In the first leg of their Canadian Championship semi-final series against Ottawa Fury FC, Toronto FC got the job done with a 2-0 win at TD Place Stadium on Wednesday night.
After a bright start, defender Drew Moor gave TFC the lead on the half-hour mark and Tsubasa Endoh added the second in stoppage-time, his deflected effort skipping past Callum Irving in the 91st minute.
Moor called it a “very positive result on the road.”
“Two away goals against a team that we have a lot of respect for,” continued the veteran centre-back. “We showed that with a good start; going with a strong lineup. It sets us up well for the home leg, but it's only the halfway point, there's still a lot of work to do.”
TFC coach Greg Vanney was pleased with the result, but wanted to see more from his side.
“We left some goals on the table early in the game: our first three attacks we probably could have come away with at least one goal, if not two,” lamented Vanney. “What [Ottawa] do very well is they aren't afraid to put the ball behind your back-line, so they keep you a little unbalanced.”
“When you have a team that has nothing to lose and they're playing direct on you, you've got to manage some things. In games like this you've got to put away your chances,” continued Vanney. “We got into some great crossing positions and weren't even close to connecting. We've got to be cleaner.”
“Every year we come here I say the same thing: the field is bouncy. You have to have a high level of concentration technically. We struggled with that a little bit: too many turnovers, too many balls we took a bad first touch, loose. We never really got into a possession rhythm,” he observed. “They weren't without their chances, they pushed for it and they're a tough team to play. They have an interesting style, way about them, especially at home.”
Vanney did achieve one of his objectives heading into the match, introducing some of the newer faces to the mix. Nicolas Benezet and Patrick Mullins started, while Erickson Gallardo debuted off the bench, replacing Benezet in the 71st minute.
And Alex Bono made his return to the pitch, picking up a clean-sheet in the process.
“He was excellent,” said Vanney. “Composed, looked confident, and his presence on the night was good.”
Added Moor: “His communication was very good, he was good coming off his line.”
“He made a very big save early in the second half,” continued Moor, referring to when Bono denied former TFC midfielder Chris Mannella in the 65th minute, getting down low to push a shot bound for the bottom corner wide. “And his distribution was good. A huge bright spot for us tonight.”
Said Bono: “It was nice to get on the field for 90 minutes with the guys, better that we were able to come away with result, set ourselves up nicely for the second leg at home.”
Having survived the early onslaught, Ottawa gradually worked their way into the game, only for Moor to pop up in the area and pounce on a loose ball following a corner kick, smashing a side-volley into the gaping net.
“[Scoring] is always part of the game-plan,” joked Moor. “It's always nice to get a goal.”
“Our attacking players work so hard, defensively as well, so when we can contribute, take the pressure off them a little bit it's always good,” continued Moor. “Defenders need to be able to score goals on set-pieces, fortunately I was able to just keep that under the crossbar tonight.”
The Fury redoubled their efforts, finding their fair share of the ball and half-chances, but TFC knew what to expect and were able to see out the remaining hour without conceding an equalizer.
“Impressed, yes; surprised, definitely not,” said Bono of the opponent. “We watched enough video to prepare ourselves well enough to know that they'd be well-organized, to know what their game-plan might be.”
Added Moor: “They're a good team. The gap between the leagues is not massive.”
Endoh's late strike, Toronto's second away goal, sees the side return to BMO Field for the second leg with a two-goal advantage.
“You want to come here and win, but ultimately it's about not taking a deficit to Toronto whenever we have a two-legged series,” explained Bono. “For us to keep a zero was huge, sets up really nicely for home leg.”
In the midst of five games in 15 days, Vanney was able to rest several key starters, including all three designated players, ahead of an MLS match on Saturday against Orlando City SC. Regardless of the aggregate score, next Wednesday's second leg at BMO Field will not be overlooked.
“We've given ourselves something to go back with, a lead,” said the coach. “We've got to make sure that we finish this off. I don't take any of these games lightly. This competition is very important for us.”
“We'll see how we get through the weekend against Orlando,” added Vanney. “And then make a decision going into next Wednesday.”