They say one win can change everything; this is proving ever more true for TFC. After an inconsistent few months, the Reds’ statement dismantling of the Eastern Conference leaders Columbus last week reminded everyone why they are a team to be feared. Going into their bout against the Philadelphia Union—a team with whom they are tied—Toronto was looking to find in even greater detail the dominance they possessed as champions.
Greg Vanney would send his starting lineup into battle unchanged, expecting them to build on the synergy with which they finished the last match. However, this match had hardly started before the first blow was struck.
At only the 5 minute mark, Union forward Sergio Santos was given a gift after some poor defending by Omar Gonzalez, turning what should have been a conventionally rebutted play into a full breakaway and an early lead for Philadelphia.
Toronto was quick to put the trespass out of mind. Soon operating as a team, they were moving in a clean, focused manner. Up top, the Reds were attacking with a ferocity they have not had this season. Player of the Week and also Month, Richie Laryea and Alejandro Pozuelo respectively, were looking nimble and supremely confident. Through 25 minutes Philadelphia were being hemmed in by a hungry Toronto FC; however, they could not find an equalizer.
In the 30th minute the Union found a chink in the Reds’ armour on the transition, giving midfielder Jamiro Monteiro the opportunity to let loose a hammer of a strike at the TFC net. As usual, Quentin Westberg was up to the challenge.
The play allowed Philadelphia to drive a wedge into Toronto’s momentum. They began pushing with more purpose and effectively evened out the possession and quality between the two sides. Both were moving the ball well and had their share of chances, but neither could find anything else.
In the 38th minute Justin Morrow went down with a leg injury and was forced to leave the game. He was notably dejected as his calf was wrapped on the sideline, perhaps indicative of a substantial injury as well as—if confirmed—a substantial loss for his team.
The first half ended with the only difference between the two squads being Philadelphia’s 1-0 lead.
The second half seemed to carry into it the same ill portent for the Reds, as a mere six minutes in Jozy Altidore—who has of late started to finally come into his own—suffered a hamstring injury while overstretching for a ball.
However, Toronto FC were set on not letting sour omens decide the fate of the match. In a moment of class, substitute Tony Gallacher delivered a sublime cross over the Philadelphia backline directly to the head of Ayo Akinola, who slammed it into and past the Union keeper.
As so often happens with TFC, the goal reinvigorated them. They were soon pushing and attacking with bravado. In particular the Reds were unraveling the Union on the right wing. Pablo Piatti was surgical in his ability to split that part of the defence, routinely finding himself deep in the box with the ball, enabling the rest of the Toronto offence to swarm in behind him.
And yet, despite what looked like an inevitably lethal degree of will, through 75 minutes Toronto FC could not find that distinguishing goal. That changed in the 76th.
A corner kick delivered by Piatti deflected from the head of Chris Mavinga toward a completely unmarked Pozuelo who headed the ball soundly into the side of the Philadelphia net.
But the Philadelphia Union are not among the top at the table for no reason. In the last ten minutes, they hustled to create an opportunity to equalize. Toronto, though, was defending as a full unit. Even better, they were turning well defended balls into quick transition attacks that would open up and destabilize Philadelphia’s defence. Ultimately Toronto survived the late surge to claim their three points.
TFC has for two games now looked like an entirely different beast. After a frustrating month (to say the least) they have clicked. Their attack is looking dynamic and inscrutable, able to generate quality chances from any point on the pitch with goals that confound their opponents. On the defence, the whole team seems to be committed to ensuring the balls stay far away from their net. When they get there, Westberg is almost assuredly on the case.
Only two games ago, I grimly pronounced that Toronto FC was not a championship team. Today, I can happily swallow those words. Here’s to hoping their Jekyll-and-Hyde syndrome has been cured.
FULL MATCH HIGHLIGHTS