FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - Toronto FC coach Greg Vanney wanted to find out more about his team's collective character ahead of Saturday's season finale against the Revolution. And he certainly did, but not in the manner he imagined.
After keeping the post-season bound Revolution at bay for much of the first half, Toronto found themselves on the wrong side of a controversial call that allowed Lee Nguyen to score the game-winner and were forced to stomach a 1-0 loss at Gillette Stadium.
On the play in question, Jose Goncalves played a ball down the wing to Chris Tierney, who appeared to be in an offside position when the pass was made. The linesman raised his flag, but referee Ricardo Salazar never blew his whistle, as Tierney played it inside the box for Nguyen, who took a couple of touches before he slotted it through in front of a pair of Toronto defenders who had their hands raised.
"I thought we were excellent," Vanney said. "I think that the missed call that ends being a goal was a kick in the groin for our guys, emotionally because, at the end of the day, we're digging deep to play with everything that we have in this game."
Although the goal stood at the end of 90 minutes, Vanney was pleased with the way his club — which was eliminated from post-season contention last week — performed against the second-place Revolution.
Leading up to what many had deemed a meaningless match for both sides, Vanney stressed the importance of possession and playing sound defence. And to Toronto's credit, they stayed faithful to that approach.
On the last night of a disappointing regular season, the Reds held the possession at a 59.3 per cent clip and completed 82.5 per cent of their passes. By taking care of the fundamentals, they were able to create opportunities.
In the eighth minute, Dominic Oduro crossed it inside the area, where Gilberto blasted it full volley off the crossbar, signalling to the 32,677 on hand that Toronto wouldn't go quietly into the off-season.
"We dominated the ball, and we were focused and committed to the match," Toronto captain Steve Caldwell said. "I think, overall, 50/50 (balls) we were excellent. But we probably could've created more chances."
Despite winning the possession battle, Toronto's opportunities would be few and far between for the duration of the game. Gilberto's shot would be the only shot on goal for the guests before halftime, and they wouldn't fare much better after the break.
Toronto's best chance at equalizing came in the 75th minute. Mark Bloom crossed it ahead for Luke Moore in front of frame, where he snapped a header that Bobby Shuttleworth tipped over the bar.
"We came into second half forgetting about what had happened (on Nguyen's goal)," Caldwell said. "We had a lot of the ball, and we left a little bit behind (defensively), which we had to do to get chances."
While the gambles going forward didn't hurt Toronto on the scoreboard, the advances failed to produce the equalizer. But even though they came up short, Vanney credited his players for their collective effort.
In Vanney's view, the team never deviated from the game plan — take care of the ball — even after Nguyen's controversial goal. They could've sulked about it and let their emotions get the best of them. Instead, they recommitted themselves after the break, and went toe-to-toe with the playoff-bound Revolution for the final 45 minutes.
"I'm proud that they went with what we tried to do," Vanney said. "I thought they were doing it very well, and that for me shows a lot of character and a lot of thought and togetherness."