Jermain Defoe scores lone goal as Toronto FC blanks San Jose
Reds improve MLS record to 6-4-1 after downing Earthquakes
With Toronto FC's 1-0 victory over the San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday, TFC has now won as many games as it did all of last season and is firmly entrenched in a playoff position in fourth place in the Eastern Conference.
But there was no celebrating after the final whistle blew. And that speaks volumes for how far Ryan Nelsen's squad has come.
Jermain Defoe scored on a penalty shot as Toronto FC entered the World Cup break on a high note with the win.
"Another box ticked," as Nelsen put it. "And we moved on."
"We're winning games now, we won that game 1-nil and we're a wee bit disappointed to tell you truth with how we played," Nelsen said.
"That's where I hoped we'd get to was to start to get the wins and the crowd would be going, 'We won but we didn't play very well.' I was praying for that time to happen. Most of the time in the past it was just praying for wins."
Toronto, now undefeated in four Major League Soccer games, improved to 6-4-1 and jumped from sixth to fourth in the East with several games in hand.
Defoe's goal came in the 27th minute, awarded when Nick Hagglund was pulled down in the box. The former Tottenham Hotspur star stepped up and slotted the ball to the far left corner, to the delight of the capacity crowd of 22,591 at sun-soaked BMO Field.
4th game winner
It was Defoe's seventh goal with Toronto and fourth game winner, one shy of the franchise record.
"I've enjoyed it," Defoe said, reflecting on his time in the MLS. "As a forward, I try to get off to a good start and hopefully relax and enjoy my football, and then I know the goals will come. Luckily the goals have come.
"Before you come you can never imagine what it's going to be like. But it's just been amazing, lucky to be at such a good club, where the players get treated right, playing with good players, a lot of young players, there's a good team chemistry, team spirit which is always important. And I believe that we can do something special this year."
He's just a lovely guy who's not afraid of any occasion. He kind of puffs his chest and just goes for it. ... Those types of personalities go a long way not just in soccer but in life.- Toronto FC coach Ryan Nelsen on defender Nick Hagglund
It was a strong afternoon for Hagglund, a 21-year-old rookie drafted 10th overall by TFC last year. The former Xavier University defender had several scoring chances, including two in less than a minute midway through the first half. On the first, he forced the Jon Busch to make a diving save. The second, he stretched for a volley that he fired just wide of the net.
"I think he's icing his groin at the moment from that volley," Nelsen said, laughing. "He's just a lovely guy who's not afraid of any occasion. He kind of puffs his chest and just goes for it. He's just that type of personality. Those types of personalities go a long way not just in soccer but in life. That's why he's just a pleasure to have around the place."
Nelsen said they spotted something special in the defender, which is why the club moved up in the draft to acquire him.
"Just that fearlessness, which in my opinion, gets you a long way in life," Nelsen said. "We saw that in him when we interviewed him, we saw that in him when he played. He's progressing exactly how we dreamed he would be, to tell you the truth. He'll only get better."
Hagglund almost scored in the 68th off a free kick after some angry moments from Nelsen and his players. Newcomer Dominic Oduro was sprinting onto a pass in the air that San Jose's Clarence Goodson reached up and stopped with his hand. Toronto players were arguing for a red card, but were awarded a free kick instead, which Hagglund headed just wide of the post.
"It's been a roller-coaster," Hagglund said of his rookie season. "It's been fun just to get to play with the guys. What a great group, and Nelsen has done nothing but great things, and encouraged me and pushed me forward, and put me in positions where I have to grow and learn and it's been exciting."
Oduro, acquired in a trade Friday that sent Alvaro Rey to the Columbus Crew, came on in the 64th minute, and the fans soon got to see the blistering speed for which the Ghanian midfield/forward is known.
"He's direct, quick," Defoe said of his new teammate. "I enjoyed [playing with him]."
The colourful Oduro is also known for the elaborate designs he shaves into his hair, still had Columbus-yellow stripes died into his hair on either side of his mohawk.
The 28-year-old had a career-high 13 goals last season, including two against Toronto.
Brazilian Gilberto had been pencilled into the starting lineup, but was replaced by Kyle Bekker just prior to kickoff after Gilberto was injured during warmup.
Toronto doesn't play another league game until June 27 when they travel to New York to face the Red Bulls.