By Jove, They’ve Done It!
A Win! A Win! A Glorious, Wonderous Thing!
But that’s enough of that, yes, it had been a year since the rain-sodden masochists down at BMO Field had seen one – and yes, it was a thrilling way to end that storm – but it’s back to the grind on Sunday with an away trip to New England.
Gillette Stadium has not been kind to Toronto over the years, the results have been mediocre at best, but last season’s knee injury to Danny Koevermans – the result of the dreaded carpet and the touch of nastiness that is AJ Soares (a bit of literary license there) – is what really left a bitter taste, sticking in the craw of TFC and it’s fans alike.
Few will have recalled that Toronto actually won that game – a wonderful little goal from Luis Silva on a beautiful set up from Koevermans, followed by a hard-fought clean-sheet on Paul Mariner’s return to his former abode.
What many more will remember is the woeful display that Ryan Nelsen’s charges put in on their last visit to New England in May, falling 2-0 – it could have been much more.
Toronto has yet to win two matches in a row this season, but they have strung together a few unbeaten ones – once even going as many as three - dare they try to repeat that streak, currently sitting without a defeat in two.
A Sunday match is a rare oddity for TFC; New England enter in solid, if unspectacular form.
Much of what was written before holds true – Parts One and Two, but once more, a closer look at the enemy is in order.
When last the two met, New England was the premier defensive team in the league; they still are – having allowed the fewest goals against (nineteen through twenty-one matches) – despite suffering a bad run that saw them concede nine goals through three matches, though one of those games was a 3-1 defeat to DC United in the US Open Cup (a loss that ended their run in the competition), while another was that wild 4-3 loss in Vancouver.
Sitting in fifth-place in the East on thirty points – tied with Houston, who have a game in hand and trailing fourth-placed Philadelphia by four points – New England will desperately want to win this match, as they face a difficult away trip to Kansas City next weekend, followed by home matches against fellow playoff chasers Chicago and Philly.
Since that late May meeting, New England have played eleven league matches, winning six, losing three and drawing a pair.
At home, that record improves to three, one, and one; with the loss coming in the middle of July against Houston – their last home match - and the draw, a scoreless one against DC at the beginning of June.
They enter on the back of a three-game road trip that ended in a two-game winning streak, against Columbus and DC, hardly the most high-quality of opposition, after falling to a resurgent Colorado, on short rest, the same night that Toronto travelled to Los Angeles to face Chivas USA.
Focusing on the last month of play, they began July with a 2-0 win over San Jose – on goal from Saer Sene and Dimitry Imbongo.
A week later, Sene against found the net, but bombs from Adam Moffat either side of the PSG and Bayern Munich training Frenchman’s strike, were enough to hand the Revs their first home loss in six matches and snap a 400+ minutes of clean-sheet play (four-straight matches) at home.
Clearly goals for Toronto will be at a premium – New England has allowed 0.60 goals against per match at home.
The loss away to Colorado four days on – a Juan Toja free-kick cancelled by a Nick LaBrocca laser to the bottom corner, before a Jose Goncalves own-goal proved their undoing – was followed by a solid win three days later in Columbus on a pair of stoppage-time goals, first from Goncalves – earning some redemption with a good header – and then from Diego Fagundez after a horrible, horrible Crew turnover.
Most recently, this past Saturday, they calmly responded to an early Luis Silva strike for DC, with a pair in the first third of the second half (so many numbers in one clause) and by all rights should have had a third – Sene was clear on an empty net after DC keeper Joe Willis had gone up in search of an equalizer, only for the referee to mysteriously end the match before the ball crossed the line. It was quite comical.
May 25 – New England 2: Toronto 0
The teams entered the match headed in opposite direction: Toronto, winless in nine having lost their last four; New England looking for consecutive wins after having taken points from four of their last five.
Toronto, fresh off debuts for a handful of new signings – Steven Caldwell, Jeremy Brockie, and Bobby Convey – put up a brave fight, but ultimately capitulated come the second half, when only Jonathan Osorio could be said to have covered himself in glory.
New England scored their first in the 23rd minute, when left-back Chris Tierney swung a gorgeous ball to the back-post where Fagundez volleyed it first time with his right-foot, back across the keeper.
The likes of Fagundez, Kelyn Rowe, Lee Nguyen, and Juan Agudelo – who added the second in the 93rd – absolutely shredded the Toronto defenses.
Nguyen hit a drive off the bar before he and the rest of the Revs repeatedly had the TFC back-line on their heels with darting runs into the wide spaces. The pressure eventually led to the second when a left-sided throw-in fell to Sene, who nutmegged Caldwell and lifted over the outstretched leg of Henry to Agudelo who touched it into the net from close range.
