Toronto FC got the 2019 MLS campaign off to a strong start on Saturday afternoon, winning 3-1 over the Philadelphia Union at Talen Energy Stadium in Chester, Pennsylvania.
Having seen his side miss a penalty kick earlier in the first half, TFC captain Michael Bradley seized the initiative, arriving in the box late to smash home the opening goal in first half stoppage-time to give the visitors the lead heading into the break.
Bradley added a second in a similar fashion come the hour mark, before Marco Fabian pulled one back from the penalty spot in the 73rd minute.
“It’s a fantastic three points,” said Greg Vanney post-match. “It’s really difficult to get wins on the road in this league. Guys came in with a strong mentality; did a great job of protecting our goal and taking advantage of opportunities we were able to create the other way. You win a lot of different ways over the course of 34 games. Today it was this way.”
Being in Philadelphia, gritty is an apt description.
“We understand that early on in the season you have to have different ways of winning games,” explained Bradley. “Conditions and fields aren't always perfect; not everybody is at their sharpest, but there are still points on the line, you have to find ways to take what you deserve… the mentality, the intensity with which we played was excellent.”
Vanney called it a “mentality win” and “something you can really build on.”
“It was hard work from a lot of guys,” continued Vanney. “You can start to build momentum, confidence, and understanding of how to get results that way. Obviously, the soccer will continue to get better, will continue to grow as we go through a long season. You get results early on any way you can get them. Today was a beautiful win.”
It was Bradley, with the brace, who led the way.
“Outstanding,” said Vanney of his captain. “He covers a ton of ground, found the right moments to get forward, helped us cover things behind the ball. It was a big effort by Michael; by a lot of guys.”
“He was in the right spot at the right time on two occasions in front of goal. I love to see that,” added Vanney. “A lot of times he ends up getting stuck so deep, but with Marky [Delgado] back there helping, he can release and get himself in goal scoring positions. It’s not something we necessarily expect of him, but he’s fully capable of recognizing those situations and going for it.”
“There was some space to move into,” said Bradley matter-of-factly. “It's not necessarily my first thought always, but when your momentum starts takes you forward on certain plays you see them out.”
On the second, Chris Mavinga found Jonathan Osorio on the left. He laid a ball down the side of the box for Ciman, who flung a dangerous cross towards goal. When Philadelphia goalkeeper Andre Blake could only redirect it towards the penalty spot, Bradley was there to smash it home.
“He had a fantastic game: finishing, his mentality was good, he brought some bite, aggressive,” said DeLeon of Bradley. “He brought it all today; guys really fed off of it.”
After going two years without a goal, Bradley now finds himself atop the Golden Boot standings. So, what are the chances he stays there?
“I'll say low, but this is what he does,” laughed Alex Bono. “When we need an injection, someone to start the engine, he's the guy. Two might be over his total for the last two years. It's a good start for him, great for him to get on the scoresheet. He's our leader.”
Vanney foresees a few more from the captain with the latest tactical evolution allowing him to get forward.
“The way we look to play – today a modified version of that being on the road – will give him freedom at times to join in when he recognizes the right situations,” explained Vanney. “I don't think anyone thought he'd get two today, but he'll find moments to score.”
Bradley could not recall the last time he scored twice in a match: “I do not. See if Mike [Masaro, Sr. Manager of Media Relations] can get us the answer.”
It had been almost ten years since a 21-year-old Bradley scored twice for Borussia Monchengladbach a few weeks after a personal 'Dos a Cero' against Mexico in a World Cup Qualifier in Columbus.
TFC knew they would be in for a battle and were more than happy to play spoiler on the day.
“We know how these go – early in season, other team’s home opener – we're going to have to weather the storm a little bit at times throughout the game,” said Bono. “To our credit, our intensity was fantastic, Skip led the way with a couple of huge goals; we defended really well for most of the game.”
“That's what it's going to take for us,” added Bono, reiterating something he said last week. “If we can be stingy defensively, we know we're going to have opportunities to score.”
Game One in the books, Toronto now has a bye week before the home opener at BMO Field on March 17 against the New England Revolution.
“It's an important win for sure – three big points to start the season off – we feel good about it,” concluded Bradley. “We wanted to start in a positive way. We've talked a few times in the last few weeks about feeling like we let ourselves down in Panama, from an intensity standpoint, being ready to play a real hard game. The response in those ways on Tuesday night in the second leg was very good and today that part was excellent.”