Toronto FC picked up a big three points on Saturday night with a 2-0 win over the Montreal Impact at Stade Saputo.
A strategic, close-fought tussle, Alejandro Pozuelo broke the deadlock in the 61st minute when he was allowed time and space to walk in on goal after Michael Bradley forced a turnover and Marky Delgado flicked a header into his direction. Pozuelo picked out the right-side of goal, shaping his right-footer around Montreal keeper, Evan Bush, to put Toronto in the lead.
A weather delay paused proceedings; when action resumed both sides found chances to score. Quentin Westberg, in net for TFC, came up huge when he somehow managed to get a piece of a dangerous attack in stoppage-time when Omar Browne delivered a low-ball towards the near-post with Max Urruti lurking, hoping for a redirection or rebound.
But it was Jozy Altidore who sealed victory with a lovely free-kick in the 95th minute, bending his effort around the wall, banking it off the post with style.
‘‘I thought we played well,” said TFC coach Greg Vanney post-match. “I knew that tonight, coming back and getting a lot of guys back on the field together, we had to work through some things. At times we were patient, able to build and construct some attacks, maintained shape behind the ball. Sometimes we were impatient, turned over balls in bad places, that's when they got to open up against us and we spent a lot of energy in the transition, which is something we've got to get better at.”
“But the guys gutted it out, grinded,” continued Vanney. “Ultimately the difference comes to executing. We executed in front of their goal. They had a couple of chances too and [Westberg] made some good saves. It was a good soccer game.”
A 2-0 result away to the closest rivals is an excellent way to start out the rest of the season.
“Great win, really important three points,” said Michael Bradley. “Obviously not the official halfway point, but in a lot of ways it seems like this was the first game of the second half of the season for us: everybody back together, a few new additions.”
“We've talked a lot in the last few days about this idea that over the last 15 games we have to be a team that is improving with every game, taking our points on a lot of days, hard to play against, shutouts, all the things we did tonight,” added Bradley. “Good start, now we've just got to keep going.”
It was a win made sweeter by the clean-sheet at the other end.
“It's huge,” said Vanney of the shutout, praising each member of the defensive unit in turn. “We stayed resilient, we made plays. We’ll find ways to get better attacking-wise, but to get Omar [Gonzalez] on the field with Chris [Mavinga]; to get Auro back on the field, to have [Justin Morrow] out there, Michael back in front, [Westberg] doing what he does.”
Added Vanney: “This has to be the foundation of what we’re doing now for the final stretch of the season.”
Part of that solidity at the back was the debut of Gonzalez, who joined the team this week following the 2019 Concacaf Gold Cup.
“Very good,” assessed Bradley of his compatriot. “His presence, in terms of making the guys around him better, in a calm, solid, and assured way. He and Chris played well together. And for me it's simple: there aren’t a ton of forwards who are going to enjoy playing against him.”
As Gonzalez himself said earlier this week, no better way to dip one's toes into a new environment that with a derby match against the dearest rivals.
“Thrown into the lion's den, but I was up for it,” relished the defender. “I didn't want to take my time getting into things. I wanted to hit the ground running, get the first game over with and start a nice routine, start cruising. We're going to be at home for the next three, it's crucial we keep climbing this table.”
The rest of the season continues at BMO Field with three-straight at home for TFC. Next week sees the visits of the New York Red Bulls on Wednesday and the Houston Dynamo come Saturday. FC Cincinnati will be the opponent on July 27 in the final match of the month.
“We’ve been on a little bit of a tough run, but this game was big,” explained Altidore. “All week we talked about the importance of this game, being a derby match. This is one of those games that can spur on the rest of the season, so hopefully it’s the start of some good things. The effort was fantastic.”
The path to the playoffs is, to steal a well-worn phrase, one game at a time.
“I think we can still get better, we will get better, sharper, things will continue to improve,” said Bradley. “The more time we spend there are details to improve on, but against a team that can always be dangerous in their ability to play on the counter, we were very solid.”
“We didn’t give a ton away. We controlled things in a really good way. In the end, when you get a delay and the rain comes, they start throwing numbers forward, there come some moments when you just have to be able to deal with some things, but it was a solid performance.”