TFC earns thrilling win over Minnesota after Pozuelo, Hamilton braces

Toronto FC midfielder Alejandro Pozuelo (10) scores on the Minnesota United. (Christopher Katsarov/CP)

• Minnesota United 3 (Quintero 17’, 70’; Rodriguez 57’), Toronto FC 4 (Pozuelo 28’, 30’; Hamilton 77’, 79’)
• “Super sub” Hamilton bags late brace in Toronto win
• TFC earn 4th win of season, end winless run at two games

TORONTO – What a game!

BMO Field has witnessed plenty of memorable contests in its time, but it’s difficult to remember one more entertaining than Friday night’s affair between Toronto FC and Minnesota United.

Alejandro Pozuelo and Jordan Hamilton both scored two goals in a back-and-forth affair that saw three lead changes in a 4-3 win for Toronto on a rainy night before an announced crowd of 22,651.

Hamilton came off the bench to score two late goals and propel TFC to the come-from behind victory. Pozuelo also collected an assist on the night, and he now has four goals and five assists in five games since signing as Toronto’s newest Designated Player last month.

TFC coach Greg Vanney was full of praise for the Spanish playmaker, calling him “a quality player who can do special things in special moments.”

Toronto is now 4-1-1 on the season, and snapped a modest-two game winless run. On the positive side, the attack is in in fine form, with 18 goals through the first six games of the season. But the team clearly has defensive issues, with 11 goals conceded and just one clean sheet, a fact not lost on Vanney.

“We got three points out of the game, showed some resiliency, some fight,” he said. “There’s clearly some things we need to work on and deal with. Too many soft goals tonight that keep putting us in this position to fight back from.

“The one thing that’s great out of this first six games is that we can score goal, but on the flip side we have to stop conceding goals.”

Vanney later added: “The points are fantastic. We always need to take the points. But we also need to be making progress as a team.”

Another issue brewing behind the scenes appears to be the growing tension between forward Jozy Altidore and club president Bill Manning.

Subbed out late in Friday’s game due to hamstring tightness, Altidore called out Manning, explaining that the trainer associated with former teammate Sebastian Giovinco was let go by TFC when Giovinco was sold to a Saudi Arabian club in January.

“We had a trainer here [Giuseppe Gueli] the last three years that’s been helping me avoid muscle injuries. But because he was attached to Seba, he’s not allowed in the club, which I think is ridiculous,” Altidore fumed.

“So now, this is what I’m faced with: Games of egos and [that sort] of thing. Hopefully, [Manning] can put his ego aside and I can get the guy that has kept me healthy, kept [captain] Michael [Bradley] healthy, kept a bunch of the guys healthy, and we can make things move forward. To run a club, you gotta be able to put your ego aside and out the players first. Hopefully that will change.”

Vanney made two lineup changes from last week’ 3-2 loss in Seattle, sitting goalkeeper Quentin Westberg and defender Eriq Zavaleta. Alex Bono was back in net and Canadian Richie Laryea also earned a start.

Brazilian fullback Auro Jr., who missed the last two games with a hamstring issue, came on as a second-half substitute. Veteran defender Drew Moor (abductor) was unavailable for a second-straight match.

Friday’s contest was the first at BMO Field since the new hybrid pitch was installed – the old playing surface was recently reinforced with artificial fibres stitched into the natural grass.

Toronto stormed out of the gate, with its vibrant and pressing attacking lay siege upon Minnesota’s goal. But it was the visitors who opened the scoring when Darwin Quintero beat Bono to a long ball played to the edge of the box and tapped it into an empty net.

Pozuelo drew the home side level on a fabulous solo effort, going on a lengthy run straight down the middle that started inside his half and ended with him curling a majestic shot from 20 yards out into the top corner.

Two minutes later, Justin Morrow made a probing run down the left flank and played a low ball into the middle for Pozuelo to blast by Minnesota goalkeeper Vito Mannone from in close.

Pozuelo’s two goals clocked in at 110 seconds, a new club record, beating the old mark held by Altidore (two goals 113 seconds apart vs. Orlando on August 22, 2015).

Pozuelo nearly completed his hat trick moments later, but Mannone came up with a fabulous diving save to deny the Spaniard.

Minnesota came out far more aggressive in attack to start the second half and was rewarded for its efforts. Romain Metanire played a sensational in-swinging cross from the right flank deep into the box, and teammate Angelo Rodriguez peeled away from Toronto defender Laurent Ciman to power a header off the underside of the crossbar and past Bono.

Minnesota retook the lead when Quintero converted from the penalty spot after Toronto defender Chris Mavinga hacked down Rodriquez inside the box. The goal was Quintero’s fifth in his last two outings against Toronto.

The lead was short-lived, though, as Hamilton came to the rescue.

After entering the game in the 74th minute, Hamilton tied things up off a setup from fellow Canadian Jonathan Osorio, firing a shot by Mannone from close range. Two minutes later, Hamilton beat a Minnesota defender to a looping ball played into the box by Altidore and headed it into an empty net to restore Toronto’s advantage.

Minnesota ended the game with nine players after Jan Gregus was issued a red card and Francisco Calvo earned his second yellow caution in the dying minutes of regulation time.

NOTES: Instead of their all-red home kits, TFC wore an eco-friendly, navy blue uniform to celebrate Earth Day weekend… Friday marked only the third meeting between these two sides. Minnesota won 4-3 last year courtesy of a Quintero hat trick. Toronto won 3-2 in 2017… TFC’s next match is at home vs. the Portland Timbers on April 27.

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