Dazzling moments by Ayo Akinola and Richie Laryea ensured yet another comeback victory for Toronto FC as they defeat Inter Miami CF 2-1.
The plot continued to thicken on Sunday night as the margin for error grew ever thinner in the race for the Supporter’s Shield. With Columbus Crew’s 2-1 dispensing of the Philadelphia Union earlier in the day, a Reds victory would put them in a tie (points-wise) for first place, and leave them within striking distance of the manhole cover if the Union fail to convert in their final game.
Furthermore, Toronto would be facing off against an inconsistent Inter Miami, and to make things even more interesting, burgeoning striker Ayo Akinola would be making his return to the pitch, leaving them in an auspicious position (at least on paper) at kickoff.
Toronto started the game with a steeled complexion—almost certainly a product of having Michael Bradley (mostly free of rust) as the heart of the formation again. They were moving the ball with the deliberate imperative of maintaining possession.
Conversely, Inter Miami began the match keen to pressure TFC as much as possible (almost certainly a strategy derived from Toronto’s previous two games). However, many of their offensive movements were intercepted by good positioning on the behalf of TFC; strong defensive demand rebuffed the rest.
Through 20 minutes the game remained guarded, but in the way a powder keg is guarded—there was a tangible air of events waiting to be inevitably blown open.
As the match went on, Inter Miami was allowed more quarter than they themselves seemed to expect. The constant presence in the Reds’ half was causing some minor sloppiness; however, Miami was unable to create virtually any chances of note with their space.
At the half-hour mark Ayo Akinola had seen little of the ball. For their part, Inter Miami was particular in keeping one man stuck to him with another usually nearby; despite good play from Alejandro Pozuelo, he still was not fully freed to work his true magic and feed Akinola.
Overall, TFC was playing with decent form, but little urgency, little hunger to seize the game. At the 43rd minute the paid for their complacency.
A scuffle on the right side of the box allowed a gift ball right to (and not unlike the goal in the NYC FC game) Blaise Matuidi who deftly found the corner.
Shortly thereafter the first 45 ended—Inter Miami held the 1-0 lead while TFC left the pitch seemingly disinterested.
The second half opened to pouring rain and a noticeably more audacious Reds side. As if the rain itself had stripped both sides of their former etiquette, the ball was being moved around with an unbridled energy that within three minutes won Toronto two consecutive corner kicks—above all it felt as though TFC were aware they had something to lose.
Finally, at the 55th minute, after what has felt like an eternity (even though it has only been three games), Toronto FC found a way. A swift lobbed pass into the box was collected expertly and slotted defiantly into the net by an explosive Akinola.
And just like that, the game had been wrenched unambiguously open. The rain had stopped and the concern for yesterday was seeping into the earth as both teams moved wildly at each other. Every run felt venomous, full of ill potential; even Inter Miami, who had looked uninspired on the attack, was moving with purpose and danger.
Toronto FC was a completely different beast than in the first half. They were making quick runs and slipping crafty balls in sneaky places; they were playing like a hungry team, but mostly, they were playing like they cared.
The overall energy shift was moving in favour of the Reds as well. They were seeing the ball much more and most of the time in Inter Miami’s half. Their entire demeanour had changed to look very similar to the great white shark-esque TFC most are used to; however, credit must be given to Miami’s defence who were marking hard and not making it easy for Toronto players to get into lethal positions.
At the 80th minute both teams were taking turns on the offensive, waiting, watching, passing, darting, and creating strong chances. One particularly intrepid effort by Miami saw Gonzalo Higuain release a curling howitzer that cruelly struck the post.
The sense was unshakable that the game had one more goal to give. At the 85th minute it was given.
A daring run deep into the box by none other than Richie Laryea drew a yellow card foul, which brought with it the all too familiar sight of Pozuelo standing above the ball at the penalty spot. The outcome was foregone.
In the closing few minutes Inter Miami did not let up. They hustled to keep the pressure up and find an equalizer. The nature of the game also gave rise to a greater degree of physicality, with scuffles and fouls across the board. In the dying moments, Miami launched a long bold strike that almost nearly found the back of the net if Quentin Westberg didn’t rip it from midair.
But in the end, no other conversions could be found, and when the final whistle blew, Toronto FC found themselves the victors, having completed the comeback once more.
Much can be said about the small details of the match, but the bigger takeaway is the resolve of Toronto in the second half. They were far from a team that could win a championship in the first 45. In the second 45, they did what they have done all year: utilize heart to find a way through the fire.
The Reds did not find a miracle tonight—they fought their way back. But to make the bigger comeback and hoist the Supporter’s Shield, they may well need the combination of heart and the miraculous. Time will tell what is in store for the team that won’t stay dead.