Judging by the celebrations of Lorenzo Insigne, who wore the captain’s armband for the first time, Kobe Franklin, and the rest of the side at the final whistle, one could tell that Toronto FC picked up a big win on Saturday night, defeating NYCFC 1-0 at BMO Field.
CJ Sapong scored the game’s only goal in the 46th minute, redirecting a ball from Richie Laryea on the right into the net from close range shortly after the restart following a tight first half.
NYCFC, who were limited in chances to that point, rallied a touch, but TFC were able to smother any threats and see out the result.
“We didn't give much away, we were solid, our ideas in terms of how to defend, when to step up, when to be more compact, those things were good,” said Bob Bradley post-match. “And then we got a bunch of good performances – a bunch of guys played well: CJ gives us something a little bit different; Alonso [Coello Camarero] played well, he continues to get better. Kobe played well, came in and did a really good job. So, [I’m] happy.”
It’s not every day that a pair of half-time conversations pay such immediate dividends.
“The first 35 minutes, tactically and everything, we were good, but in the last 10 minutes of the first half we were on the backfoot a little bit. We talked a little bit about why,” outlined Bradley. “And felt like we could go back and push the game. We talked a little bit about ways that we could get Richie forward a little bit more, immediately that happened.”
“We know that when we get Richie forward in the right moments he's such a threat,” he continued. “And so the move to get him there and the ball he put across, that changed the game.”
The play began with a ball from Sigurd Rosted to Sapong.
“At half-time, me and Sigurd had spoken about being able to find me in that pocket,” said the forward. “He tried to play a ball in the first half, didn’t see the [opposing] player.”
“I told him, ‘Just put enough on it so it can get to me,’” Sapong continued. “He started that play, I was able to bring it down and play Richie out wide – that's another thing that we hit at half-time, getting Richie in the space and letting him do his thing. Once I played that ball I knew just get in the box and, credit to him, ball found me and the rest of the job was easy.”
Sapong has a knack for finding the back of the net in his debut, Saturday was the third time he’s scored on his first outing with a new club.
“It's just an energetic thing,” he explained. “New environments and adversity is something that, throughout my life, I've learned to just welcome. On the other side of those things there's always opportunities for growth.”
“There's ebbs and flows in life, so I ride the waves when they're at their peaks, knowing that there's going to be opposite moments,” Sapong continued. “Just soaking in those positive moments as much as possible.”
Saturday was one such moment.
“Yeah, surreal for me,” smiled Sapong. “It's quite the whirlwind of a week, but the football, getting on the pitch, was the thing I was looking most forward to – that's the environment that I feel my most comfortable.”
“Club, players, staff, everybody's been very welcoming and accommodating; stepping on the pitch I was wanting to relish the opportunity to provide an impact,” he continued. “Credit to the group, we moved together, the communication was top, the passion was there as well. I felt like at any moment, we could score a goal. As a #9 it's a really good feeling to come into a group that you just met this week and feel like there's comfort and passion and things like that. I’ll remember this one for a long time.”
Sapong, leading the line, with Insigne on one side and Federico Bernardeschi on the other, slotted right into the side.
“It's not just holding up the ball,” said Bradley. “He's smart defensively, he's taking away passing lanes. When he does need to come top down and put a little pressure on a midfielder he does that. He's got good timing, not only to hold the ball, but to come away from the defenders in certain moments. The quality of some of his little, soft passes when balls come to him – he gave Fede a really good ball tonight that came across the box.”
“And then he's unselfish with his running in the box,” he continued. “Tonight he got the goal, but when you have a striker who runs hard in the box that oftentimes does a lot to create chances for others. He brings a lot of good quality.”
On the heels of a disappointing outing in Philadelphia last weekend, back home against another side expected to challenge for the Eastern Conference crown, it was a solid outing.
“We talked about intensity, we talked about a lot of things, it was a hard week. When you look hard at a game like that and challenge the group,” said Bradley. “The response was really good.”
“Tonight is more along the lines of what we saw for a bunch of games, but you build on it by getting better: that when we create advantages we make more big chances; that when you lose balls you react a little bit faster, shutdown a few more transitions,” he expanded. “You have momentum when you keep doing all these little things better.”
“When [the players] understand that we have a good team and they trust the way we play and the things we do every day and they realize why we do them and then they keep working to do them better,” Bradley closed. “That's the most important part of how you build things and keep going.”