Toronto FC

Reds clinch convincing victory over Atlanta United: "A collective performance"


The train keeps a-rolling. 

Toronto FC returned to winning ways on Saturday night with a 2-0 win over Atlanta United at a chilly BMO Field. 

2024 MLS SuperDraft first overall-pick Tyrese Spicer opened the scoring in the 35th minute, capping off a neat three-way move with a low right-footer from the top of the box and Prince Owusu added some insurance in the 71st minute when the rebound from an Alonso Coello’s shot fell into his path. 

Another three points at home, another clean-sheet, despite several key absences, continued some of the positive early season trends.

“A big shout out to the fans that made it tonight, they make a difference,” said John Herdman post-match. “We talk about this being a fortress for us, keeping a streak going here, and the fans were awesome tonight.”

“It has been ‘Next man up,’” he continued. “You're always going to be adapting, you've got to be nimble and on your toes, but credit to Aimé [Mabika, who replaced Shane O’Neill after 29 minutes], he did a terrific job coming in. Prince Owusu getting his first goal –the lad works hard. If you see his physical numbers, he puts a shift in for the team and he stayed ready, stayed focused.”

“And then I've got to mention young Spicer,” Herdman highlighted. 

“That's a pretty special moment. He's got quality; we had a feeling he’d score tonight. We had that conversation with him and defensively I was proud of his work.”

“A collective performance,” he underlined. “You look at Fede [Bernardeschi]’s efforts, you look at Jahkeele [Marshall-Rutty], he took a step up again, and you see Alonso, Matty Longstaff, putting good shifts in. It was nice to see.”

With both sides missing pillars of their starting lineups the opening 30 minutes was a case of finding the rhythm. Incomplete attacks, the occasional mistake, but the elements were there.

They came together just before half-time when Lorenzo Insigne collected the ball deep on the left touch-line, blew through a tackle to drive in-field and play to Deandre Kerr, who quickly laid it into the path of Spicer.

A quick shot put Toronto in the driver’s seat; the first professional goal of the 23-year-old’s career in his first MLS start.

“It feels surreal,” marvelled Spicer. “I’ve been working my whole life for this.”

“I want to thank God for the opportunity, I want to thank John for trusting me,” he continued. “I'm a rookie, a first-round draft pick, so there’s pressure to come up to expectations. I was confident in myself going out there, trusting my teammates. John always says to fight for each other. That's what we did today. I stepped up to the opportunity and took it. It feels really good.”

Dangerous attackers have a sense of when to be where.

“It was just instinctive,” said Spicer. “Normally I’d just stay out wide, but I [thought] ‘Go in.’ The ball came to me and I shot it.”

“Since I was young, my dad always taught me to connect with the ball and put it on target,” he added. “That's what I did.”

En route to celebrate on the touch-lines, Spicer indulged before making his way into the arms of his teammates and coaches.

“I was shocked,” he explained. “I was just like let me run to John, because John put me on that field.”

“I had to get that knee slide in there before,” Spicer smiled.

“When I shot it, all I saw was the keeper touched it a little bit and then it went in. After that I was just frenzy, I was just going crazy.”

The departures of O’Neill and Insigne before half-time dampened the occasion and Luka Gavran was called into action when a sweeping Atlanta move up the right led to a back-post header, but Toronto settled down and found that insurance goal from Owusu.

Good pressure from Jonathan Osorio, back from injury off the bench, forced a recovery just outside the Atlanta box. He touched to Bernardeschi, who teed up Coello for a strike. When it was parried Owusu arrived to put it home and secure the three points.

Last weekend’s defeat away to NYCFC ended the three-game unbeaten start to the season, but a second consecutive win at home has TFC back where they want to be.

“We broke [the year] into phases,” laid out Herdman. “We looked at phase three as being this first 10 games and we set a points track. We made it clear that tonight we can either stay on track with our two points-per-game, where we're at at the moment, or we're going to be off track and taking ourselves out of that top five places.”

“If you can keep a team in and around that top five,” he continued.

“You're going to lose games, but the critical part is you don't go back-to-back losses. They had to fight for that tonight. We knew Atlanta were a bit depleted, but we had excuses as well.”

“The clarity of championship teams, strong teams, those antifragile teams, they don't lose back-to-back,” Herdman reminded. “[The guys] fought tooth and nail to keep a clean-sheet and make sure we got that result to keep us on track.”

It sounds simple, but the base formula for results is keep a zero at the back and maybe score a goal or two the other way.

Toronto racked up their fourth clean-sheet of the season on Saturday.

“I've got [Assistant Coach] Jason deVos’ in my ear, he says pretty much every week, ‘Goals win games, but clean-sheets win championships,’” echoed Herdman. “deVo, he's an absolute warrior when it comes to the details and making sure that guys know exactly what their jobs are going to be in games.”

“After the New York game we were not happy. We had a meeting with the centre-backs, the back-five, they owned up and manned up tonight. It was brilliant,” he added. “We’ve just got to keep going.”

The weather and travel advisory kept some away, but BMO Field was hopping after the final whistle. The side faces Sporting KC next Saturday once more on the shores of Lake Ontario.

“The atmosphere was really crazy,” said Spicer, playing in his first home match. “I know there was a situation with the trains and the fans still showed up. I just wanted to say, ‘Thank you.’”

“The love with the fans is crazy here. I really respect it,” he closed. “Toronto is always traffic, there’s so much traffic, but to come out and to hear that ovation is crazy, so I really thank the fans.”