TORONTO — Terry Dunfield strode onto the field after another disappointing result.
Toronto FC’s interim head coach had just watched his severely undermanned squad give everything it had against one of Major League Soccer’s best.
He then pivoted to ask his opposite a question as players shook hands.
Bradley Carnell, whose St. Louis City SC side had just defeated TFC 1-0, offered some advice.
“I have curiosity,” Dunfield, fighting a bit of emotion, said following Saturday’s loss. “Bradley shared that he was in an interim role two years ago, he said, ‘You need good people. You need good people around you.’
“I thought that was invaluable.”
Dunfield had absolutely no issues with the people around him. The issue is the final product.
Aziel Jackson scored in the 50th minute as St. Louis downed Toronto 1-0 to hand the struggling Canadian side its fifth straight loss.
The 21-year-old midfielder took advantage of a sloppy sequence around TFC’s penalty area before slotting home his first-career MLS goal early in the second half.
“After going 1-0 down, it’s tough for our group right now,” Dunfield said. “Opens up a couple of scars, and that little bit of belief goes away.”
The result resigned the former Canadian international to a third straight defeat since taking over for the fired Bob Bradley, and pushed the club’s record to a miserable 3-10-10 in 2023.
Toronto has now been outscored 6-0 under Dunfield, 11-1 over its last five matches, is winless in eight (0-5-3), and has one victory in 14 games (1-9-4) across all competitions over the last 70 days.
St. Louis (12-7-3), meanwhile, is now unbeaten in three (2-0-1) as the expansion club continues to build on a solid campaign atop the Western Conference.
Offered the first-team job on an interim basis after Toronto axed Bradley late last month, Dunfield lost his first two matches in charge — 1-0 to Real Salt Lake at home on Canada Day and Tuesday’s 4-0 road dismantling at Orlando City SC.
Promised at least a four-game audition before management makes a long-term decision, the 41-year-old was again forced to fill out a patchwork team sheet Saturday with a slew of absences due to injury, international duty and a key suspension.
Among the unavailable was Lorenzo Insigne, who missed a second straight match with a lower-body injury, while fellow Italian star Federico Bernardeschi sat out after being sent off against Orlando.
“I believe in the guys that we have on the field,” Dunfield said. “It would be easy to (make excuses). I’m proud of our work.”
Dunfield made it clear earlier this week he wants to be coaching Toronto beyond its next match, and explained why such a tall task appeals to him moving forward.
“We’ve been close over two of the three games,” said the Vancouver product, who was leading TFC’s under-17 academy squad when he got the call from club president Bill Manning on June 26 following Bradley’s ouster.
“I know myself, I can do the job. And I haven’t felt like I’m drinking through a fire hose and being waterboarded. It’s been comfortable.
“I feel prepared and ready. The only thing that’s difficult is we haven’t been able to get a result. But I’m very proud of our long division and what’s going on behind the scenes.”
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Despite the lack of progress in the standings, the players seem to be on board.
“The first thing he gave us was an idea — an idea of the way we’re going to play and the way we’re going to defend,” said midfielder Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty. “We’re all sticking with him and we believe in him, and he has our trust.
“It’s going to take some time and steps, but we’re moving in the right direction.”
Toronto had one regular back in the fold as goalkeeper Tomas Romero, who finished with five saves in his MLS debut, returned from international duty with El Salvador.
“We did what we were supposed to do tactically,” Romero said. “We’re just missing that final piece.”
Despite entering Saturday with millions of dollars in talent sidelined, Dunfield’s charges dug in and fought for their interim boss.
Romero made a big stop on Nicholas Gioacchini in the 18th minute before TFC defender Kobe Franklin flashed an effort wide at the other end in the 32nd.
Held without a shot on target against Orlando, the home side finally tested Roman Buerki in the 36th when Marshall-Rutty sizzled a shot off the St. Louis goalkeeper’s fingertips.
Toronto, which sported a colourful kit for its Caribbean Heritage Night, owned the majority of the first-half possession, but the visitors had two late chances that included a huge Romero save on Sam Adeniran.
Marshall-Rutty had another opportunity to break TFC’s goal drought early in the second half — Toronto has scored just three times over its last eight matches — but couldn’t find the range from just outside the 18-yard box.
The midfielder then briefly switched off moments later, allowing Jackson to bury his first in MLS.
And add another check in Toronto’s ever-growing loss column.
“We’ve got to go and execute,” Dunfield said. “That goal will be a tough one to watch back.”
Just add it to the list in a season full of forgettable moments.
Toronto visits the Chicago Fire on July 15, while St. Louis hosts Inter Miami.