TORONTO, Canada—This team is fun to watch, eh?
Toronto FC once again pulled off a massive come-from-behind victory Saturday night, scoring two goals in the second half to defeat the Philadelphia Union. The win gave The Reds all three points for their third straight outing as TFC improved to 4-0-1 in their last five.
With wins over New York City FC, Columbus Crew SC, and now the Union, the team has now found ways to beat the Eastern Conference’s elite and appears to have hit a groove with eight matches left to play.
So what’s working? Let’s break it down. Here are five things noticed following The Reds’ 2-1 win over the Philadelphia Union last night.
Alejandro Pozuelo continues to find different ways to produce
How many different ways can Alejandro Pozuelo manage to make a difference? The reigning Major League Soccer Player of the Month for September once again found the breakthrough for The Reds on Saturday night, finding all the space in the world at the back post before heading home the eventual game winner.
This can’t be understated. How many No. 10’s in this league, with the flair that Pozuelo possesses, would be in the mix of things trying to get their head on the ball? He should be the one taking the corner kicks, not getting his head to it. That’s just a testament to the Spaniard’s all-around ability and versatility and is part of the reason that he is arguably the front runner for the 2020 Landon Donovan Award as the league’s most valuable player.
In 15 matches this season, Pozuelo has registered seven goals and nine assists and has been the subject of praise of media outlets across Canada and the United States. But when asked if he’s thinking about the end-of-season award, however, the 29 year old was having none of it.
“No, this is not my goal,” replied Pozuelo. “My goal now in this moment is to be fit because we have a lot of games and the most important is not to be injured and try to play all the games possible and working for the team. This is my goal in this moment. If you’re thinking about the MVP (award), this is no good...”
For what it’s worth, Pozuelo also hinted at the possibility that there’s another gear that he can reach. When asked if this was the best he’s ever played, he opted not to take the clear-cut, obvious route.
“No, I don’t think so,” answered Pozuelo. “I had a good period in another team, I know I feel good. The more important thing is the team. We play very good football, we started losing but we kept going and pushing and the three points is the most important.”
Jozy Altidore/Justin Morrow Update
Speaking of staying healthy, Toronto FC encountered two injury setbacks during yesterday’s win over Philadelphia.
First, in the 37th minute, defender Justin Morrow went down injured holding what appeared to be his calf. After hobbling off, initially, the veteran defender offered some worrying signs, caught up in a rare moment on visible frustration on the TFC bench. However, as we learned from Greg Vanney after the match, it was an issue that the medical staff were aware of and they don’t expect Morrow to miss much (if any) time.
Then, in the 61st minute, a really worrying sight for Toronto FC fans as Jozy Altidore pulled up holding his hamstring after stretching for a ball. While Vanney couldn’t offer much of an update without getting further diagnosis on the injury, he did provide the TFC faithful with a sliver of hope.
“Jozy (Altidore), it seems to be it looks like a minor hamstring issue,” said the TFC head coach after the match. “I don’t know how minor or not minor. He says that soreness is there. We’ll have to see. We don’t exactly what the time frame looks like until we get a scan and we get a sense of what it is.
In terms of how that will change his rotation moving forward, expect to see a little bit more of The Reds’ No. 13.
“So how it changes the rotation,” started Vanney, “... obviously we’re down a forward if Jozy’s out for some period of time. That puts Pat (Mullins) back into the rotation. Maybe it brings, at times, Poz back into the middle. There’s plenty of things that we will do to adjust. We’ll miss Jozy because I really felt like he was starting to pick up his rhythm with everybody. I thought he was starting to move in a good way...”
Ayo Akinola is scoring at a prolific rate
Is there anyone more dangerous in front of goal than Toronto FC striker Ayo Akinola right now?
Tied for the team lead with seven goals in as many starts this season, the 20 year old leads all of MLS in Goals per 90 minutes (0.93), Non-Penalty Goals/90 (0.93), Expected Goals/90 (0.80), and Non-Penalty Expected Goals/90 (0.80). The Brampton, Ontario native also ranks second in Shots on Target/90 (1.99).
Akinola makes such smart runs. You can see on the replay that just before they get to the D, he fakes a run to the near post. It pushes the defender inside a step and he gets stuck underneath Gallacher's cross. #TFCLive https://t.co/Ofh6GAaJEc— Oliver Platt (@plattoli) October 4, 2020
With the way he’s playing, it’s crazy to think that Akinola has only nine professional first-team starts under his belt. Despite this, with his emergence this season, Transfermarkt has Akinola now rated as the fourth most valuable player in Toronto behind Pozuelo, Jonathan Osorio, and Altidore.
But with his striker partner expected to be sidelined for the unforeseeable future, if he hasn’t already, Akinola now has a chance to take a stranglehold of the No. 9 position and cement his spot in Greg Vanney’s Starting XI moving forward.
21 year old Tony Gallacher records first TFC assist
Not to be overshadowed, last night was a special one for the club’s newest signing.
With The Reds trailing by one, the new kid on the block, former Liverpool U-23 left-back Tony Gallacher showed his quality. Brought into the match to replace the injured Justin Morrow, Gallacher put in his most impressive performance so far in a TFC uniform, highlighted by a pinpoint, whipped-in cross on the break to find the head of Ayo Akinola (see goal above).
Credit to the Toronto FC staff for identifying an area of weakness at fullback, and solidifying it with cheap, quality depth that can make a difference. He’s already made three appearances since making the move from Anfield, and if Gallacher can continue to provide service like Saturday night, he’ll undoubtedly be in line for a few more minutes the rest of the way.
At just 21 years of age, you have to like what you see so far from the Scottish Youth International as he auditions for a role in Toronto beyond 2020.
Toronto FC are tied for first in MLS
Don’t look now, but after last night’s win, Toronto FC are currently tied for first place in MLS with the Columbus Crew. Now just imagine if this team didn’t throw away a handful of points by blowing late leads?
Wins like Saturday night against the Union—finding different ways to salvage three points like they did against Columbus and NYCFC—those are the types of victories that could make the difference at the end of the season.
Toronto FC are the closest that they’ve been to the Supporters Shield since hoisting it back in 2017. As such, I think it’s fitting that I leave you with this quote from Jonathan Osorio, when asked after the match Saturday what or who this team reminds him of.
“I think a little bit of the 2017 team,” said Osorio after the match. “We’re in a good rhythm right now, we’re playing really good football. I think we played well in the last game and a half against two really strong teams, two teams that are top of the league. I think this team is coming together now. We went through a little bit of a transition in the beginning of 2019. I still think that throughout the whole year we always had that quality it was just getting the system down, getting used to a little bit of a different system and players getting used to the philosophy that we play with here. Once that happened and everything started clicking and guys got healthy towards the end of last year that’s when you saw the quality that we had. Like you said, we were resilient, and I think we’ve brought that over to this year and you’ve seen over the last two games with the come from behind wins. But I think this year we’re dominating games in a better way, in the way we want to and we’re playing really positive football.”