The revolution begins in New England (see what I did there?).
It’s been a tough couple of months for Toronto FC and their faithful fans. From poor league form to patiently waiting for a return back to BMO Field, the 2021 campaign has yet to be a fruitful one for Canada’s first MLS franchise.
This victory has finally brought some overdue joy back to the players, staff and fans of a club that has now played over ⅓ of the 2021 MLS season away from their actual home. With a return to Toronto now potentially on the cards for July 17, a morale-boosting result is just what Michael Bradley and co. needed after a tumultuous few weeks.
Javier Perez’s first game as interim coach ended in a 3-2 victory, with the Reds earning themselves a hard-fought three points to kickstart their post-Armas rejuvenation.
With a first road win of the season in the bag at last, the Reds will now hope to continue building momentum and set their sights on a playoff push for the remainder of the campaign.
Following an hour and a half delay due to alarming weather in the area, TFC began the match in a 4-4-2 formation, with Ayo Akinola playing alongside Alejandro Pozuelo up top. Yeferson Soteldo’s return to the eleven injected some panache into Toronto’s attacking play as they looked to score an opening goal for the first time since the win over Columbus Crew on May 12th.
And guess what? It was that man Soteldo who opened his Toronto FC account after cleverly capitalizing on a poor error from New England’s second-choice goalkeeper Brad Knighton. The Venezuelan rounded the 36-year-old veteran to become TFC’s 12th different goalscorer in all competitions this season.
As Toronto began to smell blood, they continued their dogged start to the match, and with that came their second goal of the night. Soteldo’s fellow new signing Kemar Lawrence also grabbed his first club goal with a smashing finish into the top corner after being beautifully put through by Pozuelo.
Moments later, Pozuelo looked to add a goal to his earlier assist, but an effort from just outside the box was hit straight at an untroubled Knighton.
Toronto’s sharp offensive start can largely be credited to Bradley and Pozuelo’s wizardry in midfield. The pair were putting on a masterclass in the middle of the park, engineering the game just the way TFC would want it.
In a performance that so far seemed too good to be true, it got even better following an absolute worldie from Tsubasa Endoh. The Japanese midfielder curled home a stunner from the top of the penalty area to spectacularly bag his first of the season in just his second MLS start of the campaign.
For the first time in 2021, Toronto had scored three in a game and were playing with a certain swagger that this side has often lacked in recent times.
Akinola looked to get in on the act just after the half-hour mark, but despite his shot having the needed power, it lacked direction and was hit straight at the goalkeeper.
New England then attempted to find a route back into the game through Adam Buksa, whose free header on the 35th minute rattled the bar after an impressive finger-tip save from Alex Bono. A minute later, New England hit the woodwork once again, this time via a well struck effort from their top scorer, Gustavo Bou.
In spite of a short spell of momentum from the home side, Akinola had another chance to grab TFC’s fourth, but a well-timed challenge from Henry Kessler denied the Canadian his fourth MLS goal of the season.
Just before the halftime whistle though, Brandon Bye was gifted an opportunity for the Revolution to pull one back, but after the ball fell to him via a Luke Singh deflection, the American blazed his shot well over the bar.
That wasn’t all for the first half. One minute into added time, Pozuelo found the back of the net with a sensational curler from the top the box, but much to his and TFC’s dismay, the flag went up for offside against Akinola, who had initially laid the ball off to the Spaniard.
A 3-0 halftime lead would not have been in many fans’ pre-match predictions, but the entire TFC Live community is all here for what was seen in that first half. Electric play in the final third, resilient defending and ultimately, fire in everyone’s belly, this looked like a side with something to prove for the duration of not only this game, but the rest of the season too.
All in all, the free flowing football that TFC played during the first 45 minutes paid off, and more of the same was expected in the second half.
As the two sides got back to it, the Revolution threatened early on as a set piece from the edge of the area glided past all potential targets in the box. Five minutes later, New England captain Carles Gil made sure he capitalized on his side’s next set piece as he put away a wondrous free kick to narrow the deficit to two.
New England’s pressure began to mount, and the last thing TFC needed was to absorb that and be on the back foot coming into the latter stages of the game.
Despite looking timid on the attacking front in the first quarter of an hour of the second half, Toronto continued to fend off further goalscoring threats from the hosts, who knew they were at risk of losing their first home game of the year to a side who had yet to win on the road.
The first significant TFC chance of the second half came from Pozuelo, who after latching onto a Soteldo layoff, forced a close-range save from Knighton with a bit over 20 minutes left to play. The Spaniard has already provided two assists in five MLS appearances this year, but the reigning MLS MVP is seemingly quite hungry for his first league goal of the campaign.
As the game became increasingly feisty, Akinola hobbled off injured in the 75th minute, which was not something the Canadian men’s national team would be happy to see before their Gold Cup campaign gets underway on Sunday, July 11.
Just minutes later, a lifeline for New England. Buksa headed home from an Emmanuel Boateng cross to put his side within one as the final 10 minutes loomed. Singh lost his man and left Buksa wide open to perfectly connect with Boateng’s ball in. Cue a nail-biting finish to this thrilling affair.
From a corner at the other end, Singh almost restored Toronto’s two goal lead, but his header landed right into the gloves of a well-positioned Knighton.
More corners came in the final five minutes, this time for New England, but some solid defending, most notably from Singh, maintained TFC’s lead in what looked set to be a frantic conclusion at the Gillette Stadium.
And boy was it. First, a fully stretched Omar Gonazalez denied Buksa a shooting opportunity in the 88th minute, but that wasn’t the end of it. Buksa attempted to dribble in for another scoring chance, but a robust standing tackle from Pozuelo denied the Polish forward an equalizer.
Six nervy minutes of added time saw Bono make a match-winning save to hold onto the three points which he and Toronto had worked so hard for over the course of the game. He’s had his fair share of scrutiny this year, but that save was something special.
The sound of the final whistle would have surely relieved TFC as they sealed a memorable victory in enthralling fashion. The Reds are now eight points behind the playoff spots, and with 22 games left to play, who’s to say Toronto can’t salvage their season?
BMO Field (hopefully) will welcome home a revitalized TFC side on July 17 against Orlando City, and there’s no denying that the Reds’ 2021 campaign is far from over.