TORONTO – Few words were needed to describe the proceeds from Sunday evening’s 3-2 win over the Colorado Rapids at BMO Field.
“Huge three points,” summed up Greg Vanney. “At home and in a really busy part of the schedule. It doesn’t matter how you get them, you just have to get them. I’m proud that the guys kept battling and were able to get the third goal.”
Toronto FC took an early lead when Tsubasa Endoh tucked his shot in off the underside of the bar in the 8th minute and made it 2-0 from the penalty spot in the 13th minute when Alejandro Pozuelo clipped a cheeky finish down the middle of the net after Jozy Altidore was hauled down in the area.
But Colorado refused to go down quietly, pulling one back from Keegan Rosenberry in the 31st minute and a second from Sam Nicholson in the 62nd minute – never mind that Quentin Westberg denied Kei Kamara from the penalty spot before half-time, setting the table for a dramatic ending.
Cue Jonathan Osorio off the bench to tuck in a textbook counterattack in the 70th minute for the game-winner.
“It's one of those days where you just have to take three points. Anything less than three points is a huge disappointment,” said Michael Bradley. “We can talk about some details now, can talk about things that should have been better, but we talk about it with three points.”
“The mentality to stick with it, to keep going, that part was great,” continued the captain. “It keeps us going on a good stretch of results here and we’ve just got to keep building, keep improving, and understand that the biggest games are still to come.”
Games, especially this time of year, rarely turn out exactly as planned.
“Things went pretty easy at the beginning and then it looked like we got a little bit relaxed, started to interchange too much, losing our positions, losing our structure on the field,” said Vanney. “And then they started to find their way into the game and then it became a real battle after that.”
Against an opponent themselves riding high on a three-game winning streak under the watchful eye of their new coach, former TFC assistant, Robin Fraser, it was never going to be that easy.
“Games are going to get like this now, towards the end of the year,” explained Osorio. “Especially when playoffs come, this is how games are. There’s lots of emotion. You have to be able to control that and still be concentrated on what is going on in the game. We did that. We got the job done.”
“It was not easy, we made it hard on ourselves, but we know that,” he continued. “We’re going to do everything that we can to not let that happen again.”
Added Westberg: “Emotions are a big part of soccer. We can't allow ourselves to get too emotional, to hope for something, to expect something to happen without working hard for it, keeping our calm and staying as composed as possible.”
“We lacked composure – it's good that we keep creating chances, but we get too caught up in our emotions defensively and this we definitely need to work on,” the goalkeeper stressed. “[But] we don’t give up. We know we have to work on a few things, we’re not perfect, but at least we don’t give up. It’s been nine games [unbeaten], hopefully we keep it going.”
Having taken the two-goal lead, it was a combination of missed chances and defensive lapses that allowed Colorado back into the match.
Vanney pointed to the two recent matches against FC Cincinnati and NYCFC as counterexamples: in Cincinnati every chance was taken, in New York City many were left on the table. Against Colorado, it was a mix.
“Tonight, we had a few of those chances,” lamented the coach. “To be fair, Q [Westberg] made a couple big saves too.”
“As we get down the stretch, closer to playoff time and in playoff time, we’ve got to put these away. Also, defensively, the goals we conceded night, we need to be better at,” continued Vanney. “Before tonight, we had been very solid on the defensive side, not giving things away. Tonight we got a little casual and a little loose after we got a lead.”
“Then we settled back in a little bit and were able to mount some attacks, keep possession, and control the game a little bit better. Discipline, continuing to respect our principles and our shape for 90 minutes, and stay resilient from a defensive perspective,” he urged. “To win a championship, you’ve got to be a really good defending team. That’s my opinion. I know our team can create chances, we’ve got to remain solid on the defensive side.”
2019 has been a long, slow boil, but Vanney’s vision is coming to fruition.
“Since we’ve gotten everybody in, gotten everybody up to fitness, on the same page, and reconnected to one another, we’ve been on a good run. Through that, you’ve seen the resiliency come back, the toughness,” laid out the coach. “OK, we gave up a couple goals, we fought our way back. Went down 1-0 in New York, we came back and were in position at the end to win it.”
“Some of that confidence, that swagger, and that belief is back in this group,” he added. “They believe they have the ability to do some really big things down the stretch.”
With three league matches remaining and the first leg of the Canadian Championship final on Wednesday, despite a charge up the table into the playoff positions, now is not the time to take the foot off the gas.
“It's a league where things change quickly,” reminded Bradley. “We are absolutely shooting to start with a home playoff game, without a doubt, but we also understand that if you get ahead of yourself and you lose your way, then you can be right back in the thick of a real fight very quickly.”
“We're not going to get ahead of ourselves,” he continued. “We're going to try to push and really go after things so that we’re in a position to play our first game in this stadium in front of our fans, but we are not going to take anything for granted in the meantime.”