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Gritty defensive performance leads TFC to much-needed win


CHESTER, Pa. — For defending MLS champs Toronto FC, 2018 has not been the prettiest season of recent history. From their CONCACAF Champions League Finals defeat in Mexico to their inconsistencies back in league play, they’ve look like a shear image of the team from a season ago.

One issue for Toronto this season has been defending, with numerous injuries causing frequent changes on the back end. No matter how many talented attackers they possess, their 23 goals allowed is in the top-five most in the Eastern Conference. Greg Vanney’s men threw all of that out the window on Friday, grabbing an important 2-0 road win against the Philadelphia Union.

It was Toronto’s first road win of 2018, and their first overall since Oct. 30. Jonathan Osorio propelled the visitors with a goal in each half, while defensively they shut down an energized Union attack and kept them off the board for the second time this season.

“Tonight was a good three points,” Vanney said. “Given where we are at, it’s important and anytime you can go on the road and win it’s huge.

“Jonathan had two good goals tonight and I think everyone put in a good shift. He made the most of his chances, and we had a few other chances that we probably let go. Three points is three points and that’s what we need right now.”

The 25-year-old Canadian opened things in the 19th minute as he received a wonderful through ball pass from Victor Vazquez and curled an effort past Andre Blake. It was a superb team play which caught the Union’s young centerbacks sleeping and an experienced TFC was able to capitalize.

Osorio later iced the match in the 79th minute as he was played in again, this time by Sebastian Giovinco and beat Blake one-on-one for his fourth goal of the season. The midfielder feels the club is moving in the right direction with the win, and was happy the team got they what they wanted from the match.

“It was a step in the right direction and it’s what we wanted in the end,” Osorio said. “It was key to get three points especially with a little break coming up, and now we have to take this into Wednesday.”

Toronto held the Union to four shots on goal, but dodged some bullets throughout. Alex Bono stoned Fafa Picault on a breakaway in the 13th minute, while the Union also had a goal ruled out for offsides. Picault struck the bar with a curling effort in the second-half, but in the end the visitors held on for an important step in their quest for a turnaround.

Nick Hagglund returned to the backline for TFC, pairing with veteran Jason Hernandez as the centerback duo. It was Hagglund’s fourth appearance of the season, and his first start since March 17th. The return of another central defender is key for Toronto who have adjusted their backline numerous times this season. It has also allowed captain Michael Bradley to return to his preferred midfield position, which improves the team as a whole.

“Defense was out first priority today and in recent memory we’ve struggled to finish out games,” Hagglund said. “We built a foundation that we’re going to be tough to play against, and tonight we had some big moments where defensively we did what we needed to do.”

“They talk about momentum all the time in MLS, so now we have to take this back and home and help give us a nice cushion heading into the break.”

Toronto’s win was their fourth of the season which sees them jump into ninth place in the Eastern Conference standings. They return home for a midweek clash against bottom-place D.C. United on Wednesday before an 11-day break. Friday’s win may not have solved all of their problems, but it certainly has given them some life as they look to hit the restart button on their season.

“I’m happy for our guys for working through things especially tonight,” Vanney said. “We finished the chances we needed to and we gave ourselves some breathing room late. Our guys grinded tonight and we came up with the right answers to a lot of questions being asked of us.”

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