EAST HARTFORD, Conn. — After a gruelling five games in 16 days, Toronto FC departed East Hartford on Sunday night for a welcome two-day reunion -- albeit under quarantine -- with loved ones back home.
Thanks to Sunday's 1-0 win over Atlanta United (5-10-4), league-leading Toronto (12-2-5) left with 13 out of a possible 15 points from the five-game stretch. With four matches remaining in the regular season, TFC is on a roll.
"They've got a real purpose," Toronto coach Greg Vanney said of his players.
Despite injuries to some big names, Toronto is finding ways to win. On Sunday, Richie Laryea and Pablo Piatti combined for the 89th-minute decider. Laryea tormented Atlanta defender George Bello like a cat playing with a ball of wool before sending in a cross for the five-foot-four Argentine winger, who headed the ball off the back post and in the net.
"Five games in 16 days, you win them any way you can," said Vanney. "Now we regroup, we get a couple of days at home. We get a couple days of training and then another big game next go-round to start it off against Philadelphia.
"I'm really proud again of the effort. It's been an incredible five-game series by our group and everyone's stepping up and contributing in many different ways."
Toronto captain Michael Bradley, who missed the last nine games with a knee injury, came on in the 20th minute to replace Jonathan Osorio, who was feeling the effects of a contusion suffered last time out in the hip area.
It marked only Bradley's second substitute appearance in 201 career MLS regular-season matches.
Toronto hasn't needed much of a bulge to dispatch opponents this season. Sunday marked its seventh 1-0 win of the campaign and 10th victory overall by a one-goal margin.
Goalkeeper Quentin Westberg posted his sixth clean sheet of the season. Toronto has nine shutouts in total.
Vanney's club also left Hartford with a chip on its shoulder with news that the Supporters' Shield Foundation, which awards the Supporters' Shield to the team with the best regular-season record, will not be giving out the trophy this year.
The foundation cited the imbalance of the pandemic-rejigged schedule and the lack of fans at the games.
Vanney, whose team has made the Supporters' Shield a season-long goal, called the decision at this late stage of the season not to award the trophy "disappointing" and "disgraceful."
Scoring chances were few and far between Sunday at Pratt and Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field. Despite coming into the game 19 points below Toronto in the standings, Atlanta proved to be a tough nut to crack.
After a quiet first half, Atlanta showed more teeth in attack when it brought on designated players Ezequiel Barco and Marcelino Moreno at halftime. But the end product remained lacking. Atlanta's lone shot on target came in the 68th minute with Westberg forced to make a smart save off a downward header from substitute Erick Torres.
Barco had missed the last seven games through injury. Moreno, an Argentine midfielder signed on Sept. 22, played 61 minutes in his Oct. 10 debut -- a 1-0 loss to the Red Bulls -- but did not figure in the 1-1 midweek tie with Inter Miami.
Atlanta, which lost star striker Josef Martinez to a knee injury in the season opener, came into the contest 23rd in the league in goal-scoring. It is winless in four games (0-1-3) during which it has scored just once.
Wednesday marked the third straight game it has managed just one shot on target.
Still interim Atlanta head coach Stephen Glass said he was "massively" disappointed in the result.
"Because I think (with) the performance level of the players and their work rate, we deserved a lot more out of the game ... The guys can be happy with that. Obviously we've very disappointed not to get one or three points.
"But if continue that performance level in the games we have left, hopefully we'll be well situated come playoff time."
Atlanta, also playing its fifth game in 16 days, came into the contest in 11th place in the East, one place below the playoff line.
Vanney made four changes to the midweek starting 11 that tied the Red Bulls 1-1 with Tony Gallacher, Laurent Ciman, Tsubasa Endoh and Patrick Mullins coming in for Richie Laryea, Chris Mavinga, Nick DeLeon and Ayo Akinola.
Akinola and Mavinga were nursing slight hamstring issues. With star striker Jozy Altidore sidelined by a hamstring issue, it fell to Mullins to lead the attack with help from Piatti and Spanish playmaker Alejandro Pozuelo.
The last meeting between the two teams was in the Eastern Conference final in October 2019 when Toronto prevailed 2-1 in Mercedes-Benz Stadium thanks to a 78th-minute winner by DeLeon.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 18, 2020
The Canadian Press