“After nine games and zero points, each game that you play in the league without points isn’t nice,” said TFC head coach Aron Winter. “It’s a big relief.”
The Reds couldn’t win without some extra drama for the 18,227 in attendance at BMO Field. Despite outshooting and outplaying the Union for much of the game, TFC couldn’t find the back of the net, raising the possibility that Toronto would have to settle for a disappointing draw or another last-minute heartbreaker of a defeat.
In the 88th minute, however, Nick Soolsma saved the day. After Philadelphia’s Michael Lahoud stumbled while trying to take the ball out of his team’s box, Soolsma pounced and eventually stripped the ball away. Soolsma then kept it alive on the left side of the box and eventually found room to cross in front to Danny Koevermans. The striker’s first attempt was blocked but goalkeeper Chris Konopka couldn’t hold on, allowing Koevermans to bury the rebound for his third goal of the season.
The relief was apparent on the faces of the TFC players in the wake of the go-ahead goal, and they were able to close out the final minutes with no difficult to clinch their first victory.
Winter admitted he was worried that the Reds had missed their best chances early, when Toronto couldn’t convert on any of six shots within the first 14 minutes.
“I was not afraid but when [you are 0-9] and then you create a lot of opportunities and don’t score, it leaves you hoping you’ll get a point,” Winter said.
Though this is TFC’s first positive league result of the season, the club came into Saturday on a roll having defeated Vancouver to win the Amway Canadian Championship final last Wednesday. Counting ACC games against the Whitecaps and Montreal Impact, Toronto is 3-1-1 over its last five overall matches.
Goalkeeper Milos Kocic felt the Reds were due to finally record an MLS victory in the wake of their performance against the Whitecaps.
“After the Vancouver game, I felt that everything was going to come into place,” Kocic said. “People are saying all week, ‘how can the worst team win the [Voyageurs] Cup?’ Well, this tells you that we’re actually a good team and we want to turn the season around.”
The Reds were flying early, with Joao Plata, Reggie Lambe and Ryan Johnson all finding plenty of space up front in the opening minutes against the Union. Captain Torsten Frings was also often in the mix in the first half, moving up to challenge for balls and operating as a pure midfielder instead of the sweeper role that he has so often been cast into in this season.
Frings had reason to feel confident in moving up as TFC’s back line looks increasingly like a unit that no longer needs its hands held. The back four of Jeremy Hall, Adrian Cann, Doneil Henry and Ashtone Morgan had a rough time in their first outing as a unit (a 3-1 loss to D.C. United last weekend) but they and Kocic have combined for back-to-back shutouts.
“We carried the intensity from our Wednesday game to this game and we were battling for those second balls,” Morgan said. “We can breathe now. This stress is off our chest. Our last two games we have wins and two clean sheets, it’s definitely a sign of change.”
There were still moments of concern for the Reds in the game, as the Union began to threaten in the second half. Midfielder Michael Farfan launched a booming shot in the 50th minute that banked off the crossbar. In the 75th minute, Toronto was unable to clear the ball as several Union players buzzed around the net, requiring Kocic to make two saves, one a dangerous close-range attempt from Farfan.
“In the end, it was a little bit exciting because two or three times, Philadelphia came way out and were close to making a goal,” Winter said. “In the first 20 minutes we had four 100 per cent chances and those have to go.”
Adding to the tension was referee Juan Guzman, known for his quick trigger with bookings. Guzman handed out four yellow cards (two to each team) in the first half alone and it seemed as if an ejection was inevitable, but both sides kept the physical play in check as the game progressed.
The victory allowed TFC to avoid tying the modern MLS record of 10 consecutive losses, set by Real Salt Lake in 2005. The 1999 MetroStars hold the overall league record of 12 straight defeats, though that streak occurred when MLS settled all ties via shootouts.
Now that the club is finally on a roll, it seems an inopportune time for a break, and yet Toronto doesn’t again until June 16 as MLS will largely go dark for FIFA international dates. Two Reds who won’t be relaxing during the break are Morgan and Julian de Guzman — both were capped for Canada’s upcoming World Cup qualifying games against Cuba on June 8 and Honduras on June 12.
Both the Honduras match and the June 3 friendly against the United States will take place at BMO Field, and Morgan is looking forward to representing his country.
“We want to set the tone in the U.S. game and get us off to a nice start to carry us into the Cuba and Honduras matches,” Morgan said. “I’ll be freeing up space and hopefully able to get up the field a little more, with the experience we have in the back. I’m excited for it.”
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