Toronto FC closed out the third phase of the season on Wednesday night with a strong 3-2 win away to the New England Revolution.
Yeferson Soteldo scored his first goal for the club in the 9th minute, beating New England goalkeeper Brad Knighton to a loose ball, touching past him and depositing into the open net. Kemar Lawrence netted his first as well, smashing a left-footer high into the goal after Alejandro Pozuelo had threaded him in clear on goal with a sumptuous pass in the 15th minute. And Tsubasa Endoh made it three with a stunning strike from range, cutting in-field from the right before placing a left-footed drive into the far-side of the net.
The Revolution would pull two back in the second half – Carles Gil from a free-kick and Adam Buksa with a header, setting up a tense final 15 minutes, but Alex Bono stood strong, denying Buksa a second, equalizing goal in the 95th minute to preserve the three points.
It was a strong response to what happened on the weekend and the events that followed. In some ways it was more than three points and a victory earned on the night.
“It meant everything,” said Endoh post-match. “Collectively, individually; honestly it was much needed.”
“We played hard. We came out strong,” he continued. “We gave it all and it showed on the field.”
With Javier Perez on the touchlines following the departure of Chris Armas, there was precious little time to prepare for a match against the team at the top of the Eastern Conference.
“We had very limited time, just two days to prepare,” said the interim manager. “The first day we worked on our defensive shape and the second day we worked about how we were going to play with the ball. The game reflected both parts that we worked on in training.”
“At the same time,” added Perez. “I liked how the team knew how to suffer and get the result and get the job done.”
Core to the effort were big performances from Soteldo – a goal and an assist – and Pozuelo – just an assist on the scoresheet, but so much more on the night.
“It's huge,” said Michael Bradley. “You want to be a good team in this league, you want to be successful, you need your best players, your most important players, to be on the field and to play at a high level.”
“That's no secret. For different reasons we've played the majority of the season with none of our DPs on the field, that's the reality,” he continued. “And for us, our DPs are some of our best attacking players. And so to get both Ale and Yeferson on the field tonight was important.”
“The presence they have, the pure technical ability that they both have, it makes such a difference,” Bradley highlighted. “And we're just scratching the surface. They're still getting fitter, they're still getting sharper. They both had really good nights and if we're going to continue to win games, then we're going to need more of that from them.”
Both displayed the elements of their games that make them such valuable players.
“Alejandro is a magnificent player with the ball. He's a player that changes the tempo of the game,” pinpointed Perez. “And Yeferson is a player that can take on one, maybe two players, by himself. He can hold the ball. Basically [we looked to] take advantage of the characteristics of both of them.”
TFC fly home to Toronto on Thursday, the day after the match, for whatever the world throws at them next.
The next scheduled match is on July 17 at home against Orlando City SC. Just where ‘home’ is has yet to be determined.
That match kicks off the next phase of the season: the post-Gold Cup summer grind.
12 matches in, the club will play nearly as many more, ten to be exact, before MLS pauses once more for the September international window. Then comes the playoff push with six games before the October international break and then lies the homestretch of six culminating with the final game of the regular season on November 7, against D.C. United.
It was an important win. Not only to claw back some points and head into the Gold Cup on a positive note, but for so many more reasons as well.
“A very important win,” said Perez. “Not only for what just happened during the past week, but it's been extremely tough for the players and staff to be away from home, away from their families. It was very important to put together a good performance, not only to win, but to put together a good performance to believe, again, in us.
“The team responded,” he added. “The team put together a good performance.”
Said Endoh: “It wasn't easy, but it was clear collectively what we need to do and each player did everything.”
“Each player gave everything on the field,” he continued. “You just leave it on the field. We got those three points. Definitely much needed as a team and we can move forward from here.”
Call it a response to the 7-1 defeat at D.C. Call it a statement reminding the rest of the league that TFC is not a team to be written off. Call it whatever one desires.
It was the next game. There are 22 more still to come.
“We've not been in a good way, so when you can come to one of the best teams in the league right now and walk away with three points, that's a great feeling,” said Bradley. “Combined with the fact that we're headed home tomorrow, the energy is good and the feeling is really positive right now.”
“We understand it's just one game. We've put ourselves behind the eight ball in a pretty good way, so we've got some real work to do. We understand that, but we're excited,” levelled the captain. “And you've got to start somewhere. Tonight was a really good step in the right direction and now we'll get ourselves back home and recover, mentally, physically from this one, and get ready for a big stretch.”