Toronto FC extended their unbeaten run to three matches on Wednesday night with a 1-1 draw against the New York Red Bulls.
A hard-fought first half ended scoreless, but New York were able to find a breakthrough shortly after the restart when a deep free-kick got in behind the Toronto defense. Fabio’s initial attempt was denied by Alex Bono, so too was Patrick Klimala’s initial follow up, but the Polish striker was able to latch onto the rebound for a simple finish.
Once more the introduction of Jozy Altidore around the hour-mark changed the tenor of the game, as TFC began to find more space within which to operate. And again it was a move driven by Yeferson Soteldo that led to an equalizer.
The Venezuelan whipped a ball in from the left that was swatted away from Altidore by the Red Bulls keeper, falling kindly to Ralph Priso on the right-side of the area. He calmly placed his left-footed attempt on frame, tucking it between a maze of bodies at the near-side.
Toronto would push for a winner in the closing half-hour, but were forced to settle for a draw.
“I'm happy again with the performance tonight. I cannot be happy with the result because in this club we strive for three points in every game, especially at home,” said Javier Perez post-match. “And the way we played, everybody wanted the three points.”
“The first half, we knew it was going to be this kind of game. [The Red Bulls are] a side that plays with intensity, they don't really play too much soccer. It's more disruptive, the style of soccer that they have,” he explained. “We knew the first half was going to be like that, but the second half we knew the game was going to open up. Our players were going to be able to play a little more with the ball and display the style of play that we like more.”
“Unfortunately, right away we concede that goal. We fought back to get a tie. It's one more point – five points in the last three games,” Perez added. “[Next] build up for Chicago with the mindset to go there and get another three points.”
Priso excelled when he made his first team debut towards the end of the 2020 regular season and looked to build on that earlier this year with some strong performances. But minutes have been hard to come by in recent weeks. It was an injury to Auro Jr that saw him come into the game in the 18th minute.
The goal was his first in MLS.
“It was good,” said Priso understatedly. “The first goal I've scored at any level in a couple years, so it was good. I saw a one-on-one with Yeferson and I thought to get in the box. I knew he would beat his man and get in the box and I was alone, so if the ball got to me, which it did, I would be there to finish it and I did.”
The smile in celebration was worth a thousand words. His teammates made a slight fuss, but Priso responded like it was just another Wednesday night at BMO Field.
“I'm like that in general, just calm, don't get too excited,” he replied, asked about his celebration. “A little bit was it was only one, so I didn't want to go celebrate too much. We wanted a second one. And a little bit of it was I just didn't really realize that I scored. I was kind of frozen in the moment. So a little bit of everything.”
With key players away at the Gold Cup and MLS entering a heavier-than-usual summer grind, Perez knew that the substitutes would be important on the night and going forward.
“Right before the game, I mentioned that everybody should be ready for a game like today,” recounted the coach. “The chances the players are getting coming out of the bench are going to be limited, but they have to enjoy these chances.”
“Ralph proved today that he deserves that chance and he earned trust – my trust and the trust of the team,” Perez continued. “He had a really good performance: winning battles, one-vs-ones in the middle of the field, he scored. First game he plays here at home and he came away with one goal. It was a good night for him.”
Added Justin Morrow: “Javi sent a really strong message in the locker room before the game, talking to the substitutes, telling them that we were going to rely on them to bring energy. Ralph came in, did a fantastic job. He's one of the young guys that we've counted on the most throughout the season. He's stepping up and learning each and every day.”
“Today was a big night for him,” he continued. “There's going to be ups and downs when you're still young, but tonight was a really good night and he showed all of his best qualities and really helped the team.”
The 18-year-old was making just his 11th MLS appearance for the club. Every one is a learning experience.
“When I got subbed in, I tried to just play my game, but before my goal, I was not good,” Priso analyzed. “I gave a couple balls away, I was processing things a little bit slowly. After my goal, that took a weight off me and I just started playing a little bit more freely, more relaxed and more comfortable. After that I had a better performance.”
“I stopped thinking. I was just playing, finding space and combining with guys,” he continued. “After the goal, I really stepped up and showed my real level. Now I just have to keep doing that.”
And after long months away, it was his first appearance in front of the BMO faithful.
“It's been good just to train at the training ground and to play games here and see fans, be with [our] families all the time. To be in a familiar environment,” Priso reflected. “It helps us mentally to just be more relaxed and more focused. And just enjoy a little bit more.”
It’s been a whirlwind few days for TFC. They will hit the road on the weekend when they visit the Chicago Fire on Saturday, but it’s been a joy to be home.
“Coming back to Toronto, being at BMO, playing in front of fans, it all happened so quickly,” said Morrow. “We were down in Orlando for such a long time. We knew it could change, but we didn't know exactly when and in a span of 10 days all of a sudden we're playing in our own stadium, in front of fans, and, luck has it, I get a chance to be on the field.”
“It just means so much to me,” he continued. “After being away from home for over a year to give some joy back to the city is amazing. And you can see that everyone has life. They've got smiles coming into the training ground, smiles coming into the stadium. It just means so much to the guys.”