Three points, at last!
Toronto FC took on Sporting Kansas City on Saturday in front of a crowd of more than 25,000 people, and actually managed to pull off a victory, a 2-1 win with two early goals, a tense finale and plenty of talking points, too.
The win, inspired by a two-goal performance by Robert Earnshaw, is Toronto FC’s first of the season and their first in the Rogers Centre. It's the first win in a long time. The club's last victory came back in July 2012 against the Colorado Rapids.
It also marked the debut of Ryan Nelsen’s coaching career at home, as well as the debut of both Kyle Bekker and Jonathan Osorio in Toronto, their hometown. It was an inspiring afternoon, a win that will surely raise the confidence levels of the players and the fans, and one that sees Toronto FC showing off the plethora of new faces, too.
Joe Bendik, Hogan Ephraim, John Bostock, Robert Earnshaw, Danny Califf, Darel Russell, Kyle Bekker, Jonathan Osorio, and, on the bench, Gale Agbossoumonde and Emery Welshman.
This is not the Toronto FC of 2012, that's for sure!
Of all the new faces, it was Earnshaw who made the most noise. The Welsh striker made his Toronto debut on Saturday, scoring a pair of goals. His first goal was a goalscorer's goal through and through. It takes a special instinct to anticipate that defensive error on Kansas' end, and Earnshaw certainly capitalized on the chance. His second, a penalty call earned by new signing John Bostock, was relatively straightforward, though Earnshaw admitted, after the game, that he almost changed his mind and thought of shooting the other way.
However, before cries of his excellence fill the stands, let us recall one Javier Martina, who scored a brace against Portland during the home opener in 2011 and faded from the scene soon after. Earnshaw must be more consistent than Martina before him, if he is to truly impress - his contract is supposedly up in July, though, giving him less time than his predecessors to do so.
Bostock also made his debut for Toronto FC, and was impressive as well. Every touch was assured, and Toronto's most dangerous attacks came when Bostock had the ball at his feet. It's a shame that Bostock was used on the right-hand side though, since it is Kansas' stronger defensive side, but the threat Bostock provided prevented Sinovic from advancing up the field too much, either.
Califf earns praise for his impressive defensive display, and an assurance of his potential. It looks like Toronto FC has finally, finally sorted out the centerback issue, something that supporters will be happy to embrace. Still, Bieler made Toronto FC pay late in the game, and some more defensive discipline will be needed to ensure that late-game collapses become a rarity rather than an expectation.
Ryan Nelsen's first win as a head coach couldn't have come at a better time. Toronto FC was desperate to find some semblance of improvement and a win against Kansas City will do wonders for confidence on and off the field. There is still work to be done, however, as SKC had Toronto FC by the ropes for much of the second half. Toronto, attempting to spring the counter-attack and utilize Earnshaw's speed, failed to find a defence-splitting pass.
Not to pin the blame on anyone in particular, but had Toronto FC employed a stronger option on the left wing, the chance of Earnshaw finding a third goal would have improved tremendously. Seth Sinovic was all over Bostock, making a curved through ball somewhat difficult for Toronto FC. With Matt Besler marking Earnshaw when the attack was right heavy, the chance of Toronto FC breaking that duo was minimal.
However, blunder after blunder by the foot of Aurélien Collin meant that the weak spot in Kansas' defence was on their right, Toronto FC's left. Chance Myers was also pushing up much further than his fellow fullback, and a through ball for Earnshaw would have been easier with, say, Kyle Bekker on the left-hand side, instead of Reggie Lambe.
Lambe preferred to run up and down the touchline, doing the defensive work well, but ran at defenders instead of making a crucial pass to Earnshaw. Bekker, and perhaps Luis Silva, could have drifted into the hole caused by Myers' advanced position and slipped the pass to either Earnshaw or Hogan Ephraim (playing right behind), causing problems for Sporting Kansas City.
Ephraim moved to the left often enough, noticing the opportunity but not capitalizing on it due to commitments necessary in the middle of the park, too. It speaks of Toronto FC's need for a strong option on the left wing. Ryan Johnson and Joao Plata have held the spot before, yet neither of them would be the answer Toronto FC needs now. What Toronto FC needs on the left is a Nigel Reo-Coker of their own, a player with bursting speed, an affinity for crossing, and the capability of picking out a pass.
Nelsen's 4-4-1-1 formation seems to be the preferred set-up for now, and the benefits can be seen immediately. Terry Dunfield and Jeremy Hall have actually done a decent job in the middle of the park, simply because they can rely on each other and their job is simple. It's funny to watch, because neither player has that Gilberto Silva-like element to them that makes them stick out a foot and intercept the play, but the pair shepherd the oncoming player onto the wings and let Richard Eckersley or Darren O'Dea do the job instead. It works for now, but when teams like Houston come around, the centre of midfield needs to be more assertive defensively.
Regardless of the work still needed, a win's a win! The Rogers Centre provided an afternoon that saw Toronto FC pick up a much-needed three points. The club heads to Montreal next, where they will play in the third dome + fake turf game in a row. This time, though, Toronto FC has a win in the bag, and will look to keep the momentum going in the first encounter of the 401 derby.
- This is the first ever win for Toronto FC at the Rogers Centre. The other two encounters ended in draws, a 1-1 result against Liverpool F.C. and a 2-2 draw against the Los Angeles Galaxy in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals.
- Toronto FC has only ever scored two goals before the 20th minute mark twice before. Once against the Galaxy in 2012 (Ryan Johnson and Luis Silva) and once against the Chicago Fire in 2008 (Amado Guevara and Rohan Ricketts).
- Robert Earnshaw's front flip on fake turf is the most dangerous goal celebration in Toronto FC's history. Not only can the flip end in injury, but Toronto FC's luck on turf dictates that Earnshaw was also testing fate and statistical probabilities when flipping.
- Sporting Kansas City is a team full of cool heads and calm, technical soccer. Toronto FC turned them into fighters and brawlers. Not drawing any comparisons to, say, the Toronto Maple Leafs, but Toronto FC has always been a bit rough around the edges (a good thing, in this writer's eyes)!
- Kyle Bekker received the loudest ovation when he was substituted on late in the game. A new fan favourite? Looks like it!
- The official attendance was 25,991, nine away from 26,000 - 'fess up, who didn't invite a friend?
- Graham Zusi still managed to get nine points in MLS Fantasy, 18 if chosen as the captain.