With 20 minutes remaining in what had been a contentious match in New York City, Toronto FC looked to be unraveling. After having a goal of their own called back for offside after a lengthy review by the officials, NYCFC scored shortly thereafter to take a 2-1 lead.
It looked very much like Toronto were going to leave Yankee Stadium empty-handed. A loss wouldn’t have been all that surprising, as for a bevy of reasons TFC were missing seven opening-day starters and another, Sebastian Giovinco, was injured late in the first half.
However, a second unplanned sub changed the game. When Ashtone Morgan’s head started bleeding after a collision in the 70th minute (more on that poor guy later), TFC subbed on Raheem Edwards. At just 21 years of age, and still in his first full MLS season, Edwards once again proved that he is already a legitimate gamebreaker for Toronto.
This week didn’t start off great for Edwards with the announcement that he had been replaced on the Canadian national team by Cyle Larin for the knockout round of the Gold Cup. However, that news was a major boost for an already short-handed Toronto.
Prior to Edwards’ introduction, Toronto FC had been mainly attacking through the middle of the park and with long balls on the small surface at Yankee Stadium. This strategy, of course, makes a lot of sense when your striker is 6’ 5” tall.
Edwards came into the game and provided another outlet. After his introduction, every Toronto attack seemed to flow through him. He had 31 touches in his 20 minutes plus stoppage time; just one touch fewer than Morgan had in his 70 minutes of action (all stats courtesy of WhoScored).
During his time in MLS, Edwards has mainly been known for effectively running up and down the flanks and delivering crosses. He has added another element to his game of late: dribbling into the box. He had five dribbles during the match, more than any other player on the field.
His dribbling caused a lot of problems for a tired New York City backline. Edwards was brought down once in the box on a play that could have been a penalty. He also saw a cross cut out at the last second by an NYCFC defender.
Either of those plays could have made the difference. Instead it was his bread and butter that got the job done: a long ball into the box to Jordan Hamilton. If Hamilton wasn’t fouled by an NYCFC defender, it probably would have been Edwards’ sixth assist of the season. Victor Vazquez scored the penalty, and with it gave the club a point.
The only downside of Edwards’ performance? One has to feel at least a little bit sorry for Morgan. The club’s longest serving player, in his 99th MLS match, scored his first goal and delivered a relatively solid performance at left-back. However, after going off injured, it is hard to see when his next start will come after Edwards’ strong return.
Ultimately, however, tonight was another memorable moment in what has been a dynamic rookie (we are aware he is not technically a rookie by MLS standards) season for Edwards. At just 21, he is not only one of the league’s most promising prospects, but already a crucial player for Toronto FC.