It was a lesson learned the hard way, but it was a lesson learned well.
Two weeks ago against the San Jose Earthquakes, Toronto FC tried to sit on a 1-0 lead and finally paid for it on a late equalizer off a long throw-in. On Saturday in Columbus, TFC kept took that experience to heart in keeping their foot on the gas in a big 4-2 win over the Crew.
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“I think we learned from the other week when we played San Jose,” defender Richard Eckersley said after Saturday's win, recalling the anger in the changing room after the San Jose match. “We scored the goal and then we dropped back and we can’t do that, especially against decent teams because eventually you’re defending for 60 or 70 minutes and they’re going to score a goal.”
It was obvious a change in attitude was needed.
“We said straight away if we score a goal then we push and then we get another,” Eckersley said. “We’re a good team. I don’t see why we can’t do that all the time and keep pressing them and keep them under pressure. Otherwise, if we just sit back, they’re going to overload us and they’re going to get a lucky goal at some point.”
The victory on Saturday might be significant for other reasons to Toronto supporters – it was the Reds’ first win in 13 MLS matches against the Crew, and their first on the road this season. Combined with an April 23 draw in Toronto, the match also brought home the Trillium Cup, the emblem of supremacy between the two clubs.
But in the long run, the significance could be that Toronto learned to keep pressing, to keep playing football even with the lead and instead of sitting on leads to try to build on them.
That’s exactly what happened on Saturday: Toronto scored two first-half goals. Then after an injury – first reported as bruised hip or charley horse – forced just returned keeper Stefan Frei from the game, Columbus struck for a goal. But TFC scored again. And when Columbus again cut the lead to one, the Reds came back to restore the two-goal margin.
“We could have gone into our shell and just defended it and just held out,” Eckersley said. “But we would have been defending for 25 minutes and we knew that we needed to push for more goals because we can create things now, we’re not afraid of any team in this league. I think we showed that tonight.”