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Toronto FC out of Leagues Cup after 1-0 loss; Dunfield falls to 0-6 as interim coach

TORONTO — Terry Dunfield has experienced plenty of tough moments in his brief tenure leading Toronto FC. He's also had time to reflect.
Toronto FC's midfielder Jonathan Osorio (21) advances the ball against Atlas FC's Mateo Garcia (8) and Aldo Rocha during first half Leagues Cup soccer action in Toronto, Sunday July 30, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Blinch

TORONTO — Terry Dunfield has experienced plenty of tough moments in his brief tenure leading Toronto FC.

He's also had time to reflect.

And if Sunday night was his last patrolling the touchline at BMO Field, the former Canadian international made sure to soak up the atmosphere.

"It's been an incredible ride and such a privilege," Dunfield, the club's interim head coach, said after a 1-0 loss to Mexico's Atlas FC eliminated TFC from the inaugural Leagues Cup tournament.

"Unfortunately, the results and goals haven't represented the work that's gone into it. But we'll continue to keep pushing and finding a way to help give a result to an incredible fan base — man, almost 30,000 people there pushing the guys on. 

"It was another special night. Maybe a couple of times I've been able to just live in the moment, and take it in looking across at that big stand."

Dunfield was put in a tough spot when injury-riddled, severely underperforming Toronto fired Bob Bradley on June 26 and elevated the club's under-17 coach to the top job on a trial basis for at least four matches.

The 41-year-old from Vancouver, who declined to answer when asked directly if he'll continue on in the role when Toronto returns to action Aug. 20, endured a sixth straight loss after the struggling Major League Soccer club allowed a goal to Atlas striker Jordy Caicedo in the second minute.

The Liga MX side secured first place in the three-team group with a pair of victories, ahead of New York City FC (1-1-0) and Toronto (0-2-0).

The inaugural Leagues Cup — a two-league, three-country, 47-team competition — runs through Aug. 19.

TFC, which hasn't found the back of the opposition net in 619 minutes and has been outscored 13-0 with Dunfield in charge, needed to win by three or more goals to advance after Wednesday's 5-0 road throttling at the hands of NYCFC.

"A great person and a great personality," midfielder Jonathan Osorio, Toronto's longest-serving player, said of Dunfield. "He is a good coach. He is putting us in the position to be successful. But there's a lot of variables right now that we have to deal with that even he does not have control over. 

“He's doing everything he can, and as players we're backing him."

Toronto, which started the season with such promise thanks to a roster accented by Italian stars Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi, has been thumped 18-1 over its last eight matches — all losses — is winless in 11 (0-8-3), and has a solitary victory in 17 games (1-12-4) since late April.

"It's on us, on the pitch," defender Raoul Petretta said. "We have to work harder, we have to be better."

An abysmal 3-11-10 in MLS action, TFC won't play again until CF Montreal visits BMO Field in three weeks.

"We're all aware of the situation with goals,” said Osorio, who twice hinted in his post-game scrum that management needs to look in the mirror along with the players. "We have to work collectively. 

"The responsibility, as well, is on the club … those higher up."

Guadalajara-based Atlas, which is three games into its domestic campaign, opened the scoring just 95 seconds into Sunday's proceedings when Caicedo took advantage of a turnover and curled his shot past outstretched TFC goalkeeper Sean Johnson.

"Another tough goal," Dunfield said. "I don't think we can hide from that.”

Toronto settled down from there, with Osorio testing Camilo Vargas from distance on a deflected effort in the 13th minute before Brandon Servania fizzed a shot at the Atlas 'keeper in the 35th.

Caicedo nearly doubled the visitors' lead just before halftime off another giveaway, but the Ecuador striker's shot hit the post.

Osorio had a penalty shout waved away by referee Nima Saghafi early in the second half as Dunfield's team tried desperately to find a breakthrough.

Atlas was never really troubled, however, and Caicedo again almost had his second in the 80th minute when he rattled the crossbar.

"Maybe this is a blessing that we have these three weeks now to really prepare for the last 10 games (of the MLS regular season)," Osorio said. "And to show the fans that we are doing everything to make them proud. 

“We know there's a lot of work. That's what I'll say for now."

Its campaign already in tatters, Toronto was embarrassed in that disastrous Leagues Cup opener at NYCFC in mid-week — a performance that had some observers questioning the roster's commitment and professionalism.

Dunfield dropped Bernardeschi, who is dealing with a minor hamstring issue and hasn't scored in 17 straight matches, to the bench Sunday.

The Vancouver product started two players from TFC's feeder team, including 16-year-old defender Lazar Stefanovic of Oakville, Ont.

"Fantastic performance," Dunfield said. "He was comfortable on the ball. He was immense in defensive transition, defending numbers down. 

"I'm excited to continue working with him, hopefully."

Toronto has experienced selection issues throughout Dunfield's time at the helm, with Insigne having seen a solitary half of action because of injury a prime example.

"If we were going to pull it off, we needed nines," Dunfield said of Sunday. "We needed nines out of 10. 

"I don't think we quite had that in each moment."

Dunfield will hope his moment in the sun with TFC — as difficult as its been — isn't up.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 30, 2023.


Follow @JClipperton_CP on Twitter.

Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press