Toronto FC continued their winning ways on Saturday night with a 2-1 victory over fellow Eastern Conference contenders the Philadelphia Union at Pratt & Whitney Stadium’s Rentschler Field.
Sergio Santos gave the Union an early lead when he scored in the 5th minute, but TFC levelled through an Ayo Akinola header off a lovely cross from Tony Gallacher just before the hour-mark and Alejandro Pozuelo nabbed the game-winner in the 76th minute when he found himself completely unmarked at the back-post – it was his fourth-straight match with a goal.
The game extends Toronto’s winning streak to three matches and their unbeaten run to five.
Despite another strong response, that it was the third time in the last four matches they have conceded first, was front of mind.
“We do need to stop conceding the first goal, to start better, but, by and large, the last couple of games specifically – not so much in New York – we've controlled the game, played the majority of it in the attacking half,” began Greg Vanney post-match. “We've had good possession, we've pinned the opposition back. First half we didn't create as many chances as I would have liked for the amount of the ball that we had, so we tried to adjust a little bit of our movements for the second half to try to open up some spaces.”
“We got a little bit better at doing that and creating chances, but the way everything is going and [against] good opponents that specifically defend well, like Columbus and Philadelphia, you've got to attack really well and you've got to really execute because you're probably not going to get as many chances as maybe you get in some other games,” he continued. “We executed at some moments today that were very good. You have to applaud the guys for finding ways. We do need to stop playing from behind, giving up early goals – and they're not even great goals, that's the problem. They are goals that 100% need to get cleaned up.”
It was an early mix up and a bouncing ball that allowed Santos in on goal, clipping a finish over Quentin Westberg. Philadelphia nearly made it two through Jamiro Monteiro in the 30th minute, but Westberg was able to tip his effort from range onto the bar and was alert to Kacper Przybylko’s rebound attempt – the offside flag was raised eventually.
The first goal can be crucial in any match, as can patience and concentration.
“We had to manage the transition a few times, some crosses, things like that,” recalled Vanney. “Q had to make an important save, us getting a little bit pulled apart and them having too much space, but every now and then you're going to give up a shot from distance.”
“Q made an incredible save. We had to stay patient in the idea that the chances and the goals were going to come if we just did the right things and made some adjustments in how we were moving and the opportunities that we were looking for,” he continued. “We had to also be solid defensively. They have two big forwards who are mobile, who are a handful to defend. And for a lot of the game [Brenden] Aaronson who plays underneath them, who is quick and shifty, we did a nice job of making it really difficult for him to impact the game.”
“We did a lot of things solid on the night,” he concluded. “It's the first game back after being away and so we have to rebuild that rhythm again, but it was a good start against a good team. A good start to this five-game stretch – not a good start to the actual game.”
Prematch Vanney talked about continuing the process. Post-match the game-winner emphasized the need for that to continue.
“We need to keep going,” urged Pozuelo. “We have to watch out because [if we concede first], we cannot go to two or three goals [down]. We need to concentrate more in the first minute on the game. If keep the goals [against at] zero, we will have a lot of chances to win the game because in attack, we are amazing.”
Eventually the possession and control turned into a real chance, which saw Akinola rise up well to direct Gallacher’s cross on target. Philadelphia’s Andre Blake got a hand to it, but could not prevent the header from crossing the line.
TFC kept building on that pressure. Pablo Piatti whisked a low shot just wide of the post after some tidy interplay between himself, Richie Laryea, and Pozuelo. And a free-kick won by Laryea minutes later would set the table for another breakthrough.
Piatti’s ball would be directed out for a corner and his delivery was met at the near-post by Chris Mavinga, who flicked it on to a wide open Pozuelo at the back-post for a calm finish.
The three points saw TFC shoot to the top of the Eastern Conference and the front of the Supporters’ Shield race. A Columbus Crew SC draw in Dallas later in the night saw them leapfrog back into first, by dint of a better goal difference.
TFC now hits the road proper for their next two: they will play the New England Revolution on Wednesday night before travelling to Ohio for a clash on Sunday against FC Cincinnati. They will return to Rentschler Field the following Wednesday with the visit of the New York Red Bulls before wrapping up the five game stint with another ‘home’ game against Atlanta United FC.
With wins in both ‘home’ matches at ‘The Rent’, the home-away-from-home in East Hartford, Connecticut is starting to feel familiar, at least in intent, if not entirely in environment.
“A little bit, for sure,” said Jonathan Osorio, who again wore the captain’s armband on the night. “We're doing our best to use it to our advantage, to make it a home, to make it a home advantage with the way we play here.”
“And getting these two wins against big opponents helps a lot,” he continued. “It helps the confidence of the team to play on this field and getting comfortable playing in this environment. It's not easy – of course we wish there were fans, it's a much better atmosphere when there are, our supporters and everything, but it is what it is.”
“We’ve been dealing with it for most of the year now,” he added. “These two wins definitely help get us more comfortable here at The Rent. It’s always nice to win.”