Toronto FC picked up a big three points on Saturday night with a 4-3 win away to Nashville SC at GEODIS Park.
Jonathan Osorio scored a brace, twice putting TFC ahead in the first half, only for a Hany Mukhtar penalty kick and a Teal Bunbury set-piece header to draw the home side level each time.
When play resumed, Richie Laryea, making his return to the club just days after completing his loan move, won a penalty kick, converted by Federico Bernardeschi, to set the stage for Lorenzo Insigne’s first goal for TFC to all but seal the result in the 77th minute.
Nashville would pull within one in the 84th minute when Walker Zimmerman got on the end of another Mukhtar delivery, powering home a towering header, but Toronto saw out the remaining minutes to earn the victory.
“Yeah, a really important win,” said Bob Bradley post-match. “A strong response. We were all unhappy that we didn't go into half-time with a lead, but had a feeling that we could keep pushing the game.”
“Some really good games [from guys]: Oso, of course, fantastic; great to get Richie going. Fede came in at half-time and was quick to say to everybody that he lost a couple of balls that hurt the team, but come on, we keep going. Lorenzo’s first goal,” he listed. “So a lot of big positives.”
Entering a new month, the playoff race is shaping up nicely.
Following Saturday’s action nine teams are separated by seven points in the contest for three spots in the Eastern Conference. The victory in Nashville pulled Toronto within four points of the final berth with ten games remaining.
“It's huge,” said Osorio. “We understand the situation, we know that every game is a final from here on forward.”
“It's huge,” he repeated. “The fact that it's an away win as well gives the group a lot of confidence. A big three points. A couple of things to clean up, but we'll clean those up and we’re going to use this game to build off of.”
Osorio scored his seventh and eighth goals of the season.
The first was the picture of patience and timing. Collecting the ball in a pocket of space, he moved towards the Nashville box waiting for support to arrive. As it did, Osorio positioned the defenders to his liking before unleashing a strike to the bottom right corner, freezing an unsighted keeper.
The second was pure Osorio – and Laryea too, for that matter – the imagination to see what was possible and the willingness to get into position for when the ball arrived.
“The first one he was smart, in terms of just waiting and then using his skill to create the opening,” recounted Bradley. “And then the second one is a classic Oso goal, where his ability to arrive at the right spot at the right time – it was a really good ball from Richie that makes the difference and Oso was right there to put it in.”
As for Laryea, he picked up right where he left off with TFC: tormenting the opponent up the flank, that trademark tenacious defending, collecting the assist on that second goal and winning the penalty kick that Bernardeschi would convert early in the second half.
“It was good,” he smiled post-match. “The love I have for this club is unconditional.”
“Being back here and playing with a few guys that I played with before and then joining up with some new guys was cool, it was nice,” Laryea continued. “I don't take it lightly, playing for this club and representing this club. It's done a lot for me and my family. So it's always good to put on this shirt.”
There’s never a good time to concede a goal, but first-half stoppage-time is one of the worst, especially when it’s the second time that having gone ahead, the opponent pulls level.
The key, for Osorio, was “to keep mentally strong.”
“Those two goals were a bit difficult to give up,” he said. “Both I think we could have avoided as well. We know this, we're going to clean it up.”
“We showed a great mentality to come out at halftime, away from home, not letting those two goals give them momentum,” Osorio highlighted. “We came out with clear heads and continued to keep playing the game and playing to our strengths.”
Bernardeschi rifled in that penalty kick to give Toronto their third lead of the evening and Insigne capped off the night with his sumptuous strike, dipping into a pocket of space from the left before ripping a right-footer sweetly to the smallest of gaps at the short-side to open his account.
The vision. The precision. It was pure class.
“We all see Lorenzo with his way of coming inside on the left and then getting closer to the box and having an ability to finish in different ways,” said Bradley. “That's a classic Lorenzo goal.”
“We see him getting fitter every week, being able to do more and more, and now to get his first goal,” added the TFC coach. “It came at a good time.”
Echoed Osorio: “Amazing goal.”
“He's been looking for it. He's been doing really well. He's still getting fit and used to the league. The pressure from outside is that he has to score every game, but as long as he keeps performing that's what we need from him,” he continued. “Today he got his goal and we're all so happy for him. Amazing goal, ends up being the game-winner and so a very important goal for us as well.”
Toronto now has another week to focus on the training pitch before the next triplet of games begins on Saturday with the visit of the Portland Timbers to BMO Field. The club prepares for that one having taken another step in the right direction.
Saturday was their first away win of the season, something that will prove invaluable going forward.
“Definitely important,” said Bradley. “We've talked throughout the year about mentality when you go away, being able to play from the start of the game until the very end, concentration.”
“Some of the draws were fair enough, but in other moments we had points that slipped away from us,” he added. “Getting the first away win is something that everybody feels good about.”