Nearly every deep postseason run features one player rising from the supporting cast to temporary stardom.
Enter Toronto FC's Richie Laryea, who has turned each of his two substitute appearances in the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs into a game-winning goal for the Reds.
On Wednesday after entering an Eastern Conference semifinal against New York City FC, Laryea turned the corner on NYCFC defender Ronald Matarrita to earn the game-deciding penalty in Toronto's 2-1 win.
PK FOUL: Ronald Matarrita takes down Richie Laryea in the box
“Richie is just so elusive on the right side. Part of it was just trying to get him on the ball in attacking positions and let him run at guys,” Toronto coach Greg Vanney explained. “When guys are tired he’s a disaster to have to deal with. And he did what he’s done so many times this year which is eliminate guys on a drive to the end line and get himself in position to cross and their guys chose to try to win the ball.”
That penalty foul came only four days after Laryea scored the decider in TFC's 5-1, extratime victory over D.C. United in the first round.
GOAL: Richie Laryea gives Toronto the lead in extra time!
Throw in a 90-minute shift in the Canada men's national team's 2-0 win over the US men's national team in the Concacaf Nations League and it's been a heck of a stretch for the Toronto native. He's even turning the heads of the two healthy stars on the Reds' talented roster.
“Richie we know is an amazing player,” said playmaker Alejandro Pozuelo, who turned the penalty Laryea earned into an audacious, game-winning panenka. “When he comes to the pitch he always gives the maximum. He has a lot of nice, good qualities and he helps the team a lot. To me, one of the best players on this team.”
Said TFC captain Michael Bradley: "His ability to move with the ball, put guys on the wrong foot, go by guys — that part is special. And he continues to make big plays for us whether it’s as a sub or as a starter. So happy for him. So proud of him. We’ve got to keep him going and keep the group going.”
The supersub role isn't exactly a familiar one for Laryea, at least in his first year with Toronto, where 16 of his 20 MLS regular season appearances came in starts. He did feature primarily off the bench in his previous two seasons with Orlando City, though he contributed only one assist in 21 appearances for the Lions.
Even so, he has slid naturally into the late-game difference maker role this postseason. And he certainly has the mentality down.
“I just came in looking to bring a spark and help change the game,” Laryea said. “The guys fought really hard for 80 minutes before I came in and so I had to do my part and at least put in as much as I could to this game.”