While Greg Vanney’s side (officially) found the back of the net on just one occasion—a second half tap-in from Achara for his first career professional goal—there was still a ton of action to dissect.
So let’s get down to it.
Here are 5 things noticed, shortly following the conclusion of Saturday’s home opener.
An identity in midfield
Their ability to win the ball back cannot and should not be understated.
Toronto FC midfielders Jonathan Osorio and Marky Delgado continue to be pivotal parts in making Greg Vanney’s side difficult to play against.
In the opening 45, the Reds controlled the majority of play. While there were one or two moments which may have caught fans around BMO Field holding their breath, for the most part, all of the first-half pressure was on the visitors as TFC moved the ball around trying to penetrate the NYCFC defence. A big part of that was due to Canadian international, Jonathan Osorio’s, ability to keep possession under pressure.
It's hard to be upset if you're Greg Vanney in that first half.— Michael Singh (@MichaelSingh94) March 7, 2020
Jonathan Osorio leads all #TFCLive players with 32/38 passes completed, while Achara hasn't looked at all out of place on the left wing. I'm not sure if I'd change much (if anything), if I were him.
And then, the few occasions in which the Reds did concede possession, the team quickly applied the press and won the ball back, quite often as a result of the hard work from Delgado and Osorio relentlessly tracking back in the midfield.
One of the reasons, in my opinion, Toronto FC has managed to consistently be successful is because they have talented players willing to play lesser roles—do more work off the ball. These guys, Delgado in particular, don’t always get the praise they deserve, but there’s a reason that when they’re on the team sheet—and they’re on it often—that TFC get results.
Achara steals the show
When 22-year-old Achara woke up on Saturday morning, the rookie had no idea that he would be appearing in—let alone starting—his first professional soccer game.
“I was just happy to see my name on the 18-man squad,” Achara told dozens of media reporters who filled the room for his first-ever MLS press conference.
Following the match, coach Greg Vanney told us that he told Achara that he’d be starting the game 90-100 minutes before kickoff after Tsubasa Endoh took a knock training. Endoh blocked a shot, and appeared to be fine at the time, but the next day, he apparently woke up feeling it on his knee, so the coach opted to roll with the 2020 MLS SuperDraft pick who caught his eye in preseason.
After being denied of his first MLS goal earlier in the match thanks to VAR, the Nigerian winger wasn’t going to be denied a second time, getting onto the end of substitute Richie Laryea’s ball across the net.
Throughout the contest, Achara looked comfortable on the left wing.
He didn’t try to do too much, he had his head up often to make forward, progressive passes, and when he was asked to, he wasn’t shy to take his defender on. There was a good mix to his game, including the obvious knack that he has for goal.
What really stood out to me, however, was not only was he an outlet for Toronto FC to create something offensively, he was extremely responsible defensively as well. There was one moment in particular in the second half when Achara sprinted back, about 50 yards, all the way to the Toronto FC corner flag, eventually showing his strength to marshal the ball out of bounds.
By all accounts so far, he’s very well liked in the dressing room, and I think you can see why with his team-first mentality on the pitch. When TFC drafted Achara, Vanney told me that he had many people reach out to tell him that they had something there. Just one appearance into the season, we start to see why.
12th Man of the Year
If there was ever a 12th Man of the Year award in the way that the NBA does the Sixth Man of the Year award, Canadian international Richie Laryea would certainly be a strong candidate.
Prior to last season, before he first reached out to his hometown club to see if they were interested in securing his services, Laryea was a central midfielder with Orlando City SC. It wasn’t until he joined the Reds that Vanney decided to take a chance on the speedster on the wing, playing him at fullback—and it’s paid off ever since.
But since 24-year-old Auro Jr. just continues to get better, Laryea has found himself often coming off the bench where his versatility to play multiple positions has earned him the unofficial accolade of being TFC’s “super sub”.
Whether Vanney feels that his side needs a bit more defensively or whether they need to inject a little bit more pace to create something offensively, Laryea can bring it. He’s shown that he can make an impact even if you play him a tad higher up the field at right wing, which is part of the reason that—regardless of the scenario—the 25 year old has generally been first name off the bench for TFC.
“I’m just trying to help the team however I can, right?” said Laryea, when I asked him after the match if he was comfortable coming off the bench. “If it’s either I’m starting, I want too see how long I can play and what I can do in that time that I’m given. If it’s coming off the bench in the 60th, 70th, 80th minute, I’ll do what whatever I can in those minutes that I have.
Comfortable coming off the bench? Yes. But also, would I like to play? Yes.”
With plenty of minutes up for grabs in 2020, especially with Auro’s ability to shift to the left side of the field, Laryea will start many matches Toronto FC this season—as his coach emphasized after the win. But when TFC are healthy and at their best, Laryea’s versatility off the bench is a further asset to making the Reds that much more dangerous.
A scoreless start for Jozy
Entering the 2020 season, no Toronto FC player was as hyped up by coach Greg Vanney than striker Jozy Altidore. It was the first time a few seasons that the American had a full training camp under his belt, getting back to health in January following an ankle injury that cost the American most of the 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs.
In fact, his strong preseason—one in which he led the team by example, according to Vanney—earned Altidore the captaincy while fellow countryman Michael Bradley recovers for the next few months from offseason ankle surgery.
And while Altidore has, by all accounts, been setting the standard and tempo at training, he has yet to find the back of net. Moreover, he doesn’t necessarily look all too dangerous, either. Regardless, even without their primary goal-scorer finding the back of the net early on, TFC are still managing to find different ways to score, something that the American striker finds very appealing to start the year.
“This is Greg’s vision,” said Altidore after the match. “He doesn’t want it to be a type of one-man team. He wants it to be a balanced team. I think we saw that tonight. Obviously, we could be sharper, but I think the preseason was a rigorous one for us, and I think we’re seeing that in the first couple of games, just the legs going a bit.
Tactically, as a group, the momentum doesn’t get any better. We didn’t give anything away, we competed for eachother, and we stuck with it in the end there.”
If TFC manage to consistently find different ways to score—not even including Pablo Piatti—this team is going to be a force to stop in MLS this season.
Do Toronto FC have the best GK in MLS?
Speaking of forces, it’s probably a bit too premature to give Quentin Westberg this accolade, especially after last week’s late equalizer against the San Jose Earthquakes, but day-in, day-out, the 33-year-old goalkeeper continues to shine as Toronto FC’s no. 1.
On Saturday, he wasn’t asked to do too much, but he still made two saves that stood out. This first came midway through the first half. While it wasn’t a 10-beller like he’s had in the past, he got the job done at a critical time, this time kicking away a close-range shot.
The second save, of course, came in the second half, during a stretch of horrendous play from Torotno FC. But once again, after chaos ensued in the box, Westberg was there to bail his defenders out.
After what we saw in last season’s playoff run, and where he’s picked up from this year, I don’t think it’ll be too long until he gets serious consideration as one of the league’s best goalkeeper.