Every quest, no matter the distance, begins with a single step. For Toronto FC, Saturday night's 2-1 road win against the Chicago Fire was critical as they continue their push towards the playoff positions.
"It's a good win,” said Greg Vanney post-match. “We are starting to look a little more like ourselves as a team. They're all good wins, they all feel important and we'll take it. We have a game Wednesday and then we will regroup to play [Chicago again] next week."
One foot in front of the other.
Following a tentative and scoreless first half, Sebastian Giovinco breathed life into the contest with a vintage strike, cutting in from the left before picking out the far bottom-corner of the goal in the 47th minute.
Chicago would pull back level from a set-piece through Nemanja Nikolic shortly after the hour mark, but Jonathan Osorio would find the game-winner three minutes later, getting on the end of a sumptuous Marky Delgado ball and calmly staying with the play as goalkeeper Richard Sanchez slid out to challenge.
With the ball at his feet near the end-line and a flurry of defenders reassembling in front of the yamning net, Osorio cooly slotted home his 12th goal of the season (all competitions). Toronto's iron man does it again.
"He has played virtually every minute,” hailed Vanney. “He keeps finding the back of the net, but as much as [that], he's doing an immense amount of work on both sides of the ball, covering tons of ground, helping us in possession.”
“He's been excellent,” added Vanney. “With the confidence he has, he has a good feel for getting in good spots and finishing off goals. There's not much more you can say. He's having a huge season and we want him just to keep going."
It would have been easy, given how the season has gone, for heads to drop when Nikolic levelled.
"The special thing about this group is we haven't done that all year,” said Eriq Zavaleta, who made his 100th appearance for TFC, joining the Century Club days after Nick Hagglund did the same. “We have continued to battle.”
“Things haven't been pretty, certainly things have not gone our way,” continued Zavaleta. “But you saw – with a response and a goal right away – that guys were like, 'Look, we are going to get bad breaks, we are going to give goals, but we have to continue to go and to push.'”
“We know how important this one was today,” added Zavaleta. “With where the table is; where they're at and where we're at. We were not going to let it slip away."
It was a night that also saw the return of several key pieces from injury layoffs.
Jozy Altidore, Chris Mavinga, and Gregory van der Wiel were in the XI; Victor Vazquez came on in the 80th minute and Jason Hernandez was in the squad.
Getting those bodies back “was huge,” according to Osorio.
“You could see the difference in our play that they make when they're on the field. It was nice to have them back,” added Osorio. “The team had a very good performance today, something that can get our momentum going.”
Much as the team missed them, so too did they miss the team.
"It feels great, man,” smiled Altidore. “To be amongst the guys, with the group, on the road again... Just being back with the team, it's an indescribable feeling after being away from them for so long."
The pieces have begun to click into place.
"It's big,” said Vanney of Altidore's return in particular. “Guys start to play in natural positions and the relationships that have existed for a couple of years start to come out again.”
“Jozy is the guy who holds up the ball for us and brings the game forward. He also occupies a lot of attention, which gives Sebastian a little bit more space to work,” explained Vanney. “Everybody, across the team, did a good job. From this week we want to try to build some momentum and start to pick up some results along the way."
Add in the 1-0 away win in the opening leg of the Canadian Championship semifinal against Ottawa Fury FC on Wednesday and TFC have put together two-straight wins: their first such run since the Concacaf Champions League concluded.
“This is the kind of stretch we've been looking for: back-to-back wins, getting used to that feeling and knowing what it takes to do that,” said Osorio. “Today was a big step: away, against a team just ahead of us in the standings. We play them again next week, that will be another big one. Before that we have to finish things off on Wednesday against Ottawa. That's what we're looking forward to right now.”
A big three points and results elsewhere went Toronto's way as well; still there is much work to be done.
"We have a ways to continue to go,” cautioned Vanney. “It's the first time that group has been on the field in months. It was a good game, but I think we have another level that we can hit, as guys reach match fitness, get more attuned and accustomed to each other.”
Said Altidore: "We are kicking on.”
“We are having guys get back now to help out the team,” continued Altidore. “A lot of these guys have played a lot of minutes. Now we're looking ahead to Wednesday and then Chicago again."
"All the success we had, we were lucky not to have injuries,” observed Altidore. “The bug hit us on the back of the Champions League. We kept in it. Whatever people want to say we are in this thing. Guys that were healthy did that, and now it's our turn, the guys coming back from injury to give us a jolt and help us kick on."
A few weeks ago, Vanney emphasized the need to build a foundation.
“Now we are looking to swing momentum,” urged Vanney. “That's two in a row: we'll start to build off of that.
Don't count them out.
“Believe it or not we are still alive,” said Altidore. “People are counting us out, but we are not. This is the kind of game we can kick on from and I can tell you that the group is as hungry as ever."
“This is what is what you want as a player: challenges,” continued Altidore. “This is a big challenge for us. Everything is still there to play for and the guys are up for this challenge."