For the third year in a row Toronto FC started their regular season campaign with a victory away from home in a difficult venue.
Red Bull Arena served as haunted ground for the Reds until Sunday’s season opener. In seven previous contests in Harrison, NJ, a draw was all TFC had to show for, but late goals from Sebastian Giovinco and Marky Delgado ensured a different result this time around.
And while the late offensive spark made it possible for Greg Vanney’s side to leave New Jersey with three points, it was the team’s collective defensive effort that had the locker room buzzing postmatch. If the remainder of the road trip is to be successful, the Reds must replicate that aspect of their performance at Red Bull Arena. The Red Bulls dominated possession but only registered one shot on target, compared to TFC’s five. That’s a recipe for success on the road.
So what else did we learn from Sunday’s season opening win?
It Doesn’t Have To Be Pretty On The Road
It doesn’t have to be pretty anywhere as long as the results are favourable, but the old axiom applies more so for visiting teams in just about any league.
The Reds entered Red Bull Arena with a gameplan focused on frustrating the reigning Supporters’ Shield winners. Simply put, it worked.
“I can't say I'm surprised with the results,” said Vanney. “I think we had a plan and a mission when we came in. I think the big part of being able to go to a city like New York or club like New York and winning is belief and confidence in what you're doing.”
“We did what we said we'd do, [which] is give ourselves a chance by defending well and give ourselves a chance throughout the course of the game to get the chance to win the game.”
In the end two opportunities on the counter was all the Reds needed.
New Season, Same Seba
With the Reds sitting deep and attempting to break the Red Bulls via the counter attack it was a game of cat and mouse for Sebastian Giovinco through the first hour of Sunday’s game.
Gideon Baah did as good a job as one can do going up against Seba, holding the Red Bulls defensive line with centre-back partner Ronald Zubar and drawing Giovinco into multiple offside positions. But as we learned throughout the 2015 season, it’s usually only a matter of time before the reigning MLS MVP strikes.
“We got to see today why Giovinco was last year's MVP,” said Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles. “Just like Jesse [Marsch] mentioned previously, whenever he got a touch, it looked like he was going to do something dangerous.”
The New Guys Can Play
As far as debuts go it was a good day.
Tsubasa Endoh, Will Johnson, Drew Moor, Steven Beitashour and Clint Irwin played major roles in Sunday’s victory.
Endoh, drafted ninth overall in January, wowed during the preseason and continued to impress in his first professional start.
“I thought he was great,” said Vanney. “Tsubasa has an enormous engine, and he'll work, and he'll run, and he'll track, and he's got a good education for the game in terms of his decision making and his tactical understanding of where to be and when.”
The four MLS veterans added in the offseason helped the team emerge from a Red Bulls push in the second half, allowing TFC to go for the full three points.
“We knew what we were getting when we went inside the league to try to add pieces this year, and we saw that on day one,” said Vanney.
The Reds return to New York where they will take on David Villa, Andrea Pirlo and NYCFC at Yankee Stadium this Sunday.