Toronto FC

Reds secure first win of 2024 Season: “It's a different team, completely different mentality"


Toronto FC earned their first win of the season on Sunday afternoon, defeating the New England Revolution 1-0 at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts.

Lorenzo Insigne scored the only goal, lofting a delicate effort over New England keeper Henrich Ravas from the left that nestled into the side netting in the 27th minute.

TFC nearly added another before half-time, denied by an offside in the build up, and then saw out the second half with the help of a masterclass in goal from Sean Johnson, the pinnacle of which was a diving same on Matt Polster’s low drive from the top of the box in the 93rd minute.

“We managed the first half really well,” said John Herdman post-match. “From an attacking perspective we had some really good moments and nullified a lot of their threats. It took a while to adapt to the pitch, it was a little bit wobbly in that first 10-15 minutes, but once they adapted we were able to get good control and then with that control we were able to score a goal.”

“A goal on the road, that's the golden egg for us,” he continued. “We were very clear at half-time. Two goals would be nice, just to make the game more comfortable, but it wasn't to be. Great performance from the back five, the midfield three, and obviously Sean Johnson pulling off a wonderful save at the end, a real world-class save, showing his calibre.”

With the scoreless opening day draw away to FC Cincinnati Toronto begin the season unbeaten in two, have yet to concede, and now return home with four points in tow.

“We have a new profile,” replied Johnson, asked about the start to the campaign.

“It's a different team, completely different mentality, and it's a team that has worked for everything that we've gotten so far.”

“We have players who put in the hours, who have committed to being the team that we want to be,” he continued. “It’s a new look; we're proud of the team we are, but we're going to remain humble through it all. Everything that we get, every result we get, we have to earn it, we have to put the work in.”

“Today we'll enjoy it, but in a couple of days we'll be right back in to get ready for the next game and put in another performance,” Johnson promised. “The biggest shift for us has been mindset and the humility that we have.”

New England bossed the early passages of the game, but Toronto worked their way into the action. Prince Owusu had a chance to score the first goal of the year off a Shane O’Neill cross and Jonathan Osorio was denied after Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi combined to tee him up.

It took a moment of the highest calibre to break open the tie.

When Bernardeschi’s blocked shot fell to Insigne with space in the left-side of the area, he sized it up and struck it sweetly.

“Tremendous finish,” said Johnson. “To be honest, I’ve seen that one too many times in training against him, so it's nice to witness one against an opponent.”

“He's got an unbelievable ability attacking. He and Fede, what they do for us – we were unfortunate not to get a second goal there,” he continued, referencing the two linking up again a few minutes later to craft the goal that was ruled offside. “They've really taken the responsibility on their shoulders to set an example for this group and everybody is following their lead.”

Insigne walked away in celebration then appeared to grab his hamstring.

Only in jest.

“It was brilliant,” smiled Herdman. “He's a funny guy. I don't think people get to see the real Lorenzo. He has a lot of pressure, the price tag on his head. He carries the pressure of this club – it weighs heavy on him, but if you get to see him behind the scenes he's got that sort of cheeky personality.”

Insigne would leave at half-time, part of the side’s plan to manage his minutes to maximize his effectiveness and availability.

“Make sure we get him starting as many games as we can, for our fans, for our team, because you see his magic,” explained the TFC coach. “He really does bring a different tempo to our game and quality.”

“It was planned for him to start strong and get that goal before half-time,” added Herdman.

“That was his mission – to put us in a strong situation – and he did that.”

On their home turf New England were eager to find a way back into the match as the second half kicked off and were it not for the Toronto keeper they may have found one.

His six saves on the night equaled his previous club-high set last weekend against Cincinnati, but that one in stoppage-time was the pick of the lot.

“It’s just one of those where you rely on your instincts, the amount of games and the amount of hours spent on the training pitch, just try to get in a good spot and do my best to get ahead of it,” Johnson explained. “He struck it well, I was able to get something on it. It's one of those up-and-over and you're thankful the ball ends up where it does.”

