TORONTO – Greg Vanney got what he asked for on Friday night.
Following the 3-0 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps earlier this week, the Toronto FC head coach challenged his side to back up one good 90 minute performance with another.
While it may not have been as high octane as the previous meeting Richie Laryea’s goal in the 15th minute was all that was need to secure the three points at BMO Field.
The play began on the left with Alejandro Pozuelo squaring the ball across the top of the box to Auro, who drove forward before dishing off to Pablo Piatti on the right. The double-scorer from Tuesday’s encounter wiggled towards the area and played forward to Pozuelo who had inserted himself into the heart of the action after that initial pass.
Piatti’s firm ball bounced off Pozuelo and into a gap just below the arc where Laryea was alert to the chance, placing a low right-footer into the bottom right-corner of the goal.
“I was on the left, so I was pinching in to help with the transition,” recounted the goal-scorer post-match. “I realized the ball was getting in the box and I didn't have really anyone near me, so I was able to push for it a little bit more.”
“Thankfully I was able to get the ball right in front of me,” he added. “It landed pretty nicely and I was able to just put it back-post.”
Pozuelo picked up another assist on the play, his league-leading seventh of the campaign. Laryea’s strike was his third goal of the season, placing him in a several-way tie for fifth-most in the league – he trails Ayo Akinola for the team lead at five.
Three goals through seven appearances trebles his total from 2019; Laryea credits his teammates for his goal-scoring exploits.
“It's a little bit easier to have very talented players in front of me, behind me,” he explained. “A lot of guys encourage me to take people on and to be confident.”
“When I'm playing with these type of players, it's easy for me to do things I want to do because I have guys who are making the right runs, guys that are in the right positions to free me up and vice versa,” he continued. “It's a good dynamic. It's the entire group. Everyone knows where they're supposed to be and are very supportive of each other.”
Were it not for some excellent saves from teenage Whitecaps keeper Thomas Hasal, it would have been more – he denied Auro from point blank range on a Jonathan Osorio cross in the 12th minute.
When Auro returned the favour before half-time Osorio couldn’t get the ball to settle and Pozuelo picked out Patrick Mullins around the hour-mark with a lovely curling ball behind the Vancouver back-line, but the forward couldn’t steer it on frame.
As expected, Marc Dos Santos’ side made adjustments after Tuesday’s steamrollering. A five-man back-line, three midfielders in the centre of the park, a touch less aggressive in the press.
“They sat off a lot more,” summed up Greg Vanney. “They sat back, they had five in the back-line. It was our job to try to move those guys and try to create some spaces to be able to attack.”
“We did an okay job at times, but at times we were a little bit too impatient,” he continued. “By virtue of the numbers it became difficult. The spaces weren't as clear to be able to get behind them or to really attack them. That slows the game down and then when the game gets slowed down you have to be really patient.”
There is always room for improvement.
“We lost balls. We tried to overcomplicate things that could have been a little bit more simple, but still was a good performance,” assessed the coach. “Our defending in transition was good; we stayed responsible. Omar [Gonzalez] and Chris [Mavinga] won a lot of duels on long balls and we were good at picking up second balls.”
“We did what we had to do,” he continued. “It would have been nice to finish maybe one or two of the other good chances that we had; we would have liked to have created more chances, but it's the way the game was, so I'm pleased with that.”
“And it's another shutout – that’s four shutouts in seven games,” Vanney added. “As I said to the guys, if we can keep doing that, then we'll have a lot of good results.”
The win also extended their current unbeaten run in MLS regular season play to 17 matches, two shy of equalling the all-time record. While it is not uncommon for a lengthy streak to stretch over two seasons – three of the four TFC are chasing do so, only FC Dallas’s 2010 run fits into a single calendar year – to have one so punctuated by stops and starts is a feat itself.
“It comes down to being a very resilient group, like I've said a million times,” reiterated Laryea. “This group fights to the end. Guys want to compete for trophies every single year and they want to show why this club is at the point that it is and has been for the last couple of years.”
“It's about us taking ownership on our own,” he continued. “To make sure we're all doing our home workouts and staying on top of things. That’s been the key to why we have been able to start, stop, start, stop however many times we have this season and still been able to get results. This group is very hungry for success.”
A good mix of players, a healthy measure of continuity, and reinforcements of the caliber of Piatti are further elements.
“Our group is pretty mature,” said Vanney. “We've got some really young guys who have come, many of them, through the academy and then we've got some veteran guys who have played a lot of games and played a lot of games together – there's a lot of continuity in that group. With that a lot of things click into natural gear quickly.”
“Guys were motivated to play coming out of the stoppage. They were motivated to come into the season after getting to the final last year and not finishing it off. And so there's a lot of motivation at our group to to be successful again this year,” he added. “We've been able to pick up where we left off pretty quickly.”
Two wins from two matches since MLS returned. Now it’s to keep rolling.
Toronto has a week to prepare for their next match, their first away game of this all-Canadian portion of the schedule. They face the Montreal Impact at Stade Saputo on Friday.
“We've done well, both individually and collectively,” encapsulated Quentin Westberg, who registered a second-straight clean-sheet. “We've been playing together for a while now and we've established a good identity. It's always easier when you know what to expect, when you know how your teammates are going to react to you being on the ball.
“It's an all over great collective effort with individuality stepping up at key moments to score, to create chances,” he continued. “Our principles are very, very well-established. Sometimes it's clearer than others, but we have a lot of the ball, we create a lot of chances, and we're great defensively.”
“It wasn't easy. It wasn't restful tonight, that's for sure,” he added. “But we were strong and brave defensively once again, we had most of the ball, and we were able to come out with six points in two games. That's always a good one.”