ATL – Ezequiel Barco 20′ (Brooks Lennon)
Toronto FC 3-11-6 15 points
Atlanta United FC 5-6-9 24 points
TORONTO FC – Quentin Westberg; Auro Jr., Omar González, Eriq Zavaleta (Kemar Lawrence 53′), Justin Morrow; Michael Bradley (C), Noble Okello (Mark Delgado 77′), Richie Laryea, Jonathan Osorio (Alejandro Pozuelo 53′), Jacob Shaffelburg (Yeferson Soteldo 53′); Patrick Mullins (Ifunanyachi Achara 70′)
Substitutes Not Used: Alex Bono, Luke Singh, Nick DeLeon, Jordan Perruzza
ATLANTA UNITED FC – Brad Guzan (C); Brooks Lennon, Miles Robinson, Alan Franco, Anton Walkes, George Bello; Luiz Araújo (Erik López 67′), Santiago Sosa (Amar Sejdič 59′), Ezequiel Barco, Marcelino Moreno (George Campbell 90+1′); Josef Martínez (Erick Torres 90+1′)
Substitutes Not Used: Alec Kann, Ronald Hernández, Mikey Ambrose, Jürgen Damm, Jackson Conway
JAVIER PÉREZ – HEAD COACH, TORONTO FC
You know, another, I guess — performance like we have seen recently but again the team comes up short. So what can you say about how the team just can’t seem to get over the finish line like a full three points?
Yeah, I think today is a bit of a different story to the other days. I think we were solid. I’m happy with the performance of the team, the performance of the players. They came out, they executed the plan that we had, which it was just stay compact, working together defensively and then we will have the ball, start moving, get the ball.
We knew they had 90 minutes on their legs from the previous game and we knew our team was fresher, so we wanted to take advantage of that. Unfortunately we concede that goal kind of early in the first half deflection, and then you go against the score.
After that, I think the team had the opportunities and the difference tonight was capitalizing on the scoring opportunities. I think we had our chances but just didn’t — all in all I’m happy with the team because they gave everything they had. I think we played well.
Again, another solid performance like you mentioned and this is unusual, and all that we can do at this point is to put together solid performances and the points are going to come. It’s a difficult one because we know that we don’t have time that we need to get the points right now, but it’s easier to think about the points if you don’t play well and you don’t do the right things. All we can do is just to gather everything together and get ready for the next game, which is Miami.
It was a different-looking lineup you had out there tonight. What was the rationale behind that and was it always the game plan to make those changes?
Yeah, I think it’s consistent to what I said. The idea behind to have consistency with the group until the end of the season, it was just to give more chances for the team to compete for the team to be fresher, to make the rotations that were necessary.
Myself, and the coaching staff, felt that that was the right thing to do to make the rotations and I think the performance of the team reflected that it was needed. The rotation of the players, I think their performance was solid and then we brought more firepower up front and we have more opportunities. We just didn’t capitalize, that’s all.
In the second half, there was a moment where Soteldo played a ball to Pozuelo and he had an open look at goal. The angle might not have been the best but he opted to pass back to Patrick (Mullins) and let him take the shot. Is there maybe a crisis of confidence with your team right now considering that the results aren’t coming and the goals aren’t coming and doesn’t seem to be going your way right now. Is there a bit of a confidence problem with the team?
I’m not sure if it’s a confidence problem, but I mentioned that before the other day, when you are at the top like in the New England game, I think it’s a clear example, that when you play a very solid game, you could have the three points at home and you end up empty-handed. When you are on the top, everything goes on your way. When you’re on the bottom it looks like nothing goes your way or if it’s 50/50 it goes on one side of the scale, right.
I don’t think it’s a confidence problem but obviously the fact that we are not getting results is taking a toll on the team. But all we can do at this point is to hold onto solid performances because that is ultimately what is going to lead us into getting the points that we need.
You mentioned a couple games that at this point in the season — but unfortunately you’re now winless in your last five. So is there still hope now that your team has a shot at making the playoffs?
Absolutely. We have 42 points in play still remaining, and I am convinced that this team has enough firepower and this team has enough in the tank to make a final push and run for that.
But as I mentioned before, we just have to focus on performances. We can’t just not look at the table. It has to be one game after the next. Today even if it’s a step backwards in the table, it’s a step forward towards the direction we have together as a team. It’s not solutions, it’s not an automatic potion just to get the issues solved. We carried this from the beginning of the season and I think now we are doing collectively, we are doing everything in our hand just to fix it and I think we are in the right direction.
A rare appearance from Noble Okello. What did you see from the young man?
I think everybody sees it. I think he had an outstanding performance and this are the possibilities of when you have players injured or when you have players that they need some time to rest, and you play someone that maybe doesn’t enjoy so many minutes during the season, and steps up and has a performance like he had tonight.
So I think with Ralph being out of the team, Noble steps up and this young man has now earned the respect of the group and my respect going forward.
