CHESTER, Pa.– Toronto FC needed to start the 2019 Major League Soccer season on a positive note.
Not only were the Reds dealing with recent elimination from the Concacaf Champions League, they still had the slow start in league play from a year ago in the back of their minds.
Captain and midfielder Michael Bradley drove away some of TFC’s recent demons by scoring a brace in Saturday’s season-opening victory over the Philadelphia Union.
“You win a lot of different ways over the course of 34 games, and today it was this way, and it’s something you can really build on because it’s a mentality win,” Toronto FC head coach Greg Vanney said. “It was just hard work from a lot of guys, and you can really start to build momentum and confidence and understanding of how to get results that way.”
Bradley said “it’s an important win, for sure.”
“It’s three big points to start the season off. We feel good about it. We wanted to start in a positive way. We talked a few times in the last few weeks about feeling like we let ourselves down in the first leg in Panama, mainly just from an intensity standpoint, from the standpoint of being ready to play a real hard game,” Bradley said. “I thought the response in those ways on Tuesday night in the second leg was very good and then again today I thought was excellent.”
The leadership of Bradley, who produced his first two-goal performance since March 14, 2009 when he was with Borussia Monchengladbach, was on display in a few key spots.
After the Union controlled the majority of play in the first half, Bradley made a run into the top of the box during a long attacking sequence and finished Auro’s cross from the right wing into the back of the net right before halftime.
— Toronto FC (@torontofc) March 2, 2019
“He covers a ton of ground,” Vanney said. “He found the right moments when to get forward. He helped us cover things behind the ball. It was a big effort by Michael. It was a big effort by a lot of guys. He was in the right spot at the right time on two occasions for sure in front of the goal and I love to see that.”
In the 62nd minute, Bradley surged into the top half of the penalty area to finish off a rebound let out into the middle of the box by Union goalkeeper Andre Blake.
— Toronto FC (@torontofc) March 2, 2019
“A lot of times he ends up getting stuck so deep, but with Marky (Delgado) back there helping at times, he can release and get himself into goal-scoring positions,” Vanney said of Bradley. “It’s not something we necessarily expect of him, but he’s fully capable of recognizing those situations and going for it.”
Vanney credited Bradley with leading by example, turning in a strong performance on the road to get his team three points.
With Bradley playing well, a trickle-down effect occurs throughout the squad that is contagious.
“It starts from the captaincy with Michael, and then the other veteran guys have to be right up next to him, and then the next layer of guys, which are the younger guys, the guys that don’t have as much experience will follow suit,” Vanney said. “We’ve got a great group of guys and a great mindset. They’ve got a great willingness this year to come out and compete and try to move things in a different direction during the season than last year. And that’s the starting point for getting tough results. Today was a tough result and that’s something to build on.”
Mar 2, 2019; Chester, PA, USA; Toronto FC defender Laurent Ciman (26) and defender Laurent Ciman (26) celebrate a victory against the Philadelphia Union at Talen Energy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Next up for the Reds is a three-game home stretch at BMO Field, and as they gain more confidence in their game, Bradley may be right back where he was Saturday.
“I think he’ll get a couple more through the course of the season,” Vanney said. “The way we look to play — today was a modified version of that, being on the road and being where we’re at. The way we’ll look to play, we’ll give him a little more freedom at times to join into things when he recognizes the right situations, and he’s smart at being able to recognize those moments. I don’t think any of us thought he’d get two today, or if he’d even score, but through the course of the season, he’ll still find a couple moments to add a goal here or there.”