Toronto FC lacking mental toughness

Doneil Henry in action for Toronto FC. (Ted S. Warren/AP)

Toronto FC lacking mental toughness

It’s not quite time for Toronto FC to push the panic button, but it’s getting there.

The Reds lost their third in a row—and fourth in five games—with Saturday’s 2-1 setback to the visiting New England Revolution.

TFC took an early lead through Jackson before Doneil Henry made costly errors on both New England goals, including a handball infraction inside the box that led to the Revs’ winner in the 82nd minute.

Toronto falls to 3-4-0 on the Major League Soccer season and is in danger of entering the World Cup break below .500.

Here are three things that stood out in Toronto FC’s loss to New England.

Mental attitude lacking

TFC bossed the opening 20 minutes, totally dominating New England with their quick and smart ball movement, and pressuring the Revs with wave after attacking wave in their half of the field.

Jackson’s goal in the sixth minute, albeit fortuitous as it came off a deflection that handcuffed Revolution goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth, was just reward for a Toronto side that looked like it would run away with this one.

But Henry’s calamitous error that led to New England’s equalizer in the 24th minute sucked the life out of the Reds and was the turning point in the match. After conceding that goal, TFC looked dull and lacking in confidence. After the game, coach Ryan Nelsen hinted that his players have to develop more mental toughness.

“We have to learn how to win. It seems like if we concede in our home field, it seems to be the worst thing that ever happened. We have to get more confident at home and if something sets us back, so be it—we move on and keep playing,” Nelsen explained.

He’s right. This is a mentally-fragile side that has trouble dealing with adversity on the pitch—look at their loss away to Salt Lake (the penalty call on Henry that opened the floodgates) and their loss at home to Colorado (when they couldn’t break down the Rapids).

TFC has to get mentally tougher and fight back when things don’t go their way, instead of hanging their heads and conceding defeat.


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Osorio shines

He didn’t score or have a hand in Jackson’s goal, but Jonathan Osorio put in a man-of-the-match effort for TFC against the Revs.

Osorio, 21, plays with a maturity and level of poise beyond his years, and has become a crucial player for the Reds ever since making his senior team debut last season. The progress he’s made in establishing himself as one of the league’s brightest prospects has been amazing, and bodes well for both TFC and Canada’s national team in the long term.

Against the Revs, Osorio offered TFC a creative edge in the final third, and he routinely tracked back to help out his defence and break up plays in what was an all-around performance from the young Canadian.

Nelsen deployed Osorio on the left side of midfield, but he’s proven to be quite versatile, being able to slot in anywhere across the midfield and in a deep-lying creative role. Along with Justin Morrow, Osorio has been TFC’s most consistent player this season, and with each performance he only underlines his growing importance to the club.

The ‘old’ Henry returns

Doneil Henry was among TFC’s best players through the first two games of the season—he looked steady and solid playing alongside Steven Caldwell in the centre of defence. He showed that he is capable of reading the game in front of him and snuffing out danger before it fully develops.

But against the Revs, we saw the ‘old Henry’—the one who tries do to too much and is prone to disastrous errors that costs his team goals.

Under no pressure, Henry tried to work his way out of the back, only for his errant pass to land at the feet of Revolution midfielder Daigo Kobayashi. New England quickly broke forward and rookie Patrick Mullins fired a screamer from just outside the box into the upper corner that Reds goalkeeper Julio Cesar had no chance of stopping.

Henry also handled the ball inside the penalty area after a botched clearance by Morrow, leading to the Revs nicking the winner from the penalty spot in the 82nd minute.

Henry took responsibility for the first goal when spoke to reporters after the game, which was admirable. He also talked about needing to “get better.” It’s important to remember he’s only 21 and that his game is still developing, but mistakes like the one he made on the first goal can’t continue to happen.

What will be interesting to see is how Henry responds to this. After his gaffe, he tried to extend himself and do too much on the field. Henry needs to keep his wits about him, shake this poor performance off and find the form he displayed earlier this season in TFC’s next game.


John Molinaro is Sportsnet’s chief soccer reporter. Follow him on Twitter.