The old cliche of a result being a tale of two halves is rarely as clearly applicable as it is to Saturday’s match at BMO Field.
Toronto FC drew 2-2 with NYCFC on the night with the visitors bossing the first half.
Santiago Rodriguez opened the scoring in the 12th minute, capping off a lovely bit of one-touch football that saw Thiago and Valentin Castellanos put him in clear on goal to finish past Alex Bono.
Ismael Tajouri-Shradi added a second in the 21st minute following a dangerous turnover that allowed Castellanos to slip him in down the right for a left-footed finish.
It seemed like it was going to be another long night for TFC.
But when the whistle for the second half was blown, what happened was unrecognizable in comparison to that first 45. Perez made a double substitution, bringing on Ralph Priso and Ifunanyachi Achara for Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore.
Richie Laryea bagged the first with a clinical finish after Alejandro Pozuelo played him in down the flank in the 49th minute and Pozuelo himself levelled in the 55th minute when a defense-splitting Priso ball put Achara in down the right and he unselfishly squared to his teammate for a tap-in.
“The first half we were not in control of the game,” summed up Javier Perez post-match. “When you make changes you expect to regain the control. The changes made effect. We took control and we were close to scoring a third goal that would give us the three points.”
“At the end, it's one point and we have to think about the next game to get the three points,” he focused. “The mentality is the same. Just get the three points and try to make the playoffs.”
Conceding early has been a constant thorn in Toronto’s side this season.
“It's confidence,” said Laryea. “The season we've had so far, we've had some ups and downs, so sometimes it's easy when you concede to get down. And then when you concede another one it’s obviously not good.”
“But we have an experienced group and guys that are hungry. After losing 3-0 in Philly we needed to come up big tonight. You saw that in a lot of the guys,” he continued. “It's a good that we were able to pick it up and potentially should have left with three points today. We're working really hard to fix that.”
Said Perez: “The two goals in the first half fall consistently with the goals we have been [allowing] the first half of the season.”
“The second half is the type of team that we want to see,” he stressed. “We want to see an energetic team and a team that puts pressure on opponents, that controls the game, creates opportunities and, in the end, can score goals – not only from a set-piece or from an individual play, but as well because everybody in the team participates and get the connection to create opportunities. We scored a couple of goals but [there were] two, three very clear chances as well that we could have scored and get the three points tonight.”
Just what was said in that locker room at half-time to turn the tide?
“Just for us to calm down,” explained Laryea. “There was a lot of space for us to play against these guys, so we took a deep breath, got together, Javi adjusted the lineup and showed us some different ways to exploit their team and we came out flying in the second half.”
“We had nothing to lose and everything to gain,” he continued. “We know the quality we have across the field. It's been a rough season, but people quickly forget that we have a lot of very, very good players on this team. We know how to win games and we know how to fight.”
“It was pretty mild, simple, conversation from Javi’s standpoint, a few guys spoke,” he added. “Then we came out and we responded well.”
It was a dominant second half: NYCFC could consider themselves lucky to escape with a point.
“The difference between the first half and the second half [was in] the second half we did not have much to lose,” said Pozuelo. “So we go to press higher, to be one-on-one on the pitch, we tried to force.”
“We know we are strong here at home – this is the way to win the game and to play,” he added. “We tried to play with heart and go forward and we tried to win the three points.”
The introductions of Priso and Achara were pivotal.
“Ralph came on in one of the games and played a couple of more, did really well, so we felt comfortable and confident that he was able to do the job,” said Perez. “And Achara was a good fit for the team, to run him in behind. They were trying to put the pressure on us, the centre-backs are very high and we needed someone to run behind and get these chances.”
Priso was everywhere, mopping up every loose ball, forcing turnovers, and that pass for the second goal was devastating. Achara asked questions of the NYCFC defense, got them moving and opened up spaces for the rest of the team.
“We know they have quality,” said Pozuelo. “We know Ralph has power and the quality to play behind and give control of the ball. We know Achara is fast, he can play, can run behind and can play with us. We are proud of the young guys.”
Though he didn’t factor on the scoresheet Soteldo was a constant threat and Pozuelo, who missed the last few games, looked like the player who won the MVP award last season, picking up a goal and an assist.
“Alejandro is a special player,” said Perez. “He's one of these players that changes the team. Tonight he was really good. We didn't know how long he could go, given the fact that he didn't play for the last couple of games, but he came on and he never disappoints us.”
All while wearing the captain’s armband in the second half.
“I'm very proud to have the [armband]. I was captain in my old team, Genk. I know it's a big responsibility, but I like it,” Pozuelo said. “I like to show I can give power to the team. I can give my work, my quality.”
“Everybody knows, everybody respects me in this way. I wanted to help the team and I feel very proud to represent Toronto and Spain in Canada,” he added. “I like this responsibility.”