TORONTO – With three goals in three games to start his Major League Soccer career, Toronto FC striker Robert Earnshaw is already one of the hottest goalscorers in the league.
While TFC supporters would certainly like nothing more than to see the Welsh international deliver his acrobatic front-flip goal celebration many more times this year, it's equally important that the 31-year-old also sets the tone for Toronto’s new tactical approach under manager Ryan Nelsen by pressing the opposition at the top of Toronto’s 4-5-1 formation.
“Scoring goals is just a bonus,” Earnshaw told MLSsoccer.com. “For me, the main objective is to make my team win and to help my teammates. I would definitely say that it is controlled energy [that I bring to games]. When I’m playing up top, I have to set the tempo for the team. If I start to close down the opposition, then my teammates have to follow me.
WATCH: Earnshaw's latest strike vs. MTL
“For me, I’ve got to try and do my best. I have to get myself scoring chances, but I also have to try and create for my teammates. If I can close someone down and put someone under pressure so my team will get a chance, that’s the biggest thing for me. It’s controlled energy because I have to be thinking out there. Sometimes it is 4-v-1 and it’s hard work.”
MLS fans have seen a multitude of forwards and attacking players enter the league from across the pond over the years, bringing a myriad of different styles with them. Many have used their experience as classic goal poachers, bringing little more than their opportunism.
Earnshaw respects those types of players for what they bring to the table, but he has always strived to do more than just score goals from the striker’s position. In that vein, he's found a like-minded manager in Ryan Nelsen.
“I’ve always played this way. But the manager does like that," Earnshaw said. "We always do our homework on teams and set whether we are going to close or not. Ryan does a lot of the homework and the hard thinking about how I dictate things from the top. I’ve always played that way, but the manager does dictate a lot of it as well.”
WATCH: Earnshaw's 1st MLS goal
While a record of one win and two losses out of the gate does not immediately suggest a gangbusters start to the 2013 campaign for TFC, the Reds have looked like a completely different team compared to the one that limped to a 14-game league winless streak to end last year.
During that rough stretch, Toronto exhibited little energy and generally allowed the opposition to dictate play. The end result more often than not was late goals conceded and points dropped.
The new Reds are a team transformed, playing a high-tempo and defensively organized game in which they have dominated quality opponents for large stretches of their three matches.
According to Earnshaw, the goal now is to deliver complete performances over a full 90 minutes, week in and week out.
“Right now we have played half games where we have done well,” Earnshaw said. “Maybe it is the first half or the second half. That’s not good enough. Our standards for a full 90-minute game have to be raised. But it will come. It’s still a new team and still a case of people trying to get used to playing with each other. I think that over the coming weeks we will get better at it.”