Toronto FC closed the opening portion of the MLS regular season with a 3-2 win over the Chicago Fire at BMO Field on Saturday evening.

Deandre Kerr kicked off the scoring in the 13th minute on a well-worked play that saw Luca Petrasso surge up the left before playing in-field to Jesús Jiménez. He in turn spotted his teammate surging into space on the right and Kerr’s right-footed blast was too much for the Chicago keeper. 

The lead would see TFC into half-time, but it was the visitors who emerged on the front foot, scoring twice in the next 20-odd minutes – a third was ruled offside with the assistance of VAR. 

A towering header from Carlos Teran, getting on the end of a Xherdan Shaqiri ball at the back-post, equalized, while another Shaqiri delivery led to Kacper Przybylko’s go-ahead strike, teed up by a Gastón Giménez cushioned back-header in the 66th minute.

Toronto were handed a lifeline three minutes later when video review led to a penalty call on Federico Navarro, who bundled over Alejandro Pozuelo just inside the corner of the box. Pozulo coolly finished from the penalty spot to level the match at twos.

Back in the lineup after missing the last three MLS matches, it was Pozuelo who provided the game-winner, a blistering shot from range into the top right corner.

Pozuelo screamer aside, it wasn’t the prettiest 90 minutes of football.

“I like the resilience,” said Bob Bradley post-match. “Between injuries and guys that go in and out and whatnot, right now as a team we're trying to develop and we're relying on the mentality of the group and the determination and the ability to fight through whatever.”

“Chicago has so many big guys and in moments when they push us deep or when we give up a set-piece, then there are second balls and balls back in, those are just battles for each play,” he continued. “On the first part of set-pieces generally we do okay, but on a night like tonight with the number of bodies and the balls just coming in, cross, cross, cross, that's a fight.”

“It's important that the group understands that at a moment where not every part of the football is what it should be, that there's still ways to compete and what it means to play at home in front of your fans,” Bradley added. “Those are the big deals of today.”

On the heels of last weekend’s draw in Washington D.C. and the cup victory in Halifax midweek, Toronto picked up their first win since April 16.

“This one is massive,” said Kerr. “We know we've been on a tough stretch. We've been working hard, kept our heads down, and we knew the result would come.”

“We worked so hard today,” he continued. “We got the win and now we're just trying to build on this.”

Both goals – an unflappable penalty kick and a screamer from range – were vintage Pozuelo.

“It's my first game this season that I played without pain,” revealed the midfielder. “I played almost all season with pain, but I said to the physio today, I said to Celo [Marcelo Casal], ‘I feel good’ before the game.”

“I'm very happy for this and also happy to help the team,” he smiled. “It’s an important win against Chicago. These three points at home are very important for us.”

Pozuelo walked through the game-winner.

“Chicago played good today, they pushed us to defend a little bit more and we tried to force some counterattacks. They lost the ball, they tried to play in behind,” he recalled. “I only focused on finishing. I tried to dribble in. This is my favourite position to shoot, over to my post.”

“I had a little bit of luck to score this amazing goal and to help the team,” Pozuelo added. “This is important for me, to take some confidence also.”

The two goals were just a reminder.

“There's no way you can see the real Alejandro when he's trained once in the last couple of weeks,” levelled Bradley. “What we saw was that when he has the ball at his feet he can still make a great pass, today score a great goal.”

“But for the football to get to a higher level, Alejandro and I talk about it all the time, it's not only the special plays, but it's more involved all the time,” he urged. “He gave us 80 minutes; at the end, he's tired. There are moments when the way we end up defending is okay, if Alejandro stays up then Jayden [Nelson] you drop in here, there's so much rearranging going on in the course of every game.”

“To be really consistent in every phase of the game, no, we're not there,” Bradley added. “I want Alejandro to get all the credit tonight because when he steps on the field having not played and he produces a couple of big moments including the winning goal, absolutely.”

And that is the takeaway from these opening months of the season. Players, and the team as a whole, taking the little steps every day towards getting better and better. 

Kerr is a case in point. 

Having had the chance to find the level, he has been fantastic in the last few matches, playing in a more central midfield role rather than on the wing getting chalk on his boot.

“He's getting used to the games, he's getting more confidence. He knows what it means to push himself more,” said Bradley. “You try to say to young players that everybody starts the game with a full tank and you don't get any points at the end of the game if you have three quarters of your tank left.”

“So there's this idea of what does it mean to empty your tank on the field?” he continued. “If you don't have a big tank, maybe you’re emptying it after 20 minutes and you come off. Actually, that's better – I'd rather that you give us 20 minutes and empty your tank.”

“That's what playing at a higher level is all about,” Bradley added. “Deandre has grown in these ways. When he starts to think he's a little bit tired, he finds something to keep going a little bit more. When you see that in a young player, that's very positive.”

The goal was the 19-year-old’s second of the season and his first at BMO Field.

“As the ball was coming to me, I saw I had a little bit of space. I'm right-footed, so I was very comfortable with that shot,” he recounted. “I just tried to keep it low and test the keeper and thankfully it went in.”

MLS now pauses for the June international break. TFC will face Canadian Premier League side Forge FC in the much-delayed 2020 Canadian Championship Final on Saturday at Tim Horton’s Field in Hamilton.

Unbeaten in three, all competitions, Toronto are in good spirits heading into that clash.

“It’s good,” said Pozuelo of the mood in the dressing room. “With music, with reggaeton – Carlos [Salcedo] is the DJ in the dressing room.”

“We have one more game next week, the cup final,” he anticipated. “I hope we can win this trophy.”

Said Bradley: “If you go through a stretch and you let some games get away from you, then you need any kind of positive result. We talked about a late goal in D.C., we talked about a good cup win in Halifax, and now tonight becomes the third on the list of efforts where so many guys are trying to do whatever they can to help the team.”