Akinola's Brace Not Enough as Toronto FC Draw Opening Match in Group C
BarnBurner Sports Writer
Monday, July 13, 2020
Orlando, Fl---Toronto FC homegrown player, Ayo Akinola, scored a brace and took full advantage of his opportunity but it was not enough as the 10-men D.C. United side battled back and tied it up to secure a point in the Group C table.
After having their match rescheduled twice, Toronto and D.C. were able to kick off their opening match in Group C of the MLS is Back Tournament.
Today’s match saw the MLS debut of Pablo Piatti, who Toronto FC signed as their third DP when captain Michael Bradley re-signed with the club on a TAM deal. The 31-year-old had played in La Liga for most of his career and is now in a position where he will be relied on to use his creativity to bolster the club’s offense.
Toronto FC head coach Greg Vanney went with a 4-2-3-1 formation for this morning’s match: Quentin Westberg starting in-goal, Justin Morrow, Chris Mavinga, Omar Gonzalez, and Auro Jr. on the backline, Marky Delgado and captain Michael Bradley as the defensive midfielders, Tsubasa Endoh, Alejandro Pozuelo, and the debuting Pablo Piatti as the attacking midfielders, and Ayo Akinola as the lone striker up top.
From the opening whistle, Toronto FC were the much better team; they were sound defensively and showcased their crafty playmaking ability to cause trouble for D.C.’s backline and defensive strategies.
It was not long before Toronto got on the scoresheet as Akinola scored off a spectacular strike to give them the 1-0 lead in the 12th minute. Akinola, 20, was in Toronto FC’s starting-XI in place of DP Jozy Altidore, who is still not match fit. This was a great opportunity for Akinola in that an impressive performance in this match could see him gaining a lot more playing time especially with Altidore out of the lineup for the time being and I Achara out for the remainder of the year due to injury.
Akinola continued making contributions to the attack and that hard work paid off as he added a second goal in the 44th minute, when he charged in to tap the ball past D.C. goalkeeper Bill Hamid, who overcommitted when Pozuelo had control of the ball in the box, leaving Akinola open for the pass. This had only been the third time in Akinola started a game in MLS and made this a memorable one by scoring a brace.
Bradley, who was playing for the first time since the MLS Cup Final, played the full 90-minutes and looked great. The captain was a calming presence in the midfield and allowed Toronto’s play to flow nicely with his strong box-to-box play.
Toronto FC had been in control for the entirety of the first half and looked as though they would be able to cruise to a victory after Junior Moreno was sent off for receiving a second yellow card, but that was not the case as the 10-men D.C. United side came into the second half refocused and a lot more improved.
Federico Higuain, who made his D.C. debut when he subbed in during the second half, gave his new club hope when he took advantage of an error from Toronto’s backline and chipped the ball over Westberg to get DC within one. Shortly after, D.C. United defender Frederic Brillant scored off a header to even it up at 2-2 with less than 5-minutes remaining in stoppage time.
Following the match, Vanney brought up that the climate and early morning start time is a mental hurdle that the players would have to overcome and was critical of how the match essentially took a turn for the worst for Toronto saying "as a group, we shut it down before it was over." Vanney will most likely make some adjustments in match 2 in Group C, but there were positives with the performances of Akinola, Bradley, and the debuting Piatti that the club can take away from this morning’s draw.
Although this was not the result Toronto FC wanted or thought would be the case after a strong first half, they do have one point and can get back on track Thursday night, when they take on rivals Montreal Impact in their second match in Group C.
Photo Credit: Toronto FC (@TorontoFC)