The tie is still far from over, but a Pozuelo-less Toronto squad put up an inspiring performance against a León side who have played 19 more games since TFC’s last competitive outing in November 2020.
With lots to look forward to ahead of next week’s second leg at the Osceola County Stadium, here are five important takeaways from TFC’s impressive first leg result.
The away goal may be the difference
Erickson Gallardo’s deflected effort resulted in an own-goal by León defender Andres Mosquera that not only levelled the score, but also gave TFC a vital away goal in the context of the tie.
As it stands, TFC hold the advantage coming into the second leg. Toronto can progress through a victory by any scoreline or via a 0-0 draw, which would see The Reds win on away goals. Ultimately, the important away goal means that TFC just need to keep a clean sheet in Kissimmee to book their place in the quarterfinals.
If Eriq Zavaleta and Omar Gonzalez replicate their first leg defensive performance next week, Toronto should remain in the driving seat. With the first 90 minutes of the 2021 season now in the books, Chris Armas and co. know that qualification to the next round is well within their sights now.
Altidore needs to get his shooting boots on
The absence of Alejandro Pozuelo meant that Jozy Altidore needed to rely on others to create clear-cut chances for him. On a couple of occasions before León’s opening goal, the American international could have put TFC ahead, but the execution was not there today from the veteran striker.
The latter stages of the first half saw a complete collapse in the momentum TFC had built early on. If León had been more clinical in their spell of dominance, the tie could have been quickly put to bed.
Altidore will surely be rueing his missed opportunities as a couple of goals in the opening game of the season would have been a much needed confidence booster ahead of the start of the MLS campaign. Following the striker’s injury midway through the second half, Armas will be hoping his #17 is not gravely hurt ahead of next week’s return leg.
The kids are alright
What a night for TFC’s youngsters. Let’s start with Noble Okello. The Canadian prodigy made his first-ever start for the club at the Estadio León and was one of the bright spots of the first half. He looked a solid force in midfield, as he conjured up a series of beautifully placed passes to give the Toronto faithful just a taste of the creativity he can bring to the squad.
decent chance this is becoming a noble okello stan account pic.twitter.com/qeH7WrdFYQ— Matthew Doyle (@MattDoyle76) April 8, 2021
Central midfielder Ralph Priso also wowed viewers as his cool, calm and collected showing alongside Michael Bradley highlighted why the 18 year old is truly one for the future.
There was also a TFC debutant last night in León as 19-year-old Luke Singh, who signed a four-day deal just hours before the game, came off the bench with three minutes plus stoppage time to play.
And last but not least, Jacob Shaffelburg was another star man in today’s lineup, especially with regards to his bursts of pace on both flanks that caused problems for the León defenders. The 21-year-old almost set up Altidore for the opening goal seconds after kick-off. Shaffelburg’s desire and hunger was on full display today and after playing just four games last season, fans can expect a lot more from him and the rest of Toronto’s crop of exciting young talents.
Pozuelo’s and Osorio’s quality were missed
Despite the bright performances of Okello and Priso, it is safe to say that TFC’s midfield would have had an increased sense of composure if Alejandro Pozuelo and Jonathan Osorio were on the pitch. Toronto’s midfield maestros are known for engineering frequent masterclasses in their roles, so when facing a side like León that is known for their flair on attack, collectedness and equanimity in midfield is crucial.
Osorio’s experience in the CCL serves as a major advantage to the squad, and while Pozuelo has yet to make his continental debut for TFC, his international playing background in Europe, most notably in the UEFA Europa League with Swansea and Genk, is also an invaluable asset to Toronto in high-caliber games.
León will be expected to attack with more tenacity in the second leg, so Armas will be hoping he can call on Pozuelo and Osorio to lead Toronto to the next round.
Given the circumstances, job well done!
León, Mexico is a city that is 6000 ft above sea level. For an injury-hit Toronto FC to play their first competitive game in five months there and ultimately return to Florida with a draw and an away goal firmly highlights that the entire squad is eager for success this coming season.
With Armas-ball steadily coming into full effect, the TFC faithful have much to look forward to for the rest of the campaign.