To their credit, the white-jersey wearing Reds did not wave the white flag after falling behind 2-0 to the Columbus Crew in the first half on Wednesday night.
First-year Toronto FC striker Jesus Jimenez scored early in the second half to pull TFC to within one, but despite launching attack after attack in the final 45 minutes, the Reds frustratingly couldn’t find the equalizer, allowing the Crew to depart BMO Field with a 2-1 victory.
The loss snapped a two-game Toronto win streak. TFC held a significant edge in possession (64%-36%) and fired 19 shots to 10 by Columbus. The Reds also posted seven shots on goal to three by the Crew.
TFC star midfielder Alejandro Pozuelo was brilliant in finding teammates open in attacking areas, but the lack of finish ultimately buried the host side. Pozuelo did set up Jimenez’s goal and he almost tied the match in the 86th minute when he danced the ball into the Columbus box and right-footed it just past the far goal post.
The Reds pushed hard for the equalizer in the final minutes of the match as Columbus went into a defensive shell but, again, the lack of finish was the killer.
“We’re improving. Are we all the way there? No. We’ve got to be strong because we’re not yet at a point that when we improve a little that, automatically, it takes off,” said TFC coach Bob Bradley. “It’s got to be that we continue to improve in all categories. Here I am tonight talking about our sharpness in and around the box, not what it needs to be in a game like that. We needed to be better when we get in and around the final third and in the box. Those are things that have to be developed and worked on.”
The story of the match early was the play of Toronto teenager Jacen Russell-Rowe. A former TFC Academy player, who somehow got away, Russell-Rowe, 19, made his first MLS start on Wednesday for Columbus and picked up assists on both of the Crew’s goals. The Toronto native played for TFC II in 2019 before switching to college ball with the Maryland Terrapins for two years. He then signed with Columbus Crew II in March of this year. In 11 games in Next Pro League action this season, Russell-Rowe scored 11 goals for the Young Crew. He picked up a yellow card in the 66th minute against Toronto and was substituted out of the game.
Sean Zawadzki and Darlington Nagbe scored the goals for the Crew, who took advantage of some impressive counter-attacks in the first half to take a two-goal lead.
Midfielders Michael Bradley and Jonathan Osorio, who was substituted into the game in the second half, also stood tall for Toronto. Centre back Chris Mavinga made some big defensive plays as well.
Alex Bono started in goal for TFC with Quentin Westberg out with a leg injury suffered in Toronto’s 2-1 win over Atlanta on Saturday night. TFC was without DP centre back Carlos Salcedo, who is out for personal reasons.
TFC had the best chance early when Pozuelo sent Kosi Thompson in alone, but the Toronto native right-footed it right at Columbus ’keeper Eloy Room. Thompson had 2-3 good chances to score in the half.
Columbus’ first goal came in the 18th minute when Zawadzki picked up a pass back from Russell-Rowe outside of the box and left-footed a blast high past Bono for Zawadzki’s first career MLS goal. After a couple of chances to score by Pozuelo and Thompson, Columbus scored on a quick counter-attack with some precision passing up-field ending with Nagbe picking up a pass all alone in the box from Russell-Rowe and right-footing it past Bono.
Pozuelo then set up Jimenez with a sweet pass near the front of the goal and Jimenez fired the ball just past the far post.
Russell-Rowe was sent in on a semi-breakaway but he was caught by Mavinga before getting the shot off.
Bradley made a couple of substitutions — bringing in Osorio and Deandre Kerr to start the second half — and the moves paid off with the Reds mounting some serious pressure, starting with Jimenez’s goal in the 54th minute.
Pozuelo found his countryman in the box with a high service and Jimenez headed the ball into the left corner. It was Jimenez’s eighth goal of the season, the most of any TFC player. Both Pozuelo and Osorio picked up assists.
The Reds host the Seattle Sounders on Saturday at BMO Field.
TFC newcomers from Serie A, Lorenzo Insigne and Domenico Criscito, watched Wednesday’s match from the a private box at BMO and will debut for the Reds at home on July 9 against the San Jose Earthquakes. Pozuelo said the addition of two Italian stars has lifted the spirits in the locker-room, even if they haven’t played yet.
“Of course, they are important players in Italy, in Napoli, in Genoa. We know they come to help and they’re very happy to come here. I saw when they came into the dressing room they’re very excited to play. I hope next week they can start playing,” said Pozuelo.
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