MLS season.
On Wednesday, after the Reds’ wild 4-4 tie with D.C. United, the TFC captain looked tired and ready for the 10-day break now in front of the club before its next match.
After watching Nick Hagglund complete a comeback from 3-0 down only for D.C. to score again before Hagglund equalized for a second time — all from the 86th minute onward — Bradley could not put his finger on an overriding emotion.
“I’m not sure there is one,” he said. “There’s about a thousand. At the moment, we take it for what it is and get a little chance to recharge mentally and physically. Now, we’ve got to come back for the second half of the season ready to go in a really strong way.”
Having played a full Concacaf Champions League campaign — including three trips to Mexico — and lost only two games fewer than it did in the entirety of the its treble-winning 2017 season, Bradley admitted it did not feel as if TFC’s campaign had only reached June.
“We’ve got to come back ready to look at ourselves in a real, honest way and make sure that as we move into the second half of the season we rediscover a little bit of life and energy and enthusiasm,” he added. “It’s been a long season so far. We’ve played a lot of games. We’ve travelled a lot. We’ve won some big games, we’ve lost some big games and everything in between.”
“In moments, you would certainly say it has,” Bradley continued when asked if enthusiasm had been lacking. “That’s not to say there’s no reason for that. Between so many games, so many emotions, so many injuries, so many makeshift lineups, so many days when you’re just trying to scrounge anything together to come away with points — that wears on you in a big way.
“Those aren’t meant to be excuses. It’s how things have gone so far for us.”
What was said in TFC’s locker room?
Toronto’s first-half performance was as bad as we have seen at BMO Field in a long time.
If anything, the scoreline could have been worse than the 3-0 lead D.C. United established. But surprisingly, Toronto coach Greg Vanney resisted the temptation to lambast his players during the break.
“I try to read off of the team and what I think the team needs,” Vanney explained. “For me, today wasn’t a day where I felt like they needed a bollocking or a yelling at or anything like that.
“It’s interesting, because I felt like they needed a clear plan, a little push to believe they could do this. We’ve done this before. We needed to be confident, we needed to be aggressive. We needed to play without fear, play without concern of losing a pass, but to play aggressive, to play forward, to go for it. So between pushing them in that way and readjusting our group in a way we felt we could be more aggressive on the attack but still cover ourselves in a reasonable way, I felt like that was the solution for us.
“For me, I look for very specific things. I know a lot of people probably think they needed a bollocking at half time, but I think I have a decent feel of the group and I didn’t necessarily think that was where we were at. I think we needed something different and they responded to it.”
Until Asad’s fourth goal, Toronto played like a different team. They pushed the ball forwards with far more urgency. They jumped on D.C. counter attacks before they had started. And on the left, returning wing back Justin Morrow made a huge difference as a 57th-minute substitute, creating the first of Hagglund’s two tying goals.
“He’s one of the guys that we, for sure, have missed,” Vanney added. “To me, he’s the best left back in the league. You can’t really duplicate that.”
Fan unrest emerges at BMO Field
At 3-0, the BMO Field crowd that had mostly been sympathetic to the challenges TFC has faced this season finally decided it had seen enough.
Toronto left the field to a chorus of boos, and this time they were not for the officials.
“We’ve got a lot of things to be worried about right now and that doesn’t come in real high on the list at the moment,” Bradley said of the discontent. “We need our fans’ support in a big, big way. Even more so right now, when things are difficult. They’ve pushed us on and played such a big part for us on so many big days and we’re going to continue to need that.”
It was not the only unrest in the stands — or away from them, more accurately.
In light of all the questions we have received regarding our abscence at the stadium tonight, we felt that it was…
There was a noticeably empty section of seats in the middle of the stadium’s south end — the home of the Inebriatti, TFC’s most boisterous supporters group. Its members chose not to attend after being sanctioned for an unapproved banner that urged the club to offer Sebastian Giovinco a new contract (it read: ‘No Seba? No trophies!’) as well as a failure to follow regulations regarding the use of flags during games.
“We felt that after both sets of sanctions that we have endured affably this season this new punishment is unnecessary and unjust,” an Inebriatti statement read.