Toronto FC won in dizzying style on Wednesday night, waiting for the literal last minute to notch the decisive goal courtesy of the penalty king Alejandro Pozuelo.
The match stands as an odd counterpoint to what has been an equally odd stint for TFC. From watching the Montreal Impact nearly steal their Canadian Championship berth, to needlessly giving away two points to a second-last placed DC United, disappointments of varying qualities have hung in the air for the team. None of that to mention a campaign to oust Greg Vanney as coach, replete with all the dramatic alarm one might expect from a sports city as restless as Toronto.
It goes without saying that a win would help settle the collective stomachs of Toronto FC and their fans, especially one against NYC FC, the team that eliminated them from the MLS is Back Tournament.
The match started in an unassuming mood with both teams sharing chances and moving the ball reasonably but producing no real sparks. NYC FC is not a high scoring squad, but neither are they scored on in high volume. Early on their defence showed why: TFC has depended on both Pablo Piatti and Alejandro Pozeulo to create opportunities, but the duo’s usual ease and attacking confluence was continually dismantled by New York’s defence. Toronto was afforded almost nothing in the first 15 minutes.
As the match went on it was NYC FC who found their stride. Their backline was looking notably prescient, constantly forcing offsides out of Toronto, and on the attack they were able to open up the TFC defence with regularity and generate multiple attempts at net. Alex Bono was forced to make save after critical save to keep his team in contention.
New York was winning the strategic battle across the pitch, but despite their dominance, were quite trigger shy in front of net. Thus, through 30 minutes the game remained without a goal.
Toronto FC was able to make slight adaptations in the closing minutes of the first half, such as shifting to a much more direct form of attacking football. A notable Richie Laryea was working hard to win balls on his wing and loosen New York’s austerity — one especially especially captivating pass split the New York defence and found it’s way to Pozuelo who released a booming, but ultimately saved, strike at net.
These victories were small, however, and in the opening 45 Toronto FC was completely outmatched. Were it not for NYC FC’s bashful feet, as well as Bono’s heroics, the scored could — and should been — much more dire. Still, the first half ended nil-nil.
The second half did little to usher in life for Toronto FC. Almost immediately the ball was back in their half and NYC FC was on the offensive. It cannot be understated how well Alex Bono performed under such unending assault; it also should not be forgotten just how many attempts — four or five strong ones — New York could have converted on with even an ounce of composure.
But alas, little was changing. By the 70th minute the game had settled into an ugly little groove of New York creating chances and squandering them with Toronto looking all the while lost. The game seemed doomed to finish just as it started.
Which makes it all seem like somehow divine — or at least in deference to the spirit of Manchester United — when in the 90th minute a Justin Morrow blast deflected from the arm of a defender in the box, granting Toronto a dying breath penalty.
The man to take it was, of course, Pozuelo. He made no mistake.
NYC FC pushed madly at the Toronto net in the six minutes of injury time remaining to them, but were able to find nothing; Toronto FC stole a 1-0 victory in a game in which they were inferior.
But to look back on this particular game will settle the stomachs (nor minds) of few. To give TFC credit for “hanging in” would be to give far too much credit. Save for a spectacular Alex Bono, they showed little charisma, little adaptation in their approach when early they knew the match would be a meat grinder.
Simply, Toronto FC is a team that too easily grinds to a shrieking halt when a strategic spanner is thrown into the works. Further, the night’s match will do little to alleviate suspicions about the need for change; nor, perhaps, should they.
While quick-fix ideas about changing coaches or players should never be advocated, these ideas rise because of real issues. The truth is simple and — for the betterment of TFC when it really matters — should be studied: Toronto is not currently fit to win a championship.
FULL MATCH HIGHLIGHTS