TORONTO – Injuries left Toronto FC depleted heading into their game against the Columbus Crew Saturday, but a 2-0 victory showed they passed that test with flying colors.
Jermain Defoe was absent, captain Steven Caldwell, suspended. Toronto head coach Ryan Nelsen said earlier in the week that the game against the Columbus Crew would be a test not for his starting lineup, but roster spots 12-18.
“It was a very professional and hardened performance,” Nelsen told reporters via conference call after the game. “It’s very hard to win away in this league and to be able to take two road wins in these four games is very pleasing. To perform like this away from home gives us a lot of confidence.”
With Defoe out of the picture, it was up to another Toronto FC Designated Player to step up, and Michael Bradley did just that, scoring the first goal from a very tight angle. Holding the 1-0 lead, Toronto struck again late in the game, Issey Nakajima-Farran scoring his first goal for his MLS debut.
Nelsen was left impressed by the entirety of his roster.
“I thought we were magnificent today,” Nelsen said. “It’s very hard to single one individual out because I thought everybody was just brilliant. Nick Hagglund and Bradley Orr at the back looked like they’d been playing together for a long time together and Jackson had one of the best games I’ve seen him play on both sides of the ball.”
One such standout was Hagglund, the rookie defender who made his debut after being drafted 10th overall by Toronto FC in January.
“He showed why we liked the man and we’re high on him,” Nelsen said. “He’s not scared of the occasion at all, he loves it. If he keeps progressing the way he’s progressing he’s going to be a very accomplished center back in this league for years to come.”
Nelsen explained that his lineup was set up in such a way as to limit the space available for Federico Higuain and Dominic Oduro. He added that Kyle Bekker and Bradley offered a balance that meant Columbus “couldn’t hurt” TFC.
If it didn’t hurt on the scoreline, it sure did in the dressing rooms afterwards, as Nelsen explained that he had “five or six guys carrying knocks.”
“If I had to make six or seven injury substitutions I would have had to,” Nelsen said. “It was kind of who was the most injured that had to come off.”
Ultimately, Toronto FC will celebrate its third win in four games, a win that sees the club already reach the half-way mark for victories when compared to the six wins it earned in the 2013 season.
“To have nine points out of four [games], I’m obviously extremely happy with that,” Nelsen said. “Once we get playing together and get our combinations together we’ll be a different animal.”