FLUSHING, N.Y. — Without influential players on both ends of the field again, and playing in an unfamiliar setting at Citi Field, Toronto FC weren’t going to be deterred in the Eastern Conference Semifinal.
It was another knockout game, just like so many others they’ve played over the last few years. The Reds know, whether it's the Concacaf Champions League, Canadian Championship or, in this case, the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs, what is required to survive and advance.
“We have played on as many big days in the last few years as any team in this league, and we have guys who understand what these nights are about and it showed,” Toronto FC captain Michael Bradley said (watch below).
Despite playing without star forward Jozy Altidore and his US men’s national team teammate Omar Gonzalez in the back, Toronto FC upset the East’s top seed in New York City FC, winning 2-1 on the road to reach the Eastern Conference Final.
“The mentality is really strong with this team, the work rate is really strong, the quality is there, they believe in themselves,” Toronto FC coach Greg Vanney said. “Anything is possible when all those things are put together.”
And because Toronto FC are among the final four teams remaining in the playoffs, it means Altidore has another valuable week to rehab.
“He’s getting there. He’s been able to get his high speed running and all that stuff up to where we’re comfortable, but he still hasn’t been able to really shoot and unleash shots,” Vanney said. “Giving us six, seven more days is huge. We’re very optimistic we’ll get him there. it’s just seeing how his body responds to every new thing we add into his return.”
As for Gonzalez, Vanney said he was available if needed to lock things down defensively late Wednesday night. Another week will also do him wonders.
“What that does is give him seven more days where for sure he’ll be fine by then,” Vanney said. “He was ready if we really needed it, push comes to shove.”
In Altidore’s stead, Alejandro Pozuelo scored a brace, including the 90th-minute panenka penalty kick. Setting up the PK was Richie Laryea, who again came off the bench to influence the game with his speed.
“When guys are tied, he’s a disaster to have to deal with,” Vanney said of Laryea. “He did what he's done so many times this year, which is eliminate guys and drive to the endline and get himself in position to cross. [Ronald Matarrita] chose to try to win the ball and that was that.”
Beating favored NYCFC on the road in the midweek, after needing extra time to knock off D.C. United at home Saturday, only serves as an added confidence boost moving forward when the Reds play either Atlanta United or the Philadelphia Union. Even more so since they accomplished both while shorthanded.
“The mentality to understand what the game was going to be about, to just go for it, to lay everything we had on the field, that part was incredible,” Bradley sad.