Watching Toronto FC dismantle NYCFC 4-0 Friday night from BMO Field, the film 20 Feet From Stardom came to mind. A wonderful documentary made a few a years ago, the movie focused on the talented singers that stand behind – 20 feet behind- legends like Mick Jagger and Bruce Springsteen and asks the question- why is it so hard to make that seemingly short journey?
The singers featured in the film are all immensely talented, can hit notes that the frontmen in question sometimes cannot, but for all that talent they remain in the shadows, support personnel, not stars.
The sporting version of this phenomenon is the journey from assistant coach to the head job. I don’t know the distance in feet or perhaps meters, but for New York City FC coach Dome Torrent,the trip from Pep Guardiola’s side to center stage in the Bronx is proving considerable.
Torrent last took ultimate responsibility for a team back in 2006 when he finished up at Girona, having helmed a couple of lower level clubs previously.
Since then, Torrent has worked with Pep Guardiola, every bit the superstar in the football/soccer world that Jagger or Springsteen is in the world of rock and roll. Torrent has stood those metaphorical 20 feet behind Guardiola with superclubs Barcelona, Bayern Munich, and Manchester City.
So, Torrent clearly knows the sport, and he can obviously coach, but at 56 can Torrent step into the spotlight and lead?
A bumpy start that has not improved
Torrent replaced Patrick Vieira with New York last June, starting well before overseeing a collapse that saw his club win just three of its final 13 games. They limped into the playoffs where they defeated Philadelphia 3-1 before bowing out meekly to eventual champions Atlanta United 4-1.
2019 has begun with a raft of draws, three on the trot, and then came Friday night’s disaster in Toronto.
Torrent may yet grow into what is, after all, still a fairly new role for him, and there are reasons for Friday’s result that go beyond the Spaniard. Among those reasons was an inspired Toronto performance, sparked by MLS debutante Alejandro Puzuelo, who scored two marvelous goals and assisted on another, in as fine an introduction as we are likely to see in the sport.
As it was, NYCFC was scrambling defensively from the start, relying on VAR to overrule, correctly, an early goal for the home team, for offside, and on the officials to call back a second goal, also correctly, and also for offside, later in the half.
Offensively, New York presented little real menace, their front three of Alexandru Mitrita, Ismael Tajouri-Shradi, Jesús Medina unable to generate scoring chances and forced to rely on scraps from a midfield lacking a true playmaker.
Toronto finally scored a goal that stuck in the 29th minute, coming at the end of a sweeping field long move that culminated in a simple finish by Altidore off of a sublime set up from Puzuelo. This time there was no reprieve from the officials or VAR and the 1-0 scoreline stood until the short whistle.
NYC started the second stanza energetically although TFC keeper Alex Bono remained relatively untroubled in goal. The match began to slip away from NYCFC in earnest at the 58-minute mark when center-back Alexander Callens foolishly reached out and grabbed a handful of Altidore’s jersey, prompting the USMNT veteran to fall theatrically to draw the penalty kick, via VAR.
Puzuelo took the penalty, embarrassing Johnson with a panenka that floated right down the center of his goal while Johnson dove to his right.
20 minutes later Puzuelo would pick on Johnson again, thrilling the crowd in the process with a chipped goal for the ages. Toronto’s new hero spotted the USMNT netminder a few steps off of his line and sent a delicate chip cascading over his head and into the NYCFC goal.
It was a moment of magic, one Toronto coach Greg Vanney rewarded when he immediately removed Puzuello from the match to a well-deserved ovation.
When Puzuello’s replacement Jay Chapman rifled another goal past Johnson in the 83rd minute, the die was truly cast with TFC moving to 3-0-0 while New York picked up their first loss to go with three draws.