Toronto FC defeated the Philadelphia Union 3-1 at BMO Field on Wednesday night.
Lorenzo Insigne opened the scoring, snapping in a cut-back from Deandre Kerr in the 23rd minute. Philadelphia pulled level just before half-time when a loose ball fell to Julián Carranza at the back-post, but Toronto were not fazed.
Kerr added a second in the 58th minute, on the receiving end of a cut-back from Federico Bernardeschi to reinstate the lead and Jonathan Osorio rose up to meet an inviting cross from Kobe Franklin five minutes later to add some insurance.
One could see what the result meant to the side at the final whistle.
“Finally,” said Terry Dunfield as he walked into the press conference. “It was never in doubt, was it. Man, these guys can play.”
“It was incredible. How much fun was it watching our boys play?” he elaborated post-match. “It was amazing for the guys to show their quality. That third goal – pffft – I can't wait to watch that one back. Really proud of the team.”
Said Kerr: “Long, long, long overdue.”
“We've been training so hard, especially after the Leagues Cup,” he continued. “We really, really worked hard for this moment.”
“It's a great feeling and now we just want to keep it going. We haven't had this feeling in a long time, the fans haven't had this feeling in a long time,” Kerr added. “Now that we have it, you just want to keep it going.”
After surviving an early flurry of corner kicks from the Union, TFC played their way into the match. There was a sense that something was different.
“It was nothing for me, it was the guys,” said Dunfield. “Before we went out we spoke about bringing some intensity and that it's been coming. The performances have been good – I know you're tired of me saying that – but we were knocking on that door.”
“We went through the opportunities and threats of Philly. We knew we weren't safe, that they could hurt us in a second. A quick throw and all of a sudden it was 1-1, but at half-time we showed a bit of resilience and added a little bit of intensity to our play,” he continued. “I don't think it just was one thing, it was the last 10 weeks of work that the guys have put in, the team behind the team have been amazing, it was really amazing to see it come together.”
With new head coach John Herdman in attendance – he will be in place as of October 1 – a trio of Canadians were central to the result: Kerr, Osorio, and Franklin.
20-year-old forward Kerr scored a goal – his fourth of the season – and set up Insigne’s opener.
“It started two or three weeks ago with [TFC General Manager] Jason Hernandez, there was a very real conversation,” explained Dunfield. “He wasn't part of the squad for the next game and then it was just two weeks of getting after it on the training ground and him being really clear of what we're looking for.”
“After those difficult conversations there needs to be an opportunity, his opportunity was tonight, and after a couple of tough initial plays his performance was excellent,” he continued. “It was just too bad that one off the post doesn't go in.”
Kerr recounted the opener: “Working with Oso today, I know when he gets on the half turn, he's going to find me in those little gaps, which is exactly what he did.”
“I had a shaky touch, but I know Lorenzo, that's his favourite spot when the ball goes wide,” he continued. “I didn't even have to look. I just knew he was going to be there.”
Pressure from Osorio forced the turnover that led to that break. With Alonso Coello and Franco Ibarra sitting deeper, Osorio was able to assert himself further up the field.
“We thought at the bottom of the [Philadelphia] diamond, there would be a little bit of space either side of their six, nice spaces for Oso to get into,” said Dunfield. “He and DK [Kerr] managed their centre-backs and the bottom of the diamond really well defensively. Also there’s just so much quality around Oso, he’s our connector that brings it all together nicely.”
It was a stunning ball from Franklin that led to the second, springing Bernardeschi down the right to set up Kerr.
“The ball from Kobe was perfect, literally perfect, right to Fede,” said Kerr. “Fede saw me, it was a good cut-back, deflected a little bit, but the deflection helped me, so I was able to turn and finish.”
Added Dunfield: “Ooof, a little bit like the Arsenal ball when [Bukayo] Saka comes inside.”
“I was looking up in the stands, looking for our analyst Harry [Jamieson] who pointed out the space down the sides of their centre-backs that we were looking to get into,” he continued. “It was a really cool moment to see that come off, not only for Kobe and Fede – it was a really nice hard run – but also for the team behind the team.”
Franklin wasn’t credited with an assist on that play, because of the deflection, but he got his first in MLS on Toronto’s third, putting in that cross for Osorio. The full-back was a constant offensive threat with TFC II so it came as no surprise that he got involved in the action.
And Kerr nearly added a second minutes later on another break and pass from Bernardeschi, smacking his shot off the inside of the post.
Smiled Kerr, asked how much more inside it needed to be: “Maybe a few centimetres.”
Bernareschi has found another gear in recent weeks. He scored twice against CF Montreal and though held off the scoresheet, he was central to a lot of the good forward movements against Philadelphia as well.
So too was Insigne, who cut a different figure on the night, looking fit and sharp, urging his team on, and getting in Philadelphia’s face after a rash tackle on Raoul Petretta saw Jesús Bueno red carded.
“It takes time to become a united team,” said Dunfield. “When you don’t pick up a result earlier, it becomes harder, but we've tried to keep an even keel, trusting in the process and our work.”
“When you're at the bottom of the table, you've almost got to live abnormal behaviours to get out of that situation. Crappy body language is normal at the bottom of the table, looking after yourself, survival mode. We just pushed the players, as much as we can, to come together and have one another's back. Constructive communication, positive body language, and just competing,” he detailed. “We saw that at the end of the game.”
“We’ll see the best of Lorenzo against Vancouver when he's got another few weeks of training,” Dunfield added. “There's so much to come.”
For the first time under Dunfield TFC scored first to take a lead.
“Thanks for reminding me of that,” joked the interim coach. “We knew yesterday in training that the performance was coming. There was some excellent football yesterday, we showed them their good work ahead of the game. Nothing was stopping us tonight.”
“Even when it went 1-1 I was confident that there was a couple of moments we could tidy up, we could amplify a couple of moments as well,” he explained. “The guys were just enjoying their football.”
Said Kerr of getting that lead: “It's a huge boost. We know how good of a team Philly is, one of the best teams in MLS. To score first against them definitely gave us a boost.”
And aside from that one moment off a throw in that allowed the Union to level, the side was defensively sound.
Michael Bradley and new father, Sigurd Rosted, were solid in the middle of the back-line. Petretta made two massive sliding blocks in the early stages, and Franklin was tenacious as ever defensively, in addition to his forward contributions. The two-man shield of Ibarra and Coello were quietly dominant, equal parts suppressing the opposition and providing the platform to get forward. And the front four put in a shift too.
“I saw a team working together,” underlined Dunfield. “It started at the front with Oso and DK, at times Fede and Lorenzo would tuck in and push Philly to areas we wanted them to get to.”
“We knew early crosses would come in and we'd have to deal with that. We'd have to deal with direct play. They're also good in transition, but we knew, a bit like table tennis, you could whack it right back at them and they'd be the double counter on,” he continued. “The back four were outstanding and the screen of Alonso and Franco, just working together, was top drawer. And then once we did pick them off, some of the football to play through their counter press was excellent and then the pitch started to open up and you just sit back and enjoy.”
For those keeping track, that is two TFC II graduates – Franklin and Coello – playing huge roles in the first team’s victory.
Toronto enter the September international break with a taste of victory. They want more when the season resumes on September 16 with the visit of Vancouver Whitecaps FC.
“It's not just the win, it’s the last 10 weeks of hard work,” said Dunfield of the feeling post-match. “We've all come together and through a tough time lived ‘All for One,’ we kept getting kicked and just kept going. It was just so cool to see it come together. So proud.”
Inside the room, according to Kerr, was “just happiness; smiles.”
“Feelings we haven't had in a long time,” he added. “It's just happiness.”
The players and staff will enjoy an extra day off over the long weekend before getting back to work.
“Enjoy the moment,” closed Dunfield. “We'll have another mini preseason, continue to top up our tanks, and be ready to go for Vancouver. Probably a few conversations with John as well.”