On a tough afternoon, in hot and humid Floridian conditions, without key pieces in Jozy Altidore and Drew Moor, Toronto FC put in the work required to earn a 2-0 win on Saturday.
Such a result was a good portent of things to come as the club kicks off the busiest stretch of the season thus far.
Saturday's match was the first of five in 15 days. Up next is a Wednesday match in Georgia against Atlanta United FC before returning home for a Saturday encounter with the high-flying Philadelphia Union at BMO Field.
In situations such as these, it is a matter of all hands on deck.
The victory in Orlando was a team effort: Jonathan Osorio, scored the game-winner; Alejandro Pozuelo continued his blistering start, collecting his sixth assist in as many games; Michael Bradley was everywhere; the central-defensive tandem of Chris Mavinga and Laurent Ciman barely put a foot wrong.
Everyone was involved, including Quentin Westberg, who picked up his first win, and a clean-sheet, in his third outing for TFC, and Jay Chapman, who added a second goal to his tally for 2019.
Westberg was only called upon to make two saves in the match, but both were critical, coming at key junctions in the match.
The first came in the 30th minute when Tesho Akindele found former Red Will Johnson in space at the top of the box, only for the TFC keeper to prove equal to the low drive, getting down well to his right to parry the effort. And then in the waning moments of the match Westberg got a big hand on a header from Dom Dwyer, preserving the two-goal cushion as stoppage-time approached.
“He was excellent,” said Greg Vanney post-match. “In every game, especially when you're on the road, your keeper has to come up with one or two big saves: he did that.”
“He handled some crosses [too] that were huge for us because guys were a little fatigued and when balls are whipped in the box, whether corner kicks or crosses, when your goalkeeper can take it, it's massive,” continued Vanney. “He was able to do so.”
Echoed Osorio: “Amazing.”
“Apart from the stops, he's so important for us in our build up. The way he distributes the ball helps us so much, gives us more possession. The saves are a bonus,” added Osorio. “He deserves a clean-sheet. I felt bad for his last two performances, he deserved more from the team, so I'm glad we could repay him with a clean-sheet today.”
Westberg steered the praise to the whole group.
“It’s not really about me, it’s about the team. I’m really happy we did get a win, at halftime even a 0-0 would’ve satisfied us a lot. It was a very tough game and then we were able to make the most of it. A great feeling – that you really worked hard for this win, and ultimately, that you went out and got it.”
He was, admittedly, pleased with his contributions.
“I’m happy I did. I had to make [those saves], but it’s my job. Also, not just strictly to save for a keeper, it’s more all around: coming off the crosses, dealing with all the balls, passes back,” explained Westberg. “I felt really comfortable on the field. The communication could have been slightly better, but all-in-all and it’s a very, very good second half after a very difficult first half. We were able to keep it a zero. And that’s among the very positive things tonight.”
Chapman sealed the result when he took down a long pass behind the Orlando defense well and drove a low shot from a tight angle past Brian Rowe in goal.
Add in his strike against NYCFC at the end of March, as well as the two assists in a win over the New England Revolution – all in 168 minutes on the pitch – and Chapman is quietly putting together a great start to what could be a career year. In seven appearances he has tied his best-ever assist output and is one shy of the three goals he scored in 2018, in 15 fewer appearances no less.
“Great for Jay, he deserves it,” said Osorio. “It hasn't been easy for him in his TFC career: it's hard to get into the team, but when he comes in he helps us. Performances like that are going to get him more minutes, as long as he can keep consistent like that he'll see more of the pitch. I'm really happy for him.”
Chapman relayed his view on the goal: “It was just one of those finishes. A great ball from Pozo, I was able to get a good touch on it. I just tried to get it on target and luckily it went in.”
The 25-year-old midfielder has been with TFC since 2015, but he is cutting a different figure in his minutes this season
“I think it's just confidence,” suggested Chapman. “This is my fifth year with the team, I've got a great relationship with all the guys. Each year I've progressed, gotten better, and this year I'm feeling comfortable, going out there trying to play free, not trying to do too much, not trying to be the best player on the pitch, just trying to help the team win. I was able to work on my finishing in the off-season and it's paying off right now.”
It was a big three points as the hectic spell gets underway.
“Only wins satisfy you,” said Westberg. “You can be happy taking points here and there, but ultimately it's a great performance, great for morale, a great boost of confidence; shows that we can be very solid against a good opponent and in pretty tough situations.”
Especially on the back of an underwhelming display against the Portland Timbers to end April.
“Last week we weren't happy, the coaching staff wasn't happy with us, and we were disappointed in ourselves, in how we performed as a team and individually,” stressed Chapman. “We came here, wanted get a result, whether that's a tie or a win.”
“We pride ourselves on being very difficult to play against,” added Chapman. “Any time you come in and you're hard to play against, teams don't always expect that on the road. That's what we're going to keep doing. And to get a 2-0 performance on the road to start off this five games in 15 is big for us. We're starting on the right foot.”