“More importantly the defensive effort was second to none,” he pivoted. “I haven't seen defensive effort like that in a long time, so to play my part was necessary. On a day where we got our goal and bunkered in I was happy to contribute to the performance.”

180 minutes into the 2024 season, TFC are yet to allow a goal against.

“We have a roster full of guys who understand exactly what it's going to take to get results,” underlined the goalkeeper. “Today the effort was massive. We had to communicate the entire game, we were there for each other, we trusted that in moments where we needed somebody to be there we made sure to do that. I couldn't be happier with the group, but, again, it's just the starting point.”

It was a team performance.

From Insigne’s strike, to Raoul Petretta racing back for a crucial sliding tackle, to Kevin Long getting on the end of dangerous crosses, to newcomer Nicksoen Gomis diving into a vital block, and Johnson’s saves.

“The individual efforts make the collective – what you can do for somebody else, not just yourself,” said Johnson. “We had a group of guys that put in a performance. I couldn't think of a bad performance tonight.”

“It was a game of big moments, it was a game of individuals showing up and taking the responsibility to do what was necessary to contribute to getting a result on the road,” he added. “Everybody stepped up in a big way.”

After debuts last weekend from Deybi Flores, Long, and Richie Laryea (kind of), Sunday in New England saw 21-year-old French defender Gomis make his first appearance.

“He looks like he's a seasoned veteran in MLS,” said Herdman. “Last week he couldn't start because of a concussion out of the LAFC game; he was cleared pretty quickly and we were desperate to get him out there.”

“When he's on grass at home, you'll see his attacking qualities even more so. Very composed, has got huge self belief, and he brings a different presence,” he continued. “We’ve got a couple of veteran lads in there and he’s this spritely, confident young lad.”

Toronto marked their first victory of the season with an on-field huddle post-match.

“It’s our first win on the road since August 2022. We kept a clean-sheet last week against the champs and this week against a really good New England team that's in rhythm, so I'm just proud, proud of what these players are collectively putting out there for this club,” said Herdman. “They've changed gears, there's a different effort, a different ethos, and a clarity towards what they want, which is to win football matches for this club and to get back to the top.”

“There's a long way to go, but saves like that from Sean are going to keep us there,” he continued. “That's what teams that win championships do, they have goalkeepers that can keep them in games where it's going to be tight. Our big players are coming big and that will need to last throughout the whole season if we're going to push.”

Johnson called the road-trip, “Two steps on the journey.”

“As a team, we know who we are, we know what we've committed to each other,” he continued. “If we do those things every single time we step on the pitch, we have nobody to answer to but ourselves.”

“Stay steady and trust in ourselves. Every single game is a building block,” Johnson added. “The rest will take care of itself if we can stay true to that.”

TFC will be back home at BMO Field this weekend with the visitor of Charlotte FC on Saturday.

“I can’t wait to get in front of those fans,” relished Herdman. “I said this right at the beginning: the team had to build trust back with the fan base.”

“When I went to the fan engagement night, they wanted to see the effort, they wanted to see that resilience, that resolve, and the fight. I think we've shown that over two matches,” he continued. “Yes, it's the beginning, but I think the fans can be proud of the work that's gone in.”

“Hopefully they show up, give us a real home opener, leave the past in the past, and give us all the support we need to put another star on our jersey, to push to that next level, that's what I’m hoping,” Herdman added. “Fingers crossed they all show up and we can put on a real attacking performance in front of our fans.”

Until then the side has earned a bit of rest and a bit of celebration.

“We have one day less in our prep this week. They'll get some time off. They've never won on the road for a long time, so I think I'm going to have to give them a day off just to recover from tonight,” Herdman smiled. “I'm going to let them celebrate because it's important we do that.”

“It is a big moment, a big step for this team,” he closed. “But as Oso said in the huddle at the end, ‘It's just one small step on a big climb that we've got to make this season.’”