The first 45 at the new home didn’t go quite as planned, but that second 45 more than made up for a slow start.
Toronto FC picked up their first win in their first match at Rentschler Field at Pratt & Whitney Stadium in East Hartford, Connecticut on Sunday night with a 3-1 victory over league-leading Columbus Crew SC.
Having gone down late in the first half through an own goal, Jozy Altidore levelled shortly after the restart when Richie Laryea stormed up the right side to pick out Alejandro Pozuelo in the area, who, in turn, coolly laid back for a right-footed finish from inside the arc.
Pozuelo himself put Toronto ahead just before the hour-mark, freezing the Columbus keeper with a deft shot from the top of the box, a near carbon copy of a play moments earlier that saw him strike the woodwork. And Laryea capped off the night with a scintillating solo effort, carving through defenders before blasting a tight-angled finish past Eloy Room in the 76th minute.
“I was pleased, very pleased, with the response from first half to second half. That's how our mindset needs to be always,” said Greg Vanney post-match. “Sometimes we need that little kick in the butt and we got it.”
“Kudos to the guys, they really took charge in the game and imposed themselves, started to win duels, started to really take care of the ball. Our engagement level was high, we were proactive in what we were doing and we took back control of the game,” he continued. “When you take control of the game, it gives your special players more opportunities to do those special things and those guys answered that call too, so very pleased with that.”
“As we all know times are not as easy, being away all the time, as a group we’re looking forward to a quick break and to stop in and reset, hug our families, get back on the road and start another stretch and try to take some more points,” added the coach. “It's a nice night to build off of and it's a nice night to have when you're going to go into a little bit of rest.”
Columbus had the better of the balance of play through the first half, at times Toronto’s frustration was plain to see. Come the second half though the Reds had found another gear.
Often conceding so close to half-time, especially in a manner as galling as an own-goal, can be a team’s downfall.
Not so this night.
“It's only 1-0, it's not the end of the world,” relayed Laryea of the half-time message. “We have quality out there, we have very good players and we also have to understand it's been a pretty long nine days or whatever it's been, so it was fair for us to maybe be a little bit not as sharp in the first half.”
“We said to each other ‘We need to give it our all this second half,’” he added. “And that's exactly what we did.”
Pinpointed Vanney: “We were carrying our frustrations from one play to the next.”
“If something happened, it was impacting people, if there was a call that we did like it was impacting, and then our reactions were leading into us getting disconnected. We weren't a cohesive unit,” he continued. “We just needed a reset, we needed to drop that and we needed to not be our own worst enemy on the field.”
“The guys took a deep breath, they came out and they reconnected and went after it. We made some tactical adjustments in what we were doing, those gave us a good structure to work, but it doesn't matter what the structure is if your mind's not in the right place and/or you're letting things frustrate you,” Vanney expanded. “Tonight we had in the first half and we let it go for the second half and all things came together into a great second half performance.”
Altidore’s equalizer – his second goal in four matches as he rounds nicely into form – was superbly taken. Pozuelo’s – his sixth of the season – equally so. His assist on the first brings his season tally to nine, all through 14 matches.
Having assisted on both goals, Laryea added his fourth goal of the regular season, in a manner both relentless and ruthless.
“I saw that I was pretty open on the wing and the outside back was drawn pretty far out, so it was a perfect time for me to take him on and see if I can do something,” recounted the full-back. “In the first half I wasn't really getting those positions and I wasn't able to go after them, so I thought that was a good opportunity to do so.”
“Yes, a little bit of improvisation once I got close to the goal because different things open up and there are different solutions,” he added. “I went with the one I thought was most comfortable for me at the time.”
Vanney, who had a great angle on the play, was full of praise for both the tenacity and audacity.
“I thought he was going to get caught there a couple times. I thought the defender might have had position, but then he does a little dance step and the defender bites and then [Richie] touches the ball,” began his coach. “Sometimes I think he can't get to it, but his first step is quicker than everybody else's, so then he gets positioned on you.”
“And next thing you know he's by that guy and I'm like, ‘Oh, he's going,’” Vanney continued. “And then it's another dance move, he pushes it a little bit deeper and again that first step is faster so then he's by.”
“Then it's ‘What are you gonna do when you get so close to the end line? Do you have a cut back? Do you have something that you might be able to find? Somebody else? Which he did earlier in the half,” he pondered. “And instead he just ripped one.”
“There isn't a lot of space at that angle, but if you hit it hard and you find the right little seam then that thing finds its way in the goal. I like the aggressive mentality once he got there, so shifty and that first step of acceleration so much quicker than everybody else,” Vanney added. “Special, special qualities and a special play.”
Highlight reel stuff.
“Well, I haven't scored many goals, so probably that's the top one for me right now,” quipped Laryea.
The three-match sojourn south of the border may have begun with a disappointing draw against D.C. United, but a gutsy win over NYCFC and a dominant second half performance over Columbus has Toronto feeling good heading into a few days rest.
“It comes down to what this group is and how resilient the team is,” reiterated Laryea. “I've said it a million times now, the grittiness and resilience from this team is at such a high level. It's so pleasing to be able to play with this group of players because every single time you come on the field it's a fight.”
The race for the Eastern Conference crown tightened with Sunday’s results. The top three – Columbus, Philadelphia, and Toronto – are separated by just two points, while Orlando City SC, who sit in fourth, are just two further points off the pace.
And next Saturday sees TFC return to Rentschler Field for another mouth-watering match against the Philadelphia Union.
Knocking off the team that everyone is talking about could be considered a statement. But that is all outside chatter for Vanney.
“What I care about is the statements that it makes inside of our team,” he dismissed. “Tonight the statement was, emotionally, when we stay in the right place, we work together, we stay positive, we stay connected, we can be really good. If we're not, we can be our own worst enemy and that's not what we want.”
“That's the message that I want to be loud and clear in our locker room. I don't really care what everybody else thinks,” Vanney added. “They responded to it in the second half and they proved what they're capable of doing when we're all in the right spot. That's the only message I care about. Tonight we got three points and the response was fabulous.”
Take the points and bring that momentum into the next one.
“It's a huge confidence boost for sure,” said Laryea. “[Columbus] is a team everyone's speaking about right now, so for us to go and have the second half we had was a very positive thing for our group, especially coming off a few games [in a row], capping it off with a very good second half.”
“A very big win for us,” he added. “We'll take it and move forward with it.”