There were a lot of bookings - seven, especially in the final stages – including a nasty little foot onto the ankle of Darren O’Dea by Sene.
Revolution coach, Jay Heaps, has done very well in his second season in charge of the side. Blending a mix of youth with some experience, as well as a key international signing or two, New England is one of the more dynamic sides in the league in attack and one of the sturdier in defense.
Their projected lineup is as follows: Bobby Shuttleworth in goal; from right to left – Andrew Farrell, Stephen McCarthy, Jose Goncalves, and Chris Tierney across the back; Scott Caldwell sitting at the base with Diego Fagundez, Kelyn Rowe, Lee Nguyen, and Saer Sene across the midfield; and Dimitry Imbongo up top.
Tierney is currently listed as Questionable, but played despite that moniker last weekend.
Thankfully for Toronto, Juan Agudelo has been out dealing with a right knee sprain – rumour has it he is close to a return, but the club has decided it best to wait until he is fully ready to return.
In his absence, both Imbongo and Honduran Jerry Bengtson have seen some time – as well as WTR favourite, Chad Barrett.
Darius Barnes has seen a bit of time at outside back when needed, while AJ Soares took over for McCarthy after the latter had a rough outing – bleeding profusely from an aerial clash and then took a shot to the face from close range that left him dazed in Colorado – but returned to the starting lineup after the win in Columbus.
Kevin Alston returned to the club after a long-spell on the sidelines as he received treatment for leukemia. It was a heart-warming return, which will have buoyed the club’s spirit. Here is his post-match interview; welcome back.
Juan Toja, Ryan Guy, and Andy Dorman have played bit part roles this season and are more likely to be seen from the bench, if at all. That said, Toja and Guy are used much more regularly than Dorman.
The primary threat, and that which must be watched most closely, comes from the flanks.
Sene and Fagundez will regularly swap sides – they will start on their wrong side, Sene on the right and Fagundez on the left – with the effect being that each can cut in onto their strong foot from the off-wing, opening up the goal for a shot.
Their game-winning goal from the weekend against DC is a perfect example.
Sene, on the right, cuts in and smashes a left-footer off the woodwork and Fagundez, attacking from the left, is on hand to nod in the rebound.
Fagundez is a sparkplug, and despite his young age has been given the freedom to roam wherever he pleases.
Prior to the last meeting he scored a goal against Houston that saw him cross the breadth of the pitch and again, in their 5-0 destruction of Los Angeles, he showed this same range - moving across the top of the box, playing a one-two with Rowe and finishing with aplomb.
That, unfortunately for Toronto, is not to say that Imbongo, the true centre-forward, is a slouch. He will hold the line, battle with the centre-backs, and be on hand for any chances that come his way.
Against San Jose, it was some very neat interplay down the right that saw Rowe lay in Nguyen, who in turn squared for Imbongo to finish.
That Nguyen-Rowe combination has proved particularly devastating, each taking turns to lay in the other. Toronto, looking at you Matias Laba, will have to do their utmost to interrupt that partnership.
Then, of course – as Toronto experienced last meeting – there is the overlapping threat of Tierney down the left. He can cross to the near-post, but usually chooses the back.
And there’s Imbongo on hand to knock it in.
Note how many New England midfield runners are extremely deep in the box – that is an equal part of the threat, Toronto will have to be sure to track all of Imbongo, Nguyen, Rowe, Fagundez, and Sene – it’s a lot to remember.
When searching for weaknesses, the same problems as prior to the last meeting popped up once more.
New England’s defense, while incredibly solid, can be guilty of hesitating at the edge of the box, not wanting to concede a dangerous free-kick or worse, a penalty kick.
Laurent Courtois’ goal in their draw against Chivas is a good example.
It was a pretty quick hit, but that the ball was allowed to bounce around in that area and the marking wasn’t tighter would be of concern to Heaps.
The same goes for Nick LaBrocca’s goal in their recent loss to Colorado.
LaBrocca’s strike also highlights another difficulty that New England has struggled to contain, namely, long-range shots, though, to be fair, both of Adam Moffat’s goals were bombs.
The less-spectacular of the two is a better example of the space that opens up in the centre of the pitch; the first was something special.
And finally, a lack of recovery speed in the back-line means that they can be caught with quick balls either over the top or into space down the wings.
They were down a man against Vancouver at the time – thanks to a similar ball over the top that led to Farrell’s red card - but the point stands.
The two clubs will meet for the third and final time this season on August 30 in Toronto.