He just had to do it. Waking the Red stats man Martyn Bailey regularly delivers Toronto FC fans so much joy through his brilliant compilation of statistics.
Tonight, however, he might well have jinxed things. Martyn decided to tweet, mid-way through the second half, the fact that Toronto FC has never won three games in a row 1-0. They still haven’t, as a late Red Bulls goal resulted in a 1-1 draw and the first time the team has dropped points in Hartford.
He did redeem himself slightly with another stat, the fact that Toronto have lost just twice in their last 27 MLS matches. That level of consistency, and some other positive results, still have Toronto FC as the leaders to win this year’s Supporters’ Shield.
Anyway, here are five thoughts on tonight’s match.
A moment of youthful magic stuns Toronto FC
A lot has been made of Toronto FC’s youth movement of late. The team’s joint leading scorer is 20-year-old Ayo Akinola, 18-year-old Jayden Nelson just made his MLS regular season debut, 16-year-old Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty was once again in the matchday squad and today the club announced the signing of 18-year-old Ralph Priso.
But it was a New York Red Bulls youngster who stole the show. Caden Clark, 17, scored an unbelievable thunderbolt of a strike to salvage a draw for the visitors. After scoring an incredible volley in his debut, it was one hell of a sequel for the US youth international.
Greg Vanney’s lack of substitutions was surprising
Earlier this week, Waking the Red’s Michael Singh made a compelling case that Greg Vanney is the leader to win this year’s MLS coach of the year award. The way he has directed Toronto FC through several pandemic-created challenges has been nothing short of impressive.
Tonight, however, it was somewhat surprising that he only decided to make two substitutions to a clearly tired Toronto FC side. Tsubasa Endoh and Patrick Mullins both played well when they came on, but with three more substitutions available it did seem like the club could use a bigger jolt.
For his part, the Toronto FC coach said that the lack of substitutions does give him more fresh players for this weekend’s game against Atlanta United. Squad balance in this regard will continue to be a challenge for the rest of the season, but so far Vanney has mostly gotten it right.
Alejandro Pozuelo’s “automatic” penalty kicks critical for the reds
Pozuelo’s first moment of magic with Toronto FC came from the penalty spot. In his debut game last season against NYCFC, the Spaniard hit the first of many Panenkas against goalkeeper Sean Johnson. After a couple of years of struggles from the penalty spot, the confidence of Poz to pull something like that was a welcome sight.
He hasn’t looked back since, which is critical for a Toronto FC side blessed with multiple tricky players who are a regular threat to win spot kicks. His only miss from the spot this season was the now infamous passing penalty with Pablo Piatti. Every time he has actually shot the ball at the net this season, Pozuelo has scored and goalkeepers haven’t really come close to stopping him.
That’s how much Pozuelo is in goalkeeper’s heads, they seem to have absolutely no idea where he is going, and perhaps even he doesn’t until the last second. Pozuelo chatted with Footy Talks Weekly a couple of weeks ago, telling the crew that he doesn’t even practice penalties because he doesn’t want to overthink his spot kicks. For once, it’s a lack of practice that makes perfect.
The calls continue to go Toronto FC’s way
Dru Yearwood’s strike from distance looked to have tied the match for the New York Red Bulls in the first half. But once again, the whistle went the way of Toronto FC as Quentin Westberg’s vision was judged to have been impeded by an offside player as the shot came through. On top of this, the ball did strike Nick DeLeon’s hand in the lead up to Toronto FC winning a first half penalty, although it was deemed to be in a natural position.
It is the third time in as many matches that a big call has gone the way of The Reds, adding to Akinola’s “shove” and the Gonzalez “penalty” from the last two matches. All of the aforementioned calls have probably been correct, but they could have easily gone either way. You never want your fate to rest in the hands of a referee, even in the VAR era, and Toronto FC have allowed that to happen far too often of late, largely by keeping games too close.
Draw aside, a number of other results go Toronto FC’s way
It wasn’t the result Toronto FC wanted, but it didn’t hurt them as much in the Supporters’ Shield standings as it could have. Former Toronto FC defender Nick Hagglund scored to give Cincinnati a shocking win over the Columbus Crew in the “hell is real” derby. Orlando City also dropped points in a 1-1 draw with NYCFC.
The side closest to The Reds in the standings, the Philadelphia Union, briefly held the lead against D.C. United but ended up settling for a 2-2 draw. They still sit a full three points behind Toronto FC. Also in the race remain the Seattle Sounders who are eight behind but have two games in hand.
Also, Nick Hagglund did this after he scored, and it is probably the highlight of the night: