It's finally over.
Toronto FC ended its seven-game road trip with a third win, holding onto a 1-0 lead over the Philadelphia Union at PPL Park courtesy of a solid defensive effort and a peach of a free kick by Sebastian Giovinco.
TFC head coach Greg Vanney now heads back to Toronto with nine points in seven games. With the chance to now reflect on their journey across the continent, and was posed with the question of whether he’d take nine points, if offered them, at the start of the year.
“My greedy self would say I think we should have more, but in the end, yes, I would,” Vanney told MLSsoccer.com over the phone after the match. “It’s the best start that any team has had in league history when they’ve had to start on the road like this. Three wins are the most wins that anybody’s had on the road like this.”
HIGHLIGHTS: Sebastian Giovinco's Goal
Three other teams have started the season on the road in similar circumstances: Sporting Kansas City went 1-6-3 in 10 road games to kick off 2011; the Chicago Fire grabbed 10 points in 2006 in its first nine games; the 2012 Houston Dynamo faced a seven-game road trip of their own, picking up only two wins. For Toronto FC, this victory over Philadelphia can be chalked up to the team’s defensive discipline, says Vanney, as the Reds buckled down and defended with confidence, especially in the final 15 minutes of the match.
It’s a stark contrast to the team’s defensive form from just a few weeks prior, where the back line conceded goals with far too much ease. But in the last two matches, with two banks of four players in a 4-4-2, Toronto has looked comfortable defending, a change Vanney says was the result of a group decision to change the dynamic of their approach to maintaining the lead.
Vanney explained that the group now focuses on re-organizing its shape and buying time, rather than pressing higher to win balls in midfield. The TFC boss further explained that, as a result, his side has yielded more of the possession in an effort to secure results on the road. On the attack, Toronto FC finds its goals from moments of creative genius, sparked, as ever, by the foot of the Atomic Ant.
“Seba continues to delight us with the things that he’s capable of doing,” Vanney said. “We often watch him hit those [kinds of free kicks] at the end of training. A lot of times, we’ll have a whole crowd of players behind him as he just hits these balls that knuckle and move all over the place. Our goalkeepers are guessing where it’s going to be next. We kind of laugh at our ‘keepers as we watch and ask ‘how does he hit this ball like that?’”
Now, Toronto FC returns to BMO Field for its home opener. It’s a game the team has been dreaming of since the start of the season.
“We’ve learned a lot about ourselves over the course of these seven games – a lot of lessons that I think MLS teams don’t necessarily get until later in the year,” Vanney concluded. “What we’re most proud about is that we’re going home with some momentum. We’re looking forward to opening the new version of stadium with 30,000 people in what will be an exciting night.”