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Recap and Highlights: Akinola goal lifts TFC to 1-0 victory against New England Revolution

Ayo Akinola was a terror on Wednesday night despite an overall erratic performance by the Reds.

Toronto FC v New England Revolution
Ayo Akinola now has a team-high eight goals in eleven starts for Toronto FC.
Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Ayo Akinola was particularly deadly against the New England Revolution as his sole goal was enough to secure victory for Toronto FC.

Coming into Wednesday night’s match, the Reds were the talk of MLS. They had successfully dispatched the top seed Columbus in stunning fashion, and had rendered a stellar comeback against Philadelphia the very next game. Everything has been clicking for the Reds, and going up against the New England Revolution, they were keen to push the needle from mere popularity into outright acclaim.

With Justin Morrow as well as Jozy Altidore injured from their bout against the Union, Greg Vanney opted to start Nick DeLeon, who has been reasonably good off the bench, Scotsman Tony Gallacher, who was something of a minor revelation in the last game, and Ayo Akinola as striker.

From the jump TFC were playing like they were expected to win. They were moving with a looseness that could only be read as confidence, their passes and runs as if to indicate the Reds were simply testing their opponent and not yet in direct contest with them.

Through the first 15 minutes both teams shared some decent chances, but neither had really staked their claim on the match. If anything, Toronto was not fully engaged, playing a bit too loose in the middle of the pitch. The tempo and temperament of the game were open.

The Revolution, for their part, were keen to upset the presaged outcome. In the 17th minute they found an upswell of offence, but TFC defended well, with Marky Delgado squelching a breakaway and then Richie Laryea denying a strong cross.

(The somewhat dazed start for TFC notwithstanding, their growing ability to defend as a unit should coming as a delight to all fans who have witnessed one or many blown matches because of sloppy defence.)

The Reds were able to pick up the pace slightly afterward, with some searching long balls and some decent ideas, but through almost 30 minutes they were not quite having their way. I say almost 30, because in the 29th minute they ceased to be denied.

A darting through ball from Alejandro Pozuelo from the midfield gave room for Ayo Akinola to chase and—in a move reminiscent of Jozy Altidore himself—literally topple the Revolution defender before finishing.

New England did their best to respond, but their overarching struggle was not finding their way into the box, but rather finishing any genuine opportunity they could generate (of which, admittedly, there were not many). In the final minutes of the first half, they had some very honest chances, but struggled to do much anything with the prospects.

Toronto FC, while the better team in the first half, were not so by much, and despite the lead, were not as dominant as they or anyone would expect. Regardless, at the 45 they held the 1-0 lead.

In the second half Toronto FC came out looking just that bit tighter in their play, but likewise the New England Revolution were pushing a bit harder as well. Although they had the will to press for the equalizer, they principally lacked any real creativity in breaching Toronto’s defence despite a sizeable amount of possession. The few clean shots on net they managed were deterred by Bono.

Toronto, though, was marking well, and it has to be said that while they employed not the most airtight defence one has ever seen, they were not giving up on plays and were doing their job. Not beautiful, but importantly, not lazy.

In the 67th minute, after an all-in slide tackle by early hero Marky Delgado failed to make contact with the ball, the Revolution were granted a penalty. However, the opportunity to equalize did not go the way New England anticipated, with taker Adam Buksa blasting the ball far over the net.

As time went on, Toronto was facing New England more frequently in their own box. Despite good defence, they were not controlling the midfield nor the tempo the way in which they are accustomed. The Revolution were given far too much freedom to approach the TFC net which resulted in more chances than a usual opponent of the Reds would see.

Regardless, TFC stayed sound and defended their lead into the 80th minute. Further, the transition counterattacks generated by Toronto were tangibly dangerous, and Akinola alongside the rest of the offence had some serious chances to finish the game early.

New England continued to push in the closing 10, but their manifold attempts proved futile, with Toronto FC ultimately taking the 1-0 lead.

Overall it was a strange outing by Toronto FC. At times they looked strong, poised to dominate, but other times they seemed confused, unsure of how to wrest the game back in the way they have done so many times. Certainly some games are going to be scrappy, and often a greater opponent is required as pressure to create a greater performance, but despite the resilient defence Toronto displayed, they also let New England get too many chances at net, regardless of their lack of finishing ability.

While this game alone is not enough to give the grandiose emperor’s thumbs up or down, it should serve as a cautionary tale to Vanney and the team about the minutiae and necessity of a robust midfield. Then again, this is an old lesson learned many times, and so the expectation is more likely that it was simply a scrappy game by the Reds.

In the end it is three points and right now that is what matters most. TFC now have their fourth straight win and top the Eastern conference.