Toronto FC picked up an important win on Wednesday night, defeating FC Cincinnati 3-2 at BMO Field.
As they had in the previous two meetings, Cincinnati scored first when Ronald Matarrita was played in by Luciano Acosta in the 38th minute, very much against the run of play.
Trailing at half-time, TFC redoubled their efforts and came out like a bolt. Jacob Shaffelburg equalized in the 48th minute latching onto a Yeferson Soteldo ball after some strong build-up play down the right-flank and Mark Delgado put the Reds in front seven minutes later putting in a tight-angle finish on a Shaffelburg cross through the goalmouth following a sweeping team move from right to left and back again.
Ifunanyachi Achara would get in on the fun in the 65th minute, converting at the back-post from yet another dangerous Shaffelburg ball. Acosta would pull one back for the visitors in the 72nd minute, but Toronto would see out the result to earn the victory.
Before the turnaround, Coach Javier Perez could be seen urging his side to play faster.
“Yes, absolutely. We have players that have quality, they can move the ball fast,” confirmed Perez post-match. “First and foremost, at halftime when we were 1-0 down, I asked them to stay calm, to stay in the game mentally, because we were the better side and because the goals were going to come.”
“Just stay calm, move a little faster the ball, and our players up front to be a little bit closer to the back line so we would have more opportunities to play through-balls,” he elaborated. “By [doing that] we got rewarded in the second half.”
There was another factor at play, summed up by Achara: “We didn't want to lose to them again.”
Cincinnati had won the previous two matches, each a disappointing result for Toronto in different ways.
With a goal and two assists, Shaffelburg was in the middle of the action.
“He's a very, very important player for us,” remarked Perez. “He's the one who can run behind, he can make crosses, he delivers good services.”
“He's in a great moment and Jacob earned the respect of the whole team and the coaching staff,” he added. “He’s in a good moment and we have to keep it that way.”
The Nova Scotia-native has been a revelation since coming on early in the match against Inter Miami CF. Denied a late goal in that match, he scored in the next one against Nashville SC and then picked up two assists against York United FC in the Canadian Championship.
The production is great, obviously, but how seamlessly he has slotted into the team is spectacular, whether that be with Soteldo and Achara, his fellow forwards, or with Richie Laryea and Jonathan Osorio in the build-up.
“Richie and Oso work well together,” explained Shaffelburg. “I'm not a guy that when you throw me in is going to disrupt them. I'm going to listen to them and try to do what they want.”
‘I go in with them smoothly and help them going forward,” he highlighted. “We're just all clicking at the same time right now, so it's been great.”
And his connection with Achara goes way back.
The two played together in high school, both at Berkshire School and Blackrock FC in the PDL.
“We've had that connection since high school,” smiled Shaffelburg. “Every single time I get the ball on the wing, I always look up for him because I know he's going to be coming in late on that far side.”
“I tried to find him in the first half and it didn't come off,” he continued. “And then the one he scored, I just looked up and saw him there, so I knew I had to put it in the right spot to score.”
Said Achara: “Playing with Jacob is easy.”
“His game is his pace and when he starts running as fast as he can, you know you want to be in the box when the ball comes in,” he explained. “I tried to be in the right spot for him to cross it and tonight it was another good delivery from him and I was there to finish.”
Those connections on the field and the confidence that results bring is key.
“I always knew I had it, in the back of my head, but it's all about my confidence,” highlighted Shaffelburg. “At the start of the year, it was up and down. Midseason I didn't have the best confidence. Coming in that Miami game and getting my confidence up, knowing that I can compete in this league and keep up the pace with everyone really helped me.”
“I can do this game-in and game-out with how I'm feeling right now,” he added. “But obviously I've got to reset and look forward to Chicago on Sunday."
The Fire will visit BMO Field on Sunday, as Shaffelburg said, for the final match of this gruelling stretch before the October international break.
It has been a tough season for TFC.
But unbeaten in three league matches with wins either side of that gutsy scoreless draw away to the Colorado Rapids and having advanced to the semifinals of the Voyageurs Cup, confidence has been building and it showed in that second half onslaught. It was Toronto’s first come-from-behind win of the MLS campaign.
There haven’t been a lot of smiles, but there were plenty when Delgado scored the go ahead.
“When you are down there, it's very difficult to get out. It looks like nothing goes your way,” recalled Perez of the before time. “The team is finally clicking. Today it wasn't as pretty because we conceded a goal even if we had more chances. We need to capitalize at the beginning because that's part of the nature in football: when you don't capitalize, you get penalized. That was our story of the first half today.”
“This group of individuals is starting to look like a team and that was the story of the second half,” he continued. “We didn't give up, we knew we were the better side on the field, and then we wanted to make sure that we were going to turn around the game and we scored three goals. The team is getting more confidence even after this game; we are in a good place towards the end of the season.”
Added Achara: “The energy feels different, especially now that we're not the bottom and so our eyes are on the next game. The results are flowing because of the good performances we've been having and that gives us, the team, a lot of confidence to also come out, whoever we're facing and get a result, even when we're down.”
At the end of a good night, another of the items from Coach Javi’s toolkit made it’s first appearance: a stopwatch to keep an eye on the time added after the scoreboard clock stops ticking.
Does he always have it handy?
“I do, yes,” replied Perez. “Today they were going an extra 45 seconds. The fourth official told me that they were going a little bit longer because we made a sub in extra time – we brought on Patrick [Mullins] – but he told me it was going to be 30 seconds and we were 40, 45 seconds and the game was still on.”
“It's just to have your own watch because five seconds can make a difference,” he reminded. “It can be the difference between winning a game or having a tie.”