In the provinces of Quebec and Ontario, Highway 401 connects Canada’s two largest metropolitan centers, Toronto and Montreal.
But in Major League Soccer’s “401 Derby,” between Toronto FC and the Montreal Impact, it was Toronto who will take the busy highway home happy, after putting up a convincing 2-0 win against their bitter rivals next door. Besides local derby pride, the Reds have all three points tucked in the trunk, too.
“I think we were in a lot better control,” Toronto FC manager Ryan Nelsen told reporters via phone after the match. “[Defenders] Warren [Creavalle], Doneil [Henry] and Nick [Hagglund] are in their early 20s, Justin [Morrow] and [goalkeeper] Joe [Bendik] are still young and it was a very experienced and composed performance in the back. We possessed the ball with control and with purpose instead of just for possession’s sake. In the end, the performance was fantastic.”
Absent one Designated Player up top in Jermain Defoe, it was Toronto’s other two DPs, Michael Bradley and Gilberto, who turned up in style, the former dominating the middle of the park and the latter scoring his first game-winning goal.
“Michael Bradley, it was his best performance in a Toronto FC shirt by a long way,” Nelsen said. “Gil, he’s used to the league now. His body’s getting used to it, he’s stronger now and in all honesty he’s only going to get better and better.”
“He’s also understanding a bit more English, too – he doesn’t understand New Zealander but we’ll work on that!”
But while Gilberto and Luke Moore celebrated their goals, Defoe watched from the sidelines, ruled out for this encounter with a groin injury.
“He’s had a niggling groin injury for two or three weeks now,” Nelsen explained. He’s had it for a while and he felt it in the D.C. game. He’s going to get an image tomorrow and we’re going to see from there.”
That injury might just rule Defoe out from the MLS All Star game, too.
“It’s serious enough that he couldn’t really play well on Wednesday and he couldn’t play at all today,” Nelsen said. “I know the MLS All Star game is a great honor and it’s something that Jermain would want to play but we have to look at his health throughout the season.”
The win was much needed for Toronto’s players, who are coming off back-to-back losses against Sporting Kansas City and D.C. United in what has been a busy and tiring July. But, Nelsen says, his side didn’t feel the fatigue of multiple games, in part due to help in the stands from the traveling Toronto contingent.
“The traveling support was amazing,” Nelsen said. “I can’t thank them enough. We were tired, it was hot and we had played on Wednesday and the support really got us over the line. We could have been tired and making excuses but when you hear the fans singing and cheering, it helps get you over that line and the players are so appreciative of it.”