After a slow start to the year, Toronto FC arguably made a statement Saturday night and silenced some critics in the process, picking up their first victory of the 2023 MLS season by defeating Inter Miami CF, 2-0, on a frigid night at BMO Field.
The Reds, who failed to hold a lead in each of their first three prior outings (while going 0W-1L-2D), snapped a nine-game winless streak stretching back to last season. They accomplished that without Italian national team forward Lorenzo Insigne, who was forced to watch from the sidelines as he recovers from a groin injury.
"It was important [to win] tonight," Toronto head coach and sporting director Bob Bradley told reporters after the match. "The beginnings of seasons are strange, between weather and fields. Look, it is what it is, but cold-weather teams have it a little bit harder."
Added midfielder Jonathan Osorio, who scored in his 11th straight season for the club: "It feels great. What matters is the three points honestly. … Today, we made it a point that we had to be aggressive, that we had to be on the front foot and manage the game well, and most importantly get the three points, and I think overall the performance was really good by the team."
Toronto aren't afraid to spend, but with that comes increased expectations for the 2017 MLS Cup champions. A roster filled with big names and proven winners – including former Juventus winger Federico Bernardeschi, ex-Napoli winger Insigne and new goalkeeper Sean Johnson – has a monkey off their back and can now breathe a sigh of relief.
"Most of all, the players needed to feel a good win," Bradley said. "They needed to feel a team effort where everybody comes in at the end of the game and everybody knows that all the guys have contributed. And look, that includes guys that don’t play because if you’re going to have good training in a week, you’ve got to have everybody coming in every day with the right mentality."
Johnson, who signed this winter in free agency after an esteemed New York City FC career, made three saves to earn his first clean sheet as a Red. It took Toronto 22 matches to pitch a clean sheet last season, and they conceded 66 goals while missing the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs for a second straight year.
Johnson, two center backs (former FC Dallas captain Matt Hedges and Norwegian international Sigurd Rosted), and left back Raoul Petretta were all brought in to shore up TFC’s backline. That's paying dividends with Toronto allowing just two goals over their last three matches, ensuring Mark-Anthony Kaye's second-half goal sealed the win over Miami.
"I think we were solid in all ways," Bradley said on the team’s defending. "Overall, the team commitment to find moments to press and in other moments make sure that we were compact and closing things down, I thought that was good."
Top-to-bottom, there was a lot Toronto will be happy about with their Matchday 4 performance.
Osorio said the team "improved from the first three games" and that’s a step in the right direction for a club that’s looking to get back to their 2017 heydays, when they hoisted a historic treble (MLS Cup, Supporters’ Shield, and Canadian Championship).
"It’s huge, especially with the way our season has begun," Osorio said. "This win is huge."
HIGHLIGHTS: Toronto FC vs. Inter Miami CF | March 18, 2023