You can forgive Michael Bradley if he’s getting a little tired of seeing 2-1 scorelines.
Six days ago, the midfielder played 120 exhausting minutes in the sweltering heat of the Brazilian port of Salvador, only to see United States’ World Cup dreams come to a shuddering halt against the highly skilled Belgian national team.
On Saturday, just one day after returning to training with Toronto FC, Bradley suffered the same fate against the slightly less talented members of D.C. United, who snapped TFC’s six-game unbeaten streak with its first defeat in two months.
“Frustrating,” was how Bradley described his return afterwards. “I felt like this was a game that we needed to win, that we should have won, but that’s how it goes sometimes. Now we need to regroup and use the week to recover physically, mentally and get ready for two home games and we need to pick up some points.”
Having dropped three points to D.C., which now sits top of Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference on 28 points, TFC, seven points back but with three games in hand on the leaders, badly needs to get back to winning ways in those games, against the Houston Dynamo next Saturday followed by the Vancouver Whitecaps the following Wednesday.
Those fixtures – along with the other three MLS games in a crowded July - will go a long way to determining the success or failure of Toronto’s assault on a first-ever MLS Cup playoff appearance.
Toronto will need a better return on investment in the opposition half if it is to get back to winning ways next Saturday and beyond. Despite dominating Saturday’s contest with a 19-7 edge in shots, it was unable to capitalize and put the game beyond the visitors. For devotees of Toronto Football Club, the result was somewhat predictable.
“We were talking about concentrating at halftime and being switched on,” said captain Steven Caldwell. “We felt that we could push forward a bit, change the formation a bit and obviously it was little difficult with that sun in the first half so when the sun died down it was a bit easier and we took more possession, but then two sloppy goals gave them great hope at very important times as well.”
Nick DeLeon grabbed the first after riding out the challenge of rookie Nick Hagglund, and after Toronto striker Luke Moore – in the lineup after having his red card from last Wednesday’s draw in Chicago rescinded on Friday night – put the home side back on terms, D.C. Perry Kitchen headed in the winner from a corner.
They were the only two shots on goal United registered over the course of 90 minutes.
“That’s football,” said a frustrated head coach Ryan Nelsen afterwards. “Two mistakes, two shots on goal, two goals, two stupid ones as well, two silly mistakes and it’s cost us three points.”
A miserable evening was capped off with a red card to Hagglund with four minutes remaining after he pulled United’s Eddie Johnson back with the striker seemingly through on a goal. Though the referee initially gave the rookie a caution, consultation with his assistants led him to change his mind, leaving Caldwell to remark that he’d “never known anything like it.”
While Nelsen admitted that as a professional foul, it warranted a sending-off, he criticized Johnson’s role in the ejection.
“There should have been a big pool of water under him when he did the big dirty dive,” the New Zealander said.
But while the loss marks the end of a good run for the club, currently fourth in the East, with Bradley back, the squad is now virtually at full strength and now is really the time to develop a head of steam approaching the midway point of the season.
“The season for us really starts now, the number of games we have coming up, everybody’s back,” Bradley said. “We have a good chance to get some consistency in terms of the team that we put on the field and the way that we play, hopefully the results, but it’s an exciting stretch coming up for us.”