Toronto FC begins MLS season on winning note in Philadelphia

Michael-Bradley

TFC captain Michael Bradley, left, in action against Philadelphia on Saturday. (AP Photo/Rich Schultz)

Toronto FC 3 (Bradley 45’+3’, 62’; DeLeon 90’+4′), Philadelphia Union 1 (Fabian 73’)
• TFC open MLS regular season with win in Philly
• Michael Bradley bags 1st brace for the Reds

Fresh off being eliminated at the first hurdle in the Concacaf Champions League, Toronto FC rebounded with a hard-fought 3-1 road win over the Philadelphia Union on Saturday afternoon in the MLS regular season curtain raiser.

Captain Michael Bradley bagged his first brace for TFC, scoring on either side of halftime for the visitors. Newcomer Nick DeLeon also scored for the Reds, who won a season opener for the first time since 2016.

Serious questions about Toronto’s stability followed the club to Philadelphia after a tumultuous off-season that saw a new GM installed, and both Sebastian Giovinco and Victor Vazquez sold to foreign clubs. The team’s premature exit in the Champions League only led to more doubts about the Reds ahead of the new MLS campaign.

This result won’t silence the critics, and nor should it – Toronto remains a work in progress as it seeks to continue to build its roster through the opening weeks of the season. But this was a positive start and a much-needed win by TFC, and can give coach Greg Vanney something solid to build upon.

“It was a mentality win,” Vanney told reporters after the game.

“Obviously, the soccer will get better and continue to grow as we go through a long season. Today was a beautiful win.”

While Bradley was the goal-scoring hero on the day, Chris Mavinga was immense in marshalling Toronto’s bend-but-don’t-break defence that gave very little away against Philadelphia. TFC gave up a franchise-worst 64 goals in 2018, and this was exactly the type of game they would have conceded a late goal in last season, crumbling under the pressure to see things out. Instead, Vanney’s men showed great composure in weathering a late storm by the Union, who poured on the pressure in the final 10 minutes of regulation.

Credit should also be given to DeLeon for his smart and incisive play on the wing. Vanney complained last season that the team too often tried to build through the middle, and that penetrating wide players were needed to give the attack some width. DeLeon appears up to the task.

“A character win, it definitely was not pretty but we hustled out a result. A character win goes a long way, a big win for us,” DeLeon offered.

Forward Jozy Altidore was unavailable due to a minor knee issue, so Canadian Jordan Hamilton started up front at the expense of Terrence Boyd, who was on the bench. Hamilton scored the Reds’ lone goal in their midweek Concacaf Champions League match. Drew Moor overcame injury woes suffered in pre-season to start alongside fellow centre backs Mavinga and Laurent Ciman. DeLeon made his MLS debut for Toronto, playing in a front-three that included Hamilton and Jonathan Osorio.

The opening 45 minutes were an even affair, although Toronto dodged two bullets early on. Mavinga made a last-ditch tackle to deny Union forward Cory Burke, while teammate Haris Medunjanin’s flicked header off a corner hit the far post. DeLeon’s header on the edge of the six-yard box forced a fabulous diving save from Andre Blake, and the Philly goalkeeper came up big again moments later to stop Osorio from the spot after TFC was awarded a soft penalty decision.

The visitors, though, would not be denied. After Hamilton spurned a glorious chance on a breakaway, Bradley took advantage of some slack Philly defending to slot home past a helpless Blake off a great setup from DeLeon and Auro Jr. It was the TFC captain’s first regular-season goal since Sept. 18, 2016, and his first in 85 competitive games, a stretch that dates back to the 2016 MLS playoffs.

Bradley doubled the Reds’ advantage after the halftime break, pouncing on a Blake rebound and slamming a powerful shot into the roof of the net from 12 yards out.

“Outstanding. He covered a ton of ground, knows when to get forward and when to defend. He was in the right spot at the right time on both occasions. A lot of times he ends up getting stuck deep, but with Marky [Delgado] now back he can release and get himself in goal scoring positions. It’s not something we expect of him but he’s fully capable,” Vanney said of his captain.

Philly pulled a goal back when Marco Fabian converted a penalty after Osorio was called for a hand ball. The home side was in the ascendency, and Ciman had to make a crucial goal-line clearance.

DeLeon scored deep into injury time to preserve the win for Toronto.

NOTES: Toronto swept the season series vs. Philadelphia in 2018, winning 3-0 at BMO Field and 2-0 at Talen Energy Stadium… TFC has a bye next week. The Reds return to action on March 17 when they host the New England Revolution in their home opener at BMO Field.

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