TORONTO, Canada—The long awaited return to BMO field was finally over. Toronto FC could play in front of a crowd again in their own stadium on the lakeshore. For the first time in 497 days, the Reds would face Orlando City in front of 7000 fans made up of mostly front line workers, first respondents, and some season ticket holders. The return to BMO was not the only return of importance tonight though.
Jozy Altidore also returned to the game day squad and started the game on the bench. His return to the team after training by himself for just under two months was met with extreme excitement from TFC fans, as they could not wait to see their star striker in action again.
Three changes were made to the Toronto XI, as Chris Mavinga, Justin Morrow, and Dom Dwyer came into the side, with Dwyer starting his first game for Toronto FC. Altidore, Julian Dunn, and Jordan Peruzza were also added to the bench.
This proper home game against the team that shared their stadium with Toronto would prove to be a test, as Orlando sat second in the Eastern Conference heading into this match. Their recent form is not indicative of their ability though, as they have conceded five goals in the last two games heading into tonight. Orlando have struggled at BMO field in their previous meetings, with TFC undefeated when hosting them in six meetings.
Orlando kicked off the game, attacking towards the south stand for the first half. Toronto FC were finally back at BMO, and the buzz around the stadium was noticeable.
In the early minutes of the game, Toronto looked threatening going forward, and showed no signs of conceding an early goal, like they did so often earlier in the season.
Soteldo and Pozuelo linked up nicely in the eighth minute, and the ball was a few feet from ending up in the Orlando goal. Pozuelo’s shot from the top of the box was just wide of the net, which was created through a pass from Soteldo.
The first substitution of the match came in the 14th minute, after Mendez could not continue for Orlando. This was likely the result of a very hard coming together with his own teammate in the first minute, compounded by another unfortunate tackle by a teammate in the 13th.
Although the first 25 minutes were “uneventful”, the performance was extremely positive. The reds were dominating possession, creating chances, and keeping Orlando pinned inside their own half. The crowd was rallying behind the team, and it seemed that a good result could be on the cards.
Bono was tested for the first time in the 27th minute, but Nani was called offside following a fierce shot on target. Toronto were very organized at the back, and it was a solid defensive display so far.
The Reds’ best chance came in the 35th minute after a 3v1 counter attack ended in Dom Dwyer getting the ball caught in his feet, and eventually being unable to register a shot on target. The move was started by Soteldo, who put in a great tackle to win the ball back, before dribbling his way through the heart of the Orlando team, and slipping in Dwyer with a perfectly weighted pass.
Soteldo Show (cont'd). We’re knocking! pic.twitter.com/lT8kULtxUp— Toronto FC (@TorontoFC) July 18, 2021
In the 41st minute, Auro made a game changing block after a cross found its way through the box to Nani. The Portuguese winger put in a good shot but Auro ultimately got in the way.
Soteldo and Pozuelo continued to link up nicely throughout the course of the first half, and the excitement radiating through BMO field was definitely noticeable every time the pair were near the ball. The designated players were putting on a show for the crowd with some outstanding dribbling coupled by some great ball movement, a real treat for TFC fans, considering how the season kicked off.
There were a few other half chances for both sides, but the first half finished 0-0, with TFC looking the better of the two teams.
Some key takeaways from the first half would definitely include Pozuelo and Soteldo’s linkup, as well as the team’s defensive performance. Chances were being created while Orlando’s attackers were being held at bay. The first half performance was a complete 180 from those seen earlier in the year and was very promising considering the players that were missing.
Anyone watching this game would not have been able to guess that just two games ago, they conceded seven in a historically poor performance. Despite all of this, the game was still 0-0 and this dangerous Orlando team could definitely go ahead in the second half if Toronto were not careful.
At the start of the second half, Perez made no changes to his TFC team, and Altidore remained on the bench. Toronto got off to a good start and continued the half the way they left off.
A noticeable cheer came from the fans at the ground as Altidore began his warm ups fairly early into the second half. His return to the field was imminent, and most fans could not wait.
The first real scary moment came in the 57th minute when Justin Morrow got caught in a bad position and put the ball off of his own post after a dangerous Orlando attack. Even though the game was positive up to this point, the score remained 0-0 and this close call was a warning sign that even a half chance could see TFC go behind at home.
In the 64th minute, the fans at BMO rose to their feet to welcome back Altidore, who replaced Dom Dwyer as the focal point of this Toronto team. This was the striker’s first appearance for TFC since May 27th against Orlando. This also marked the first time that all three DP’s were on the field at the same time for the reds.
The 68th minute saw the first card of the game being given to Schlegel after he got beat by Soteldo on the top of the Orlando box. The Venezuelan was consistently beating his man and drawing fouls, and finally got rewarded after the Orlando player was booked.
Shortly after, the unthinkable happened.
Altidore (bonafide club legend), in his first game back, put the reds in front in the 72nd minute, and the return to BMO was starting to look like something out of a movie. It was a great ball in from Morrow, after a great layoff from Soteldo, and the gargantuan striker was not going to miss a chance from that close to goal. Perfect cross, perfect finish, and Jozy’s return to the side could not be going much better.
Jozy Altidore scores and immediately kisses the Toronto FC crest on his jersey pic.twitter.com/bdqi2Gz1oA— Waking the Red (@WakingtheRed) July 18, 2021
Orlando put a damper on the goal celebrations in the 73rd minute when Auro attempted to head the ball back to Bono, but the header was lacking power and Orlando almost made the most of the defender’s error. It was originally not called a foul, but the referee consulted VAR and it was a heart in mouth moment for all TFC fans.
A debatable penalty was given, which was accompanied by a yellow card for Bono after the VAR review. Nani capitalized on the defensive error, and scored Orlando’s first goal of the night. Bono almost made the save, but the penalty was too strong for the keeper.
The captain picked up his fifth yellow of the season in the 83rd minute after a smart foul to quickly stop an impending Orlando counter attack. Playing as the deepest midfielder through the majority of the game, Bradley was top class once again, and showed that in the right role, he is still one of the best midfielders in the league, and an indispensable member of this Toronto FC team.
Mullins came in for Soteldo in the 91st minute, and the Venezuelan was met with praise from those inside BMO for his entertaining performance. Although he did not contribute to a goal, he definitely put on a show for those in attendance.
The full time whistle blew on the lakeshore, and the game finished 1-1.
Although it was not the three points all Toronto supporters were hoping for, the bigger picture must be looked at. Four points out of six against the top two teams in the conference, and Jozy scoring on his long-awaited return to the team. Most importantly, the team performed well in their first game back in front of a crowd at BMO in 497 days.
There were many positives to take from this game. Soteldo put on a show, Altidore marked his return with a goal, the two creative DP’s linked up well, the defence was very solid aside from the preventable goal that was allowed, and overall, the team put in a complete performance that just lacked another goal.
This sort of performance would have been unimaginable three weeks ago, so that in itself should be seen as a victory for Javier Perez and his men. The most important thing now is whether or not the team can build off of these two positive results, and start to pick up points in the hunt for a playoff spot.
With Altidore back, Pozuelo and Soteldo linking up like they did today, and the rest of the team performing at a high level like they are capable of, this TFC team can absolutely claw their way back up the table and make a late push for a playoff spot. There are still lots of games left, and the rest of the season should be met with oodles of optimism now that the team is back home.