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TFC Notebook: Pozuelo, Endoh shine in Toronto FC’s first match of 2020

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2 points dropped after a late equalizer, but there’s still a lot to digest from Saturday’s draw vs. San Jose

MLS: Toronto FC at San Jose Earthquakes
Toronto FC forward Tsubasa Endoh (31) and midfielder Alejandro Pozuelo (10) celebrate after a goal against the San Jose Earthquakes during the second half at Earthquakes Stadium.
(Cox/USA TODAY Sports)

TORONTO, Ont.—The Reds kicked of their 2020 MLS season on the road on Saturday evening, jumping out to a commanding 2-0 lead before the San Jose Earthquakes eventually stormed back, equalizing courtesy a 95th-minute free kick.

While the final result will ultimately leave a bitter taste in the mouths of Toronto FC fans, there were still a few positives to take from their first outing of the year.

Here are 5 things noticed shorty after TFC’s 2-2- draw to the San Jose Earthquakes.


Valuable point away from BMO

In a sense, you can look at Toronto FC’s performance as playing with house money.

In their only match against the Earthquakes last season, TFC fell 2-1 at BMO Field, failing to pick up a single point. Furthermore, in MLS, points on the road are never easy to come by.

In 2019, the Reds had just two wins against Western Conference teams, with both victories coming at home. In fact, when playing teams from the West last season away from BMO Field, TFC lost four out of their six matches.

“I’m not disappointed in our performance. I’m not disappointed in anything,” said coach Greg Vanney after the match. “Our effort was incredible. I’m just disappointed for the group because in the end you want to take those three points. That’s the only thing I’m disappointed or frustrated about.”

All things considered—and despite giving up a two-goal lead—it’s difficult to argue that walking away with a point from the West Coast, in a game that Toronto FC controlled (for the most part), is a bad result.

I’m still adamant that the free kick should never have been given in the first place, but nevertheless, sometimes, you just need to tip your hat to an absolutely stellar strike.

Showing off depth

Despite facing several injuries to begin the year, it was really impressive to see Toronto FC still capable of controlling and dictating the pace of play.

The Reds were without designated player Pablo Piatti (hamstring), captain Michael Bradley (ankle), Nick DeLeon (back), and TAM-signing Erickson Gallardo was also coming off injury, though he was fit enough to make the bench.

Last year, when they were shorthanded, Vanney would have CAM Alejandro Pozuelo line up down either wing thanks to his versatility. However, with their starting wingers in Piatti and Gallardo sidelined on Saturday—and one of their likely first-replacements in DeLeon also out injured—Vanney still opted to roll with two more natural wingers in Tsubasa Endoh and Jacob Shaffelburg to supplement Pozuelo in the middle, and neither looked out of place.

While the young Canadian Shaffelburg did struggle to come up with the final product being asked of him, Endoh, on the other hand, looked like he picked up right where he left off in 2019, creating several chances while calmly maintaining possession in tight areas on the field.

And then to begin the second half, Vanney further flexed his winger depth bringing on another Canadian, fullback Richie Laryea, who rewarded his manager’s faith just minutes are coming on.

But according to Vanney, Laryea’s halftime substitution wasn’t initially in his cards...

Another muscle-related injury

Speaking of their depth, Toronto FC may need to rely more on other players to step up after Shaffelburg apparently suffered a hamstring injury.

“Shaffelburg came out because he was feeling his hamstring. That was a sub that was forced on us,” said Vanney after the match. “Laryea came in because we like his one-on-one ability. We were up in the game, so that gave us a defensive presence. His speed and transition could help us out. Obviously, he got in on the end of one and scored a goal, so that’s great.”

There’s no further update on the 20-year-old native of Nova Scotia, but it doesn’t sound like it’s anything too serious—sound familiar?

Anyways, add Shaff to the list of reported injuries/setbacks that the Reds have suffered so far in 2020.

Michael Bradley (Ankle Surgery)
Pablo Piatti (Hamstring)
Jozy Altidore (Back Tightness & Sore Hip)
Jayden Nelson (Hamstring)
Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty (Concussion)
Erickson Gallardo (Groin Strain)
Nick DeLeon (Back Spasms)
Jacob Shaffelburg (Hamstring)

The good news for TFC fans is that Gallardo should be 100 per cent (or close to it) by the time Saturday’s home opener rolls around, while 17-year-old winger Jayden Nelson also made the bench for Vanney’s side against San Jose. With the emergence of several names from within the organization, depth may not be an issue—at least on the wings—in 2020.

Captain Altidore emphasizes Toronto FC’s ‘unbeaten run’

MLS: Toronto FC at San Jose Earthquakes (Cox/USA TODAY Sports)

For the first time as a member of Toronto FC, designated player Jozy Altidore led his MLS side out wearing Michael Bradley’s armband—and the 30-year-old embraced his role.

The American was relentless pushing the front line for the Reds, constantly getting tangled up with the Earthquakes’ centre-backs—but never shying away. He persistence paid offf, earning a penalty for his side after being taken down in the box while jostling for position on a corner.

And after the match, Altidore was also saying all of the right things.

“Yeah, I mean you know, we’re dating back to last season, the regular season, we’re 11 games unbeaten...” emphasized Altidore after the match. “So, look, it’s not easy to concede like that, in the 94th minute, especially when you had the game, but like I told you, it’s the first game of the season, there are a lot of positives there, and we’re looking forward to getting in front of our fans and getting three points.”

Look for the TFC interim captain to put in another leader-like performance against Eastern Conference rivals New York City FC.

MOTM

MLS: Toronto FC at San Jose Earthquakes (Cox/USA TODAY Sports)

I debated back-and-forth on this one, but after taking a closer look at the numbers, it was hard to argue the impact that a well-rested Alejandro Pozuelo had on Saturday evening.

With an honourable mention to Tsubasa Endoh’s performance, Pozuelo was Toronto FC’s best player on the field in their season opener.

Despite being substituted in the 76th minute, Poz had a team-high 60 touches on the ball, while completing 37 passes—just one less than Marky Delgado. The types of balls that the Reds’ no. 10 was spraying was also far-more progressive than any of his teammates, directly leading to chances with two key passes recorded. Pozuelo also had a game-high six dribble moves completed whereas the next closer player from either team had two.

While Endoh played one of his better games as a member of TFC—including last year’s playoffs in my opinion—he still wasn’t at the level that his Spanish teammate was executing at.

One question I have to ask, however, is: with Pozuelo in the match, how is Endoh taking five corners for Toronto FC? Don’t tell me Pozuelo is an aerial threat. Get Poz to deliver the ball into the box every chance we get.