TORONTO – Make it two.
Toronto FC continued to build momentum on Wednesday night with a 3-1 win over the New York Red Bulls at BMO Field.
Jozy Altidore opened the scoring after six minutes, capping off a team move with a deft back-heeled flick that turned Tsubasa Endoh's right-sided cross in at the far-post. Alejandro Pozuelo made it two in the 26th minute when he converted from the penalty spot after Richie Laryea was taken down in the area.
Tom Barlow would pull one back in the 63rd as the Red Bulls pressed for a means back into the match, but the tenacity of Ashtone Morgan would seal the result nine minutes later when he refused to give up on a rolling ball in the New York area, prying it loose before it could be corralled by the defense and tucked it into the gaping net.
It was a second-straight win having beaten the Montreal Impact on the weekend.
“Feels good,” said Quentin Westberg, who came up with several massive saves on the night. “Both of them were pretty difficult wins. We showed a lot of strength mentally. When it came back at 2-1, we could have been doubting; [instead] we scored. That’s great proof of character.”
Toronto has lost just once in their last five matches as 'the second half of the season' builds to a crescendo.
Altidore described the victory as “huge.”
“We needed to go on a little run here, we recognize that,” said the striker post-match. “Montreal was a big win for us, so we knew tonight was an opportunity to get a some momentum. Now we have a little bit of that and that makes Saturday night much bigger.”
Toronto's homestand continues on Saturday with the visit of the Houston Dynamo.
Against the high intensity of the Red Bull press, scoring first, and so early, was particularly useful.
“Especially during these summer midweek games where it’s humid, it’s hot and we’ve just played before,” began Greg Vanney. “These games are physically taxing, so it’s better to play from the front than the back in a game like this.”
That both first half goals came from wide play brought a smile to the coach's face.
“Something we’ve been pushing,” said Vanney. “When we get good wide play, the middle opens up and then we were able to find some space in front of the goal. Good finish by Jozy, incredible touch. I don’t know how else you get the ball into the goal other than to do that.”
“Incredible effort, gritty effort, by the guys just to see that one out,” added Vanney. “And another big game by Q [Westberg] to make some important saves to keep us ahead.”
Altidore called his “a goal that gives everybody confidence because everybody had a part to play in it.”
“It was one from the training ground: the movement, being in the right spot, opening up for each other and trying to end plays higher up the field,” continued Altidore. “It was a great ball from Tsubasa; it was a great team goal.”
When plays resumed after the halftime break, New York, eager to respond, pinned Toronto back for large stretches of the opening 20 minutes.
That, and the Red Bulls goal itself, with Derrick Etienne lifting a ball into the goalmouth for Barlow to nod in, were disconcerting.
“Some of that is concentration, us being a little bit casual when we can’t be casual. [New York] is a team that you absolutely can't be casual against because of the way they play the game,” explained Vanney. “There's also some times where we need to put the pride in the back pocket and put the ball up the field. We put ourselves under pressure trying to play out of things that we didn’t need to down the stretch.”
“That’s just a little bit of closing off games,” continued Vanney. “Concentration and physically being a little bit sharper. There’s still plenty for us to work on and get better at on both sides of the ball.”
Just as the nerves started to jangle, Morgan, who came on after Barlow scored, took advantage of a moment of indecision by the New York keeper and his defender.
“I went for the one-two,” recalled Morgan of the build-up to his goal. “Unlucky that I didn’t connect on it right away. I just didn’t give up on the play. They gave me a gift and I took it.”
“It was good,” said the defender-turned-left-winger. “Happy to get that last goal, put the nail in the coffin and pick up the three points. Take it and move on.”
Morgan is not known for his goal-scoring prowess – playing in his ninth season, it was his second MLS goal, though he did add one in the Concacaf Champions League last season.
“I don't know how he gets up there, he just finds his way.” smiled Altidore post-match. “Once a year, this guy comes out of nowhere and scores some important goals.”
“Ash is a guy you can always count on, he's always ready, 100% professional team player,” added Altidore. “It's a pleasure to have guys like that, that when their name is called, regardless of what is going on, come in and put a shift in. You need those guys throughout the season.”
A vital goal, it lowered the stress levels that had been ratcheting up through the second half.
“A little,” admitted Vanney. “Ash just stuck with it, dug it out and put it in the back of the net. At 2-1 we were searching for some energy, some life, weren't having such a great time with the ball. For Ash to put that away gave us a little breathing room, a little space so we could then defend it out.”
That they did.
Up next is the visit of Houston to BMO Field on Saturday where TFC will be going for a third-straight win as they push to climb up the Eastern Conference standings.
“We're taking it game-by-game,” said Morgan. “A big thing in this league is about momentum. We're picking some steam up, we're just going to continue.”
Added Altidore: “We know now we've got 13 games left to keep building, keep trying to push up the table.”