COLUMBUS, Ohio–About the only positive thing coming out of Toronto FC’s heartbreaking loss Saturday night is that the players have little time to dwell on it.
After surrendering two goals in the final 15 minutes, including the decisive one in injury time of a 3-2 loss to the Columbus Crew, the team took an overnight bus trip to Toronto.
It wasn’t coach Chris Cummins punishing the players for squandering a 2-1 lead and crucial points in the chase for a playoff spot. Instead, it was a way to get them home as quickly as possible ahead of Wednesday’s CONCACAF Champions League match at BMO Field.
TFC, the Canadian champion, takes on the Puerto Rico Islanders of the United Soccer League First Division in the opener of a two-game preliminary round. A good start is vital as the return match is set for the heat and humidity of Puerto Rico on Aug. 4.
«We have to rebound. It’s as simple as that,» Cummins said after the Columbus loss.
Before the match, Cummins had said the next four games – the one against the Crew, two versus Puerto Rico and next Saturday in New England – would «define our season.»
Now, saying the players «want to get it out of their system,» Cummins predicted they would bounce back from Saturday’s loss with a clear focus on winning Wednesday night.
«We’ll get back, pick ourselves up,» he said.
Veteran midfielder Carl Robinson sees it as a test of character.
«It’s a kick in the teeth,» Robinson said of the loss, which left TFC in fourth place in the tight Eastern Conference standings of Major League Soccer.
«But we’ve got to make sure we react right (in practice) on Monday and Tuesday and get set for a massive game Wednesday.»
«If we let our heads drop or sulk around, we’re going to get nowhere.»
Toronto is still very much in the race to secure one of the eight spots in the MLS playoffs, which is a season goal for the team.
But beating Puerto Rico in the two-game series would also open the door to competing in the full CONCACAF Champions League against top teams from North and Central America as well as the Caribbean, which is also something the players covet.
«We have no choice. We have to get back on track,» captain Jim Brennan said. «Wednesday, we need to be right mentally, physically. That’s a must win for us.»
TFC has struggled on defence late in games all season long; the team has conceded 10 goals in the final 15 minutes of 19 MLS games this year.
«We’ve got to be mentally right and stay focused for a full 90 minutes,» Brennan said.
Added goalkeeper Stefan Frei: «It’s a tough one to swallow, but hopefully we can learn from it,» he said of the loss. «There’s definitely some stuff that we need to go over, but hopefully we can move on from it.»