Pozuelo Scores Late Penalty to Keep Supporters' Shield Hopes Alive for Toronto
BarnBurner Sports Writer
Sunday, November 1, 2020
Alejandro Pozuelo scored a clutch penalty kick in the 84th minute to secure a crucial three points to keep Toronto FC’s Supporters’ Shield hopes alive.
Toronto hosted their final regular season match in Hartford on Sunday night and there was an energy boost as a limited number of fans were allowed to attend, which provided Toronto with somewhat of a home field advantage.
Toronto coach Greg Vanney had some positive news ahead of the match as Chris Mavinga and Ayo Akinola were cleared to return to the lineup after they, along with a number of other day-to-day starters, had been ruled out for the time being due to injuries.
Vanney went with a 4-2-3-1 formation: Quentin Westberg starting in-goal; Auro Jr., Eriq Zavaleta, Chris Mavinga, and Tony Gallacher on the backline; Ralph Priso, Tsubasa Endoh, Nick DeLeon, Alejandro Pozuelo, and captain Michael Bradley in the midfield; and Ayo Akinola as the striker up top.
Although they have already secured a playoff berth, Toronto still had plenty to play for as they are still contenders for the Supporters’ Shield, which is awarded to the MLS club with the most points during the regular season. Current leaders, Philadelphia Union, were defeated by Columbus 2-1 earlier, which gave Toronto an opportunity to tie them for the top spot and keep themselves in the Supporters’ Shield race.
This was Toronto’s first matchup with the expansion-side Inter Miami, who had been battling for a playoff spot since their disappointing start to the season. Even though they are not a top of the table club, they do possess plenty of firepower in their offence and quality players like Rodolfo Pizarro and Gonzalo Higuain, who joined the club mid-season on free transfer from Juventus.
It took a while before both teams found any sort of rhythm offensively. The first half was more structured with both teams not really taking too many risks with their attacks. “We needed to be more dynamic. Our decisions needed to be faster. The ball needed to move faster” said Vanney, who spoke on how his club performed in the first half, before adjusting his formation and subbing on another attacker to help deal with Miami’s 5-man backline.
Miami got on the scoresheet in the 42nd minute, when Lewis Morgan's shot deflected off Bradley and bounced towards Blaise Matuidi, who struck a perfectly placed shot past Westberg for his first MLS goal, giving Miami the 1-0 lead going into halftime.
Toronto performed much better in the second half and it paid off early on when Akinola tied the match up in the 55th minute following a cross from Patrick Mullins, which saw him bring the ball down off his chest and strike in the back of the net for his ninth goal of the season.
Priso did not look out of place in his first MLS start. The 18-year old was creative and did a good job in breaking up plays to allow Toronto to get possession back and free up space for an attack on goal. During the post-game media availability, I asked coach Vanney what he thought of Priso’s performance in his first MLS start and dealing with the added pressure of being in the starting-XI. Vanney was impressed and spoke on Priso’s preparation for tonight’s match:
“I thought he was excellent. I thought he covered a lot of ground. He won balls back, he was sharp in his possessions to get in and out of spaces. I thought he was great, I mean for his first start in MLS, that’s a hell of a way to start.”
Fortunately for Toronto, they were able to remain composed defensively and close out the match; Both Gonzalo and Federico Higuain had excellent opportunities to tied it up in the final minutes, with Gonzalo getting the closest with a powerful strike, but it ended up bouncing off the crossbar.
Toronto will have an opportunity to capture their second Supporters’ Shield next week when they take on the New York Red Bulls in the final match of the regular season. Toronto could capture the Supporters’ Shield if they win or draw with New York and if Philadelphia loses their final regular season match.
Photo Credit: Toronto FC