July 24th, 2024

Toronto FC looks to reduce ‘needless’ cautions and cut back on conceding late goals

By Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press on June 14, 2024.

TFC head coach John Herdman thanks the fans after MLS action against New York City in Toronto on May 11, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

TORONTO – Discipline was a topic of discussion this week for Toronto FC, which has conceded 12 goals in the last 15 minutes of league games this season.

Only San Jose, which languishes in the league basement 18 places and 13 points behind Toronto, has conceded more goals in the dying minutes with 15.

Ill-discipline cost Toronto last time out when it squandered a 2-0 lead at D.C. United and had to settle for a 2-2 draw after star attacker Federico Bernardeschi, in the 87th minute and defender Nicksoen Gomis, in the 93rd, were sent off for second cautions. D.C. scored in the 79th and 93rd minutes to salvage a single point.

“We’ve looked at some of the analytics, where we’re a little bit soft and where we’ve got to tighten up,” coach John Herdman said after training Friday. “And then ultimately some of the emotional elements of picking up cards, what we would call needless cards.

“Those things have been addressed this week with the leadership group.”

While Herdman insists his players will continue to play an “aggressive style,” he noted one-third of the team’s cards have been needless – through dissent or delaying restarts.

“Those are the ones we’re going to clean up,” he said.,

Bernardeschi, who has seen red a league-leading twice this season along with Minnesota’s Joseph Rosales, got his marching orders for petulantly kicking the ball away in the D.C. game.

“Everyone knows what he’s meant to the team this season,” said Herdman. “He’s been just a consistent, top performer. He’s a big miss “¦ Nicksoen as well.”

Both are suspended for Saturday’s visit by the Chicago Fire.

“A lot of the goals we’ve conceded this season have been in the second half (19 compared to seven in the first half),” said veteran defender Kevin Long. “So you can see we’re starting games really well and we’re dominating a lot of the games but the second half it seems like our concentration levels maybe have dropped off a little bit.

“And we can’t allow that to happen. We need to be ready to play for 95-plus minutes and we need to stay concentrated and stay disciplined throughout. And that’s something we’re looking to do going forward.”

An idle Bernardeschi is also a blow to the bottom line. Given his salary of US$6.295 million, sixth-highest in Major League Soccer, each league game in which he does not contribute represents a wasted US$185,160.

Toronto will be missing some other key pieces Saturday when it returns to action after a two-week break.

Captain/midfielder Jonathan Osorio and fullback/wingback Richie Laryea are with Canada preparing for Copa America while goalkeeper Sean Johnson is with the U.S.

Wingback Tyrese Spicer will undergo a late fitness test due to a back issue while forward Prince Owusu (calf) is only available for limited minutes off the bench. Midfielder Brandon Servania and defender Shane O’Neill remain long-term absentees.

Chicago is without star attacking midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri, who is with Switzerland at Euro 2024. Chicago injury absentees include Chase Gasper, Andrew Gutman, Tobias Salquis and Federico Navarro.

Toronto goes into weekend play (7-7-3) in sixth spot in the Eastern Conference, eight places and nine points ahead of Chicago.

“I see a team that’s organized and not easy to break down,” Chicago coach Frank Klopas said of Toronto. “We have to be at our best, and we have to understand and expect a fast start in the match and be ready.

“Not an easy task but one that we look forward to.”

Both teams have been off since June 1.

Toronto came into the break on the back of consecutive draws at Philadelphia (0-0) and D.C. United. It has lost just one of its last five outings (2-1-2) in all competitions.

Chicago (3-8-6) is one of three MLS teams, along with St. Louis City and FC Dallas, yet to win on the road this season (0-3-4).

The Fire are coming off a 2-1 win over the visiting Los Angeles Galaxy, however, and are unbeaten in their last three games (1-0-2). Before that, Chicago had gone winless in seven outings (0-5-2).

“We understand where we are, and only effort and hard work is going to get us out – and a commitment,” said Klopas. “We’ve got to stick together. The energy has been good. The (recent) results have helped. But we have to keep going, and we have a long way to go.

“My message hasn’t changed. We know what our goals are in the end. We want to be in the playoffs. There’s no other way to say it. We have an uphill climb and we have to approach every game like it’s a must-win situation.”

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 14, 2024

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