Yoenis Cespedes can have his horse; Seba will ride his motorcycle out of New York with 3 valuable and unforeseen points for Toronto FC.
Some thoughts on the season opener at Red Bull Arena:
Red Bull Arena has been nothing short of a house of horrors for Toronto. To go into a ground where the reds have never won and have only mustered a single a draw is a massive confidence boost to open the campaign.
Solid First Impressions
The newcomers to the squad were impressive in their debut in a Toronto FC kit.
Will Johnson was tenacious in his attempts to win balls. That tenacity was infectious as Toronto FC, as a group, did a good job of closing down on opponents on the ball.
Tsubasa Endoh had professional debut to remember. Very rarely did he look out of place and his energy and enthusiasm were a definite plus. Endoh won the decisive penalty when raced into the box, forcing Red Bulls defender, Kemar Lawrence to clatter into the back of the rookie. Endoh might provide valuable depth for TFC as Jozy Altidore continues to deal with fitness issues and his impending departure for the Copa America
The upgrade in goal is already evident. Clint Irwin is the boss of his box; the same could not always be said of Chris Konopka and Joe Bendik. Irwin absolutely stole a goal from Bradley Wright-Phillips and then scrambling to cut off the angle, forcing Mike Grella to slam the ball into the side netting with just over 25 minutes remaining. It was a game saving sequence that gave Irwin's teammates a chance to forge ahead and win the game.
The backline was such a catastrophe in 2015 that wholesale changes were in order at the back. Greg Vanney trotted out his shiny new defensive corps for the first time today.
The defenders were under heavy pressure from the 20 minute mark through the 75th. They bent but managed to hold the Red Bulls off the scoreboard.
Drew Moor is clearly the anchor of the back four and his performance on the day was solid. Moor's presence alleviates pressure from Damian Perquis, who far too often last season cracked under the pressure applied in the TFC box. With Moor in the squad and full season under his belt, Perquis might finally prove to be the solid defender that Toronto FC thought it was getting last year.
Steven Beitashour was largely anonymous and that's not meant as a slight in any way. For a defender to be noticed is usually not a good thing. Beitashour wasn't beaten to the outside in the fashion that was so common from the right back position last year.
It Wasn't All About Giovinco
Ho hum, only a goal and an assist to open the season for the Atomic Ant. Sebastian Giovinco appears to be picking up where he left off in 2015. That said Giovinco spent most of the day isolated at the front, frustrated by the high line that the Red Bulls were employing. It wasn't until Toronto FC started to push back that Seba was able to fully switch on and become the dangerous threat that we've become accustomed to.
Another thing that Toronto FC fans are happily becoming familiar with are goal celebrations with flare. Seba did not disappoint with his rev the motorcycle romp in front of the Red Bull Arena faithful. If the gifs aren't already up online, they will be soon.
Oh Captain My Captain
Michael Bradley's leadership was questioned at the end of last season, not so much for lack of commitment, but for often trying to do too much.
Sunday, Bradley kept his game simple and tidy. He spent the bulk of the afternoon parked in front of his box as TFC absorbed waves of pressure from New York. The addition of Will Johnson to the reds midfield will allow Bradley a little bit more freedom to move forward to join the attack, which he did when the reds pushed the attack in the final quarter of an hour.
Reasons For Concern
Toronto FC cannot be out-possessed to the tune of 67% to 33% on a weekly basis and expect to be successful. That puts far too much pressure on the backline. This should improve as Toronto's defense is still very much a work in progress. New York is also a very talented team with serious offensive weapons.
Greg Vanney mentioned at halftime, that he was concerned about the organization of defenders on Sam and Zizzo. Disorganization was a hallmark of TFC defending in 2015. Fans should be alarmed to hear that assessment of the first half of the first game from the manager. However, as with the point about possession, the quality of opponent and lack of meaningful game time together should be taken into account.
The Bottom Line
Even the most myopic of TFC supporters would have been grateful to leave Red Bull Arena with a single point. To escape New York with 3 points is no small feat. Before anyone plans any parades, let's remember that the reds won the 2014 and 2015 season openers as well. This is a statement in that it is the kickoff to the monster eight game road trip that takes them into a lot of tough parks. Points banked now will come in handy down the road as they try to scratch and claw for results on this trip.