Jacob (Shaffelburg) not often that he starts but he seemed to be very lively down the left flank on that first half before he got subbed out. I’m just wondering what you thought of his performance. How would you valuate him on the night?
Yeah, I like Jacob. I think he’s another player from the younger — from the attack of the younger players on the team, and I think he was good like you mentioned. He has tools different from other players on the team. He has speed and he can run into the space and back. He can cross the ball, and I think he delivered the work that he was asked to do, and he provided good crosses for the teammates, so I’m happy with his performance tonight.
What’s the status of Jozy and Priso?
Yeah, at the moment, I don’t — I don’t have any updates specifically. The only thing I can say is that in both cases, unfortunately, and after the medical evaluations we have working in the background, it looks a little bit more severe than what we initially thought.
So we don’t have a timeline for them to come back with the team but it looks like going to be both out for a period of time.
Just on at Atlanta’s goal tonight — is that one where the defense needs to do better or did the offense just make a play?
This is a difficult one. It’s a situation where the defender gets isolated against the striker. He makes a shot, the defenders block it and then the deflection ends up at the back of the net. If I have to put that into a category, I wouldn’t say it was a mistake of the defender. I would say it just an unfortunate action.
QUENTIN WESTBERG – GOALKEEPER, TORONTO FC
Just your thoughts on how that one sort of played out. It was a tough one.
Yes, it was tough considering the first 20, 25 minutes. You know, I think we were focused but not taking the game to them. Yeah, ultimately, it came down to one deflection and we lose the game 1-0.
But as soon as we were a bit braver on the ball, that we wanted to influence our game, it started to be a more level game. They started the game really strong. They were finding good pockets. Creating a bit of chaos, coming our way, but I think once more, once we actually took more responsibility of building out of the back a little bit and frustrating them defensively, we were able to find the corridors and then take the game to them.
So yes, frustrating overall but I think if we are less spectator in the first 20, 30 minutes then we see the real quality and the real TFC game that we can offer.
From your perspective, how much of a deflection was there? Do you feel you had it covered before it went off Eriq?
Yeah, it changes everything. I think it was going to be a mid-range at best shot curler around me and then it changed the pace of the trajectory. So yes, it was a deflection that changed everything in the sight.
I know this is very much not your department, but how does this team turn good possessions into balls into the back of the net? There were a couple today that should have found the back of the net.
Yes, well, I think it’s my domain still. I like to think the goalkeeper can have a big influence on possession and on breaking down teams and I think actually as soon as we started to release the pressure from up top that they are putting on us, then we were getting better sequences of possession, and then we had more space moving forward.
As soon as we broke down their first line of press, then we realized we had a lot of pockets and we knew about these pockets. We knew about these empty spaces their system was going to create for us. As soon as we put that together, yes, of course when you’re able to have midfielders moving forward and having higher numbers on the ball and opponents behind you, then yes, you’re able to create plus ones all over the field and create chances.
So yes, I’m the goalkeeper. It’s not my domain but I think it’s really interesting that I still have a role in assessing that and stop hitting the long balls that I did in the first couple of goal kicks, force a bit more courage into our back line to play under this pressure so that our midfielders and then consequently our forwards and offensive players have more time on the ball and more space.
It seems like the bounces are just not going your way. How frustrated are you feeling about the run of luck and that there’s just no good luck going your way right now?
I think we can hide behind luck but ultimately if we had started the game like we ended it, maybe that deflection doesn’t happen or goes above or wide. There’s a saying in France, that it always rains on the poor.
I think yes maybe we weren’t active enough in the first 20 minutes and gave them the opportunity to broadcast the football that they are able to do with a lot of skills on the ball. I know Araujo from watching a lot of French football and he’s a top-quality player. When you add him to Martinez, Moreno, they are really comfortable guys on the ball and tactically sound, very good one-on-one.
So yes, when you get that feeling that you’re not bringing the game to them in, their stadium on their turf, it feels like you’re overwhelmed a bit by waves. As soon as we were able to stop these and show more diligence on the ball, more patience and more courage, then it was a game. Unfortunately we were down 1-0 at that moment and we weren’t able to come back but I think it’s very promising. Yes, we need to be — to be brave and turn this luck, if you want to call it luck. I trust that, you know, the braver we’re going to be, the luckier we’re going to be and it’s going to go our way.
Javi (Perez) has been methodical in building up the performances from stabilizing the defense to taking more and more control of the game plan. Are you seeing this as the path forward? Are you seeing those signs of growth?
Yes, yes because psychology of a soccer player is tricky. Sometimes you enter the game with the best spirit and you want to do well and you don’t necessarily do well and when you have — everybody else in the league and you feel like things aren’t turning your way.
And as I was told earlier, you feel unlucky a little bit but I think it all goes down to the starters being grateful to be on the soccer field and play for this club and know we have the responsibility to show more skills and show more control and Javi is totally right. I think having more control over the course of a game, and really taking more responsibility over the field will turn things around and it doesn’t happen in a second. It takes time to build or rebuild but yes, it’s all with taking responsibility also and knowing the direction we are going towards.