TORONTO, Ont. — Five different players scored for Toronto FC Saturday night as the Reds marched into Cincinnati and took care of business: a 5-1 dubbing at the expense of the struggling 2019 expansion side.
In front of a surprisingly packed Nippert Stadium crowd, TFC made it clear that the league’s bottom feeders FC Cincinnati were going to be playing second fiddle on the evening. To be fair, and as coach Greg Vanney alluded to in his post-match scrum, the MLS newcomers aren’t the best opponents to use in a measuring stick game, having already been eliminated from the playoff contention (and that’s putting it nicely).
“I think you have to take into consideration that you’re playing an opposition who has less to play for,” said coach Vanney after the win. “They’re trying some things — trying out some different guys. It’s a game that we wanted to get on top of and create doubt for the opposition.”
To further add salt to the wound, four regulars were recalled for International duty prior to Saturday’s match, so FC Cincinnati coach Ron Jans was forced to experiment with his last-place squad — and it wasn’t pretty. To put the caliber of Cincy’s lineup into perspective, former Toronto FC defender Nick Hagglund, who last appeared in game-action on July 21, started the match at centre back and captained the expansion side.
Nevertheless, Saturday night was nothing if not another step in the right direction for the Reds who are undefeated in their last five matches. Despite missing five regulars through injury, rest, or International duty, prolific goals from Patrick Mullins, Nick DeLeon — who was fantastic for Toronto in his first start at RB for the club — Marky Delgado, Michael Bradley, and Nicolas Benezet helped seal the deal.
In fact, DeLeon’s strike was actually the 700th goal in club history.
“Tonight, I thought one of the big differences was that we executed,” said coach Vanney. “[…] When we got chances we put [them] away. I thought we held onto the ball well, made it difficult for [FC Cincinnati] to put pressure on us — which they spent quite a bit of energy on in the first half just trying to chase us around — and I thought we stayed fairly disciplined on the night.”
More importantly, Toronto stayed fresh and healthy over the weekend for Wednesday’s massive tilt against Eastern Conference leaders New York City FC.
With the midweek tilt in mind, designated player Jozy Altidore, who was apparently ready to play vs. FC Cincinnati, was an unused substitute on the turf. And with fullbacks Richie Laryea absent with Team Canada and Justin Morrow nursing a minor injury, Brazilian Auro Jr. was also recalled in the 67th minute. Furthermore, the versatile makeshift RB DeLeon, who appeared to limp off in the 71st minute, was apparently fine after the game according to coach Vanney.
Starting to Click Up Top
Saturday’s victory for Toronto was just their fourth on the road this season in 14 matches. With three out of their final four September matches also on the road, the Reds will need to continue to earn positive results away from BMO Field.
With that said, it’ll be an easier task to accomplish if Toronto’s relatively new attacking trio behind Altidore provides TFC’s goal poacher with the quality support and service that they’re capable of.
“The group [Pozuelo, Gallardo, and Benezet] is settling into their relationships with each other,” said coach Vanney after Saturday’s match. They’re settling into the shape. There’s a better and clearer understanding that’s happened over the last three to four weeks that has allowed us to be a little bit more consistent through games — both in our defensive shape and in our attacking shape. We allow some fluidity through it, but they’re just doing a great job at paying attention to each other and making sure that we’re in good spots with one another.”
Benezet and Pozuelo in particular were once again heavily involved in Saturday’s matchup, capped off by the TAM signing’s second goal of the season in as many games. It may go without saying, but the Reds will likely go as far as their offense can carry them.
Man of the Match
With all due respect to Nick DeLeon, Michael Bradley, and Eriq Zavaleta — whose impressive(?) feat we can’t ignore after being sent off within 20 minutes of subbing into a 5-0 game — Toronto FC’s Alejandro Pozuelo earns this game’s Man of the Match award. The Spanish midfielder looked comfortable and was clearly a notch above everybody else on the field.
When he’s in-form and able to spray delicate assists, like his pass to Marky Delgado for the third TFC goal, the Reds instantly become a more threatening side, especially if Toronto’s No. 10 can link up with Altidore up top. If Pozuelo performs in September, the Reds will continue to make noise in the Eastern Conference.