TORONTO – Add another three points to the tally.
Toronto FC continued their strong start to the 2019 MLS season with a 4-0 win over NYCFC at BMO Field on Friday night. It was a third-straight victory to kickoff the campaign, a best-ever start in the club's 13-year history.
Debutant Alejandro Pozuelo stole the headlines with his jaw-dropping introduction, but it was the all-round performance that pleased Greg Vanney.
“A phenomenal team performance tonight,” said the Head Coach post-match. “For the better part of 90 minutes, we had nice control of the game, defensively good shape, good organization, kept things under control and played really good soccer.”
After two goals were ruled offside, Jozy Altidore opened the scoring in the 29th minute off a set-up from Pozuelo, who went on to add the second from the penalty spot in the 58th minute after Altidore's shirt was tugged by Alexander Callens in the NYCFC box.
Pozuelo then added the third with a sublime finish before leaving to a standing ovation in the 78th minute and Jay Chapman added the fourth come the 83rd off some neat interplay with Auro.
“Good, job done,” remarked Altidore afterwards. “The team was sharp from minute one. It was relentless, aggressive. It was a fun night, a good night.”
The perfect start was “nice,” according to Jonathan Osorio: “But even more than the win, it's the way we played. The way we dominated the game and, obviously, the result. Altogether, huge satisfaction, exactly how we want to start the season; hopefully it keeps going.”
Asked when he knew Pozuelo would be ready to start, despite having just arrived in Toronto last Friday, Vanney let loose a smile: “Probably about January....”
“I knew if he got here, was feeling good, had the week to prepare with the group, that he was going to play,” continued Vanney. “He's a good soccer player, it doesn't take a lot of coaching to put him in. Just give him the structure, the foundation, the opportunity to meet his teammates and play a bit. The sooner we get them on the field together, getting repetition, playing and getting used to each other in matches, the faster we'll get our relationships going out there.”
With two goals and an assist on his debut, Pozuelo will long remember his first match for TFC.
“It will be impossible to forget this night,” said the Spanish midfielder. “Today is a dream. Impossible to start like this. I'm happy because the players, the coach, President [Bill Manning], Ali [Curtis], they helped me a lot. I'm very happy today.”
Pozuelo, having made his mark, departed with some sage advice.
“It's football,” explained Pozuelo. “In football, you need to enjoy; to go in the pitch without nerves. Nerves in life is only when you have problems. In football, you need to enjoy, to relax, and play. So, I was not nervous.”
Altidore noted in particular how his new teammate rose to the occasion, despite the pressures that come with the designated player label.
“This is not an easy place to play when you come in like that: big price tag on your head, a lot of expectations,” said Altidore. “Toronto isn't an easy market; people get on you when they see something they don't like. Aside from the dazzling skill, they want to see hard work; he showed every bit of that. It was a terrific debut from a player that has a lot of good things to come.”
Altidore himself scored his second in as many games.
“I should have scored more,” lamented the striker. “I wish a game like this came when I was in a better rhythm, but I can't cheat time. I haven't been out there as much as I would like to, coming back from surgery.”
“I got in good spots, that's the most important thing,” added Altidore. “That sharpness, that quality to finish off plays, will come.”
And Chapman added a well-taken goal to the two assists he contributed against the New England Revolution last match – all in 70 minutes on the pitch.
“It's fantastic,” said Chapman of the result. “Getting Pozo acclimated – what a performance in his first game – it was good to get him in.”
“These past couple games, we've been gelling as a team, playing free, getting back to our ways. The team feels good, the fans were brilliant again tonight. We've started out the season really strong. We're trying to get on a roll.”
After a pair of hard-fought, character wins over the Philadelphia Union and New England, Friday's result was further proof of momentum building.
“We've made progress in each of the games in different ways. That's what the process is about,” said Vanney. “We were really good with the ball, very mobile, showed up in different areas, showed lot of confidence, and our defensive structure was as good as it has been all year against team that has good movement, has good players that can hurt you. Tonight was another step forward, continuing to build.”
Added TFC Captain Michael Bradley: “We were good. It's still early; everybody is still working through things.”
“The thing I like most is the mentality, the intensity, the life, the personality. Those things are all really good,” continued Bradley. “Tonight there were a lot of spells of very good football to go with it.”
“We're just scratching the surface. As we have more time together, as conditions continue to get more favourable, we're going to get better and better,” foresaw Bradley. “The willingness to step on the field, really go after things, make sure we take care of all parts of the game. That part was really good.”
And that it all resulted in the first clean sheet of 2019 was noteworthy for a team that aims to pride itself on its defensive play.
For Vanney, that stemmed from an unexpected source: “Part of the defensive performance was having Jozy and Pozuelo on the field, as crazy as that may sound.”
“The two of them, the way they work together, makes things clear for everybody behind them, makes the job of everybody else that much easier,” explained Vanney. “We have a group that is not shy of running, working covering for each other, and doing the defensive work. When those two help to make things predictable, we can be a phenomenal defending team.”
“That's one of our goals this year. In order to do that, you have to have 11 guys putting in the work,” stressed Vanney. “Tonight they put in a shift and the reward was the goals, in addition to the clean sheet. That has to be part of our pride, if it is, we're going to have a good season.”
Nine points from three matches is a fine start, but it is only a start.
“It's early, we know we have to continue to work,” urged Bradley. “Three games don't make a season. We're very cognizant of that, but we feel good about where we're going.”