Toronto FC stretched their unbeaten run to four matches on Saturday night with a 2-1 win over Chicago Fire FC at Soldier Field.
Yeferson Soteldo opened the scoring after just two minutes when he surged onto a Tsubasa Endoh ball into the area. Ralph Priso forced a turnover out of a Chicago throw deep in their half and Endoh’s touch into the penalty box put several Toronto players in a chase to get on the end.
Soteldo won that footrace to place a right-footer across the keeper and into the back of the net.
Having endured an onslaught of Fire chances, TFC added a second 74 minutes later when Nick DeLeon surged up the right and his low right-footed shot across the keeper nestled in the far-side of goal.
Chicago would pull one back immediately, through Alvaro Medran, when a ball in from Przemyslaw Frankowski on the right fell to him in the box and he quickly slotted a low shot past Alex Bono and into the Toronto goal in the 77th minute.
But TFC would see out the remainder of regulation and six minutes of stoppage-time to earn their victory.
“There are games where you score early, it's so difficult to hold. We saw that so many times in so many games,” said Javier Perez post-match. “The team did a great job holding onto the result, trying to get a second goal. We knew that if we get a second goal, it would be much easier to take the three points back home.”
“We secured that goal, but right away we conceded a goal and then we knew that we would have to suffer all the way to the end,” he continued. “In the end, all that counts is the three points and we keep adding points to our scoreboard, that's what counts.”
It wasn’t pretty.
After the early TFC goal, the Fire bossed the night. They had more possession, more shots, more corners, and more crosses.
Toronto’s game-plan was disrupted early when Luke Singh was called into the lineup with Justin Morrow forced to pull out.
“That changes things,” explained Alex Bono. “When you go from playing an out-and-out left-back to playing a centre-back at left-back, a kid. Luke has had some really good performances for us, but he’s still learning and growing into the league and into the team and to play him outside of his normal position... I don't care what anyone says, is not easy when you come into it in warm-ups.”
“We were bending a lot, bending, bending, and we really didn't break,” he continued. “To put in a really solid defensive shift, guys are struggling, willing us over the end line. The final whistle today was really exciting for us and a gratifying feeling at the end of it.”
The clean-sheet proved elusive, but Bono stood on his head – saving 13 of Chicago’s 14 shots on goal.
“Alex did an amazing job today. I’ve known him for a long time and he rarely disappoints,” said Perez. “The way he addresses the game, the way he stops the balls going into the goal, today was a great night for him. I'm extremely happy for him, for the team, and we are looking forward to seeing more like that.”
Said Bono: “It was a busy night, but a lot of it was pretty straightforward. The guys in front of me, we were all struggling together, so I was happy to be able to help them out just as much as they helped me out and we'll take the three points.”
13 saves is a new career-high for Bono.
“I would have taken one save and three points today just as much as I would take however many saves and three points today,” he explained. “All that matters for me is we get to go home, go see our families after a really, really tough week, tough stretch of three games that showed a lot of real progress as a group. That's the most exciting thing for me. That's all I really care about and we move on to the next one.”
Once more Soteldo was magic. Scoring that early goal and providing a constant threat and a source of relief on the ball.
“That new guy we signed is a problem,” quipped Bono. “That guy can dribble through traffic on the 401. It's pretty impressive what he's brought to us.”
And Nick DeLeon came up clutch in his first appearance since July 7.
“I love that guy so much, what a guy,” replied Bono. “He's been through the ringer the last couple weeks having to go back in quarantine and he comes back into a difficult situation – it was tough to grow into the game. Credit Nick; he came on, fought, scrapped and everyone knows how dynamic he is.”
“You've seen him, you know he can pull something out of the hat and he made a great run down the right side and blasted one in,” he continued. “I've seen that goal so many times in training, on me. As soon as he made that run, I thought he's going to cross this or he's going to bang this in. What a guy, what a player, and what an influence he had on the game tonight.”
Now unbeaten in four, Toronto have taken eight points from a possible 12 under Perez.
“He's been great. It's never an ideal situation for an assistant coach to be thrust into a role. And to his credit, we went back to basics and we started with defending and started with not giving away bad chances and bad goals,” highlighted Bono. “And we worked up from there. Defending from the front, defending from there as a group, staying compact, and then with the ball we have more of a game-plan. Obviously, it helps that we got some guys healthy.”
“We have a bit more direction and organization when we have the ball, it's been a lot easier for us to keep the ball, and we've been able to break down teams in possession,” he continued. “As a group there is a certain confidence running through us right now that we didn't quite have before. Call it momentum, call it Orlando, whatever, we don't want to make excuses, but we have a bit of a swagger to us right now. That's nice, it's a nice feeling.”
After a three-game week, Toronto now have a full seven days before their next match: the visit of Nashville SC to BMO Field on August 1.
“It's going to be nice. We'll see what kind of downtime we get, but I know everyone is excited about how the last week went,” said Bono. “Obviously wish we could have taken nine points out of nine, but at the end of the day, if you told us a few weeks ago we were going to take eight out of 12 over the next four games, everyone would have signed the dotted line on that one.”
The post-match vibe was plain to see, with Chris Mavinga interjecting his take on some of the numbers from the stat sheet into Bono’s post-match presser.
“It's been a crazy week. Some ways incredible, some ways a struggle, some ways, still a little bit disappointing – we still have things to work on. At the end of the day, we're showing real signs of life. We're showing real signs of improvement and that's exciting,” continued the goalkeeper. “I know it's exciting for me and the guys behind me in this locker room, dancing around and playing music. I hope it's exciting for all of you because when that pressure mounts it's tough and to be able to knock some of that down, it shows that you still shouldn't be messing with us.”
“We're trying to send a real message to everyone, including all our fans in Toronto,” closed Bono. “Stick with us, we're going to take you places. Stick with us and we'll take you where you want to go.”