Toronto FC might never lose a game again.
Seriously, any team that is capable of pulling six points out of two matches of the kind the Reds have faced over the past five days must have some higher power watching over them.
If the win over the Seattle Sounders was a masterclass in digging in and grinding out a victory, this was simple robbery. Toronto looked an exhausted, beaten side through the first half against the Columbus Crew and trailed 1-0 at the break to a Federico Higuain penalty.
Greg Vanney’s tactical tweaks and the tremendous efforts of Tosaint Ricketts, Benoit Cheyrou and Raheem Edwards off the bench, though, saw the Reds somehow steal a 2-1 victory on the back of two superb Ricketts finishes in the final 10 minutes.
Before that, Toronto’s only real sight of the net had been a Jozy Altidore penalty that Zack Steffen saved well.
1. TFC find a way: As the cliche goes, good teams find a way to win even when they are not at their best. Toronto certainly weren’t at Mapfre Stadium but they were lifeless to such an extent in the first half that it might have lulled Columbus into a false sense of security.
Give the defence some credit; despite the lack of resistance offered in front of them, they kept Ola Kamara quiet on all but one occasion in the first half and no matter how far off their best they may be, when there is only one goal in the game Toronto always have a chance. Greg Vanney may not have quite got his starting XI right but his substitutions were spot on, and Edwards and Ricketts combined twice - with some help from Victor Vazquez - to save the day against all odds.
2. Tiredness trumps all: It was evident pretty early on that Altidore and Michael Bradley just did not have another shift like Saturday’s to give, and Toronto’s lethargy was compounded by the absence of two key sources of speed and energy in Marky Delgado and Edwards. Columbus should have punished the Reds more than they did in the first half, before Vanney was able to react and rectify things.
It should be remembered, however, that the Crew also played at the weekend. That was very clear in the way they seemed satisfied to sit on a 1-0 lead; once Toronto had changed their system and things were not coming as easily to them in the attacking third, they did little to find a new route to goal or force the issue. Toronto seemed to increasingly sense that they had a chance to take the initiative as the game wore on, and kept plugging away. They were rewarded more handsomely than they could have ever imagined.
3. The wrong midfield: Defensively, the game plan here for Toronto was much the same as against Seattle; clog the central areas and deny the likes of Justin Meram , Federico Higuain and Wil Trapp space to operate in. They did that extremely well against the Sounders, with Benoit Cheyrou and Michael Bradley providing a solid base at the rear of midfield, Marky Delgado shuttling back and forth just in front of them and Altidore applying pressure up top. Through a combination of changes in personnel and evident fatigue from those who stayed in the side, though, the mix this time was not nearly as effective. Higuain had a field day, particularly in the first half, in the space he was given and created a game-high four chances in addition to taking five shots. Vanney had to make a first-half substitution and change his formation to stem the tide.
Oh, it’s 2-1.
What’s next? Toronto are back at BMO Field on Saturday and take on Minnesota United at 3pm ET.