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TFC Notebook: 5 things noticed after Toronto FC’s statement win over Columbus Crew

On what Greg Vanney said to his team at halftime, Richie Laryea/Jonathan Osorio, and how Alejandro Pozuelo called his shot in an iconic way.

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at Toronto FC
Toronto FC midfielder Richie Laryea (22) reacts with Laurent Ciman after scoring a ‘wonder goal’ against the Columbus Crew

TORONTO, Canada—Three beauties, including one Richie Laryea showstopper... last night was fun, wasn’t it?

Toronto FC reignited their push towards a Supporters Shield Sunday evening, taking down the MLS-leading Columbus Crew SC 3-1 in their first match at Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Connecticut—their ‘home away from home.’ The victory, which really was a tale of two halves, moved the Reds to within two points of the first-place Crew with nine games remaining on their agenda.

So, let’s break it down. Here’s the latest TFC Notebook following Sunday’s monumental win over the Columbus Crew SC.

What did Greg Vanney say to his team at halftime?

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at Toronto FC

Let’s cut to the chase. That first half was ugly. Toronto FC limped into the break and were fortunate to escape it only trailing by one. To start the match, Greg Vanney and his side got their tactics wrong, lining up Ayo Akinola on the right wing in a 4-2-3-1 formation. The amount of back-and-forth work being asked out of his “winger” and an already depleted midfield clearly wasn’t a recipe for success against a talented Columbus squad, who were able to adeptly find the open man out of pressure more times than not.

Then, the team started to get in their own heads a little bit. Visibly agitated after conceding the first goal, players found themselves getting caught up in ‘heat of the moment’ stuff. Those in red on the field weren’t playing like there were still 45+ minutes to get themselves back into the match, instead, opting to take silly fouls that were clearly out of nothing more than frustration.

So how did the TFC coach work his magic? What did Vanney say to his team behind closed doors to get them to turn the switch? When asked, Vanney didn’t give us the play-by-by into what exactly he said to his squad, but he gave us the gist.

”... We just needed a reset,” answered Vanney, “and we needed to not be our own worst enemy on the field and we needed to move proactively and to stay connected and be positive to get from one place to the next play. That was a big part of it to be honest and the guys took a deep breath. They came out and they reconnected and went after it. Obviously, we made some tactical adjustments in what we were doing. I think those obviously give us a good structure to work with, but it doesn’t matter what the structure is if your mind’s not in the right place. And or you’re letting things frustrate you. And tonight, we had in the first half, (but) we let it go for the second half and all things kind of came together into a great second half performance.”

In addition to the message Vanney conveyed to his squad, he also decided to deploy Ayo Akinola and Jozy Altidore together up top to begin the second half, moving to more of a 4-1-2-1-2 diamond formation or a 4-2-2-2 at times. That did wonders for the Reds, creating more balance up-and-down the field and giving Altidore some much needed support up top. Pablo Piatti shifted back to the right after putting in a shift on the left, while Richie Laryea was given license to push forward down the right flank knowing Jonathan Osorio and his fellow fullback Justin Morrow would always hang back to cover.

From that point on, everything just looked more fluid.

And while we’ve been quick to criticize the TFC coach for getting tactics wrong, all credit on Sunday goes to Vanney and co. who were aware enough to isolate the problem and make the necessary adjustments. In the biggest test of the 2020 Toronto FC season so far, the TFC manager passes with flying colours.

Alejandro Pozuelo steps up as a leader at halftime

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at Toronto FC

Toronto FC star Alejandro Pozuelo may just be the best player in Major League Soccer. If you ask his coach that, he’ll tell you that “it’s tough to argue.” The Spaniard leads MLS in assists and is tied with Ayo Akinola for the team-lead in goals. He’s making a legitimate case for the league’s most valuable player award.

But perhaps most impressive was the tidbit about ‘Poz’ that we heard after the contest.

Following the win, Toronto FC defender Chris Mavinga, who was victim of conceding an ugly first-half own goal, took to Twitter to share one of the coolest #TFCLive stories you’ll ever hear.

At the break, it appears that Pozuelo came to Mavinga to console the Frenchman. According to the TFC defender, he went up Mavinga and told him, “dont worry, you helped us a lot. For you, I will score, and I will make an assist.”

Less than 20 minutes later, he accomplished both. This guy is different.

MOTM: Richie Laryea

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at Toronto FC

Achara. Ayo Akinola. Is there a better breakout story than Richie Laryea’s this season?

Less than two years ago, the Toronto native’s contract option was declined by Orlando City SC, making Laryea a free agent. Four months later, the Canadian landed a deal with his hometown club, paving the way for what has been an extraordinary 18-month ascension.

On Sunday evening, he was the best player on the pitch, getting up and down the right flank. He did most of the work to set up Altidore’s opening goal, assisted Pozuelo’s marker brilliantly, and of course, his own individual effort stole the show.

In 12 matches this season, lining up in a variety of different roles, Laryea has scored four times and recorded two assists. He’s also had three additional assists “stolen” from him in 2020 as a result of some sort of deflection. Those are video game numbers for a fullback.

Arguably the most exciting player to watch when on the field thanks to his combination of speed, directness, and willingness to take players on 1v1, simply put, the Canadian international has emerged as a star for TFC.

Captain Oso fills Bradley’s shoes admirably

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at Toronto FC

I’ll keep this one short and sweet, but this is simply a Jonathan Osorio appreciation post.

The amount that the Canadian has grown in front of our very eyes is extraordinary. On Sunday, he was asked to fill the shoes of captain Michael Bradley, dropping into a holding midfielder role and acting as the main outlet for his defenders. Osorio would also, at times, drop into a centre-back position (like MB4 would) when others pushed forward, displaying his ability to read the game and willingness to help the team win.

We know what Osorio can do in the final third. But the fact he’s willing—and capable—to sacrifice that in order to play his role speaks volumes about how far he has come.

Toronto FC are back in the race for the Supporters Shield

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at Toronto FC

With Sunday’s win over the Columbus Crew, TFC narrow the gap atop the MLS Standings to just two points. To put into perspective just how significant a win that was, if they had lost, that deficit would’ve been eight points.

If you take into account the amount of points the Reds have thrown away by virtue of blowing late leads, they’d be in front of the pack by quite a large margin.

TFC have nine games left to play, and while they won’t play Columbus again the rest of the way, the Reds still have quite the rigorous schedule down the stretch, commencing Saturday against the second-place Philadelphia Union.

For now, Toronto has flown back home to be with their families for a few brief days before heading back to East Hartford on Wednesday to prepare for the Union. Stay tuned, #TFCLive. The fun is just getting started.