TORONTO – The return of Jozy Altidore and his game-winning strike will justifiably grab the headlines, but beneath the surface, there were plenty of other ripples that helped turn the tide in Sunday night’s 3-2 win over the New England Revolution.
Altidore scored the winner in the 80th minute having come off the bench, but it was a team effort that put the side in a position to grab all three points, including solid contributions from a trio of Homegrown players: Ayo Akinola, Jordan Hamilton, and Jay Chapman.
Akinola scored the first goal, Hamilton the second, and Chapman assisted on each.
“It was a grind,” said Greg Vanney post-match. “They're an athletic team, big, physical; defensively they get up in your space. We battled through it. We made some adjustments: brought Jay on, gave Jordan and Ayo a run. They were fantastic, each of them. To get a goal on a day like today to help us get a win was huge. It's Jordan's birthday and Ayo's first start. And then Jozy comes on and finishes it off.”
Alex Bono called the win, “Huge.”
“It doesn't matter what they look like, all that matters is that we've got three points in the bag again,” said the goalkeeper. “We showed a lot of grit and determination to come back from going down a goal and then having them come level in the second half. A ton of credit to the guys, we fought so hard for this game. And to start the season off, give the fans an exciting game at home to get them going, was perfect for us.”
Being able to grind out results is both a skill and a habit.
“It's a game that we don't win last year,” remarked Vanney. “We did: with two guys who haven't played a lot in Ayo and Jordan, and Jay getting his first real minutes of season. To come on and give us a good performance was big. We're going to need everybody.”
There was something different from last season to Vanney's eyes, a continuation of what he saw on the opening weekend in Philadelphia.
“It's early, but when you look at both of our results, they're mentality wins,” said Vanney. “They weren't days where everything was perfect. Guys stuck together, worked hard for each other, made up for each other.”
“We don't have this perception that the game has to look like something. We have to win, that's it,” underlined Vanney. “As the season builds it will start to look like what we want it to. We played some nice soccer in stretches, but sometimes we just have to grind. This group pulls together and does the work. They were very happy and proud of themselves in the room.”
“It reminds me of 2017,” added Vanney. “We didn't win every game the same way, we didn't win because we were always the best team. We played how we needed to play to get the result.”
Asked about his game-winner, Altidore was quick to pass on the credit: “It was a great goal, great team goal, great build up.”
“The goal happens because of Ayo. He makes a fantastic run near-post. For a young kid to show the poise and maturity he played with tonight was important. We needed that,” continued Altidore, adding Hamilton's contribution to the mix. “We were pressed for numbers up front, these two showed that they're ready. The run makes the goal, if he doesn't clear that space, there is no tap-in.”
As Vanney pointed out, for each, it was a special day: Hamilton's 23rd birthday and Akinola's first MLS start and goal.
Altidore has taken them under his shoulders, pushing them to succeed.
“Yeah, I kick their ass everyday; they'll be the first to tell you,” relayed Altidore. “I see a potential there: a generational talent, Jordan Hamilton, who for me is one of, if not the, best Canadian strikers. He needs to show that, he knows that.”
“And Ayo, last year you saw glimpses,” continued Altidore. “He's made huge leaps, had a great preseason. Two players who, I tell them every day: 'I expect five-to-eight goals out of each of you to help us.'”
Added TFC captain Michael Bradley: “I couldn't be happier and more proud of both. They've made big progress. They're two amazing guys, have great personalities. They both have different qualities that make them real handfuls for opposing defenders.”
“This isn't an easy club to play for as young player. There is pressure, there are good players, and they've got to deal with me,” continued Bradley. “I can be hard on those guys sometimes. But I do it because I love them and know how much they have to give.”
“Ayo, Jordan, Jay,” added Bradley. “Greg is not afraid to put these guys on in big moments. Tonight, they were very good. The challenge now is to make sure this is the standard and they continue to go from here.”
A perfect six points from six on offer, not a bad way to start.
“It was a very important win. It's been a long time since we've come from behind to win a game,” reminded Bradley. “The mentality in a game like this, early in a season... the way we went after it, handled the game, was all very good. We feel good about the first two games, but understand it's just the first two games.”