Ricketts plays hero again as Toronto FC extends club-record win streak to six
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TORONTO — The number six written large on the white board in Toronto FC's dressing room said it all.
Thanks to a 77th-minute Tosaint Ricketts' header, Toronto extended its franchise-record win streak to six games Saturday with an eventful 3-2 win over expansion Minnesota United.
Toronto (7-1-4) had to do it the hard way, losing Sebastian Giovinco and Nick Hagglund to injury during the game with Jason Hernandez subbed at halftime due to illness.
"Even on a day when things weren't perfect, we found a way to really push and really go for it ... in a way where there was only going to be one team walking away with three points," said captain Michael Bradley
The