The Reds first game in the 2020 season against the San Jose Earthquakes opened with many questions surrounding the absence of Michael Bradley and Pablo Piatti. After full time, those questions will remain for many.
As is typical of season openers, both sides started the match with a tangible reticence. In the first 45, TFC’s possession-oriented movement was working effectively against the Earthquakes’ wily man-to-man style, but both teams had a notable share of weak passing and sloppy play overall as well.
Toronto’s defence, though, not perfect, held a strong formation and were able to neutralize the majority of attacks lobbied against them. There were a few honest chances for both teams, but most lacked the intrepidness or finesse to find the net.
At the 40th minute—after some delinquency by the Earthquakes’ Andrés Ríos who grappled with Jozy Altidore in the box—TFC was awarded a penalty. Alejandro Pozeulo was the man to take the shot, and as usual, he did not miss.
At the half, Greg Vanney swapped out Shaffelburg—who had several chances but was unable to make anything of them—for Laryea. The change coincided with a shift in the tempo of the game as well, as both teams opened up and began attack with more freedom. At the 51st minute, the Reds capitalized, courtesy Vanney’s half-time substitution.
However, the Earthquakes did not let the energy on the pitch die; two minutes to the second after Laryea’s goal, they replied with a beautiful delivery by their forward Espizona and and even better conversion by Rios.
However, after this back and forth, the game settled down. Neither team was giving up much nor were they gaining much across the pitch. Pozuelo was TFC’s best player, constantly retaining the ball and distributing with the panache he is known for, while the defence kept the home end secure.
Victory seemed a foregone conclusion until the dying moments of the match. Well into injury time, and with the game’s final kick at his feet, San Jose’s Oswaldo Alanís lined up as close to a perfect free kick as could ever be seen in football.
The match concluded immediately after, a 2-2 draw.
The late theatrics aside, Toronto FC was easily the better of the two teams. Although they lacked the composure and polish that comes from playing throughout the season, there are are both positives and negatives.
The offence had a decent showing. Altidore also had some strong movement on the ball, but also looked somewhat rusty; continued play will surely help. Endoh and Delgado had several chances but were unable to capitalize, which shows just how necessary the addition of Piatti will be if the Reds want to become a real force on the attack.
The defence had an auspicious beginning to the season, but were not seamless. Bradley’s absence is felt most keenly here, but if things improve, there is every reason to expect any holes will be plugged in time.
Although he did not start, Liam Fraser, the much heralded Toronto-born midfielder, got some minutes in the second half after substituting for Pozuelo. While he performed no miracles in that time, he is a capable player; it will be interesting to see what Vanney has in store for him.
Ultimately, while the final score was not deserved, it is a moment that shows just how important the questions surrounding TFC are. Simply, they are going to need to create more chances and score more consistently, and they are going to need to lock down more knowing chances from opposing teams.
After only one game, it seems as though both Bradley and Piatti are going to be necessary for a successful campaign.
Toronto FC’s home opener will take place next Saturday, March 7, at BMO Field against New York City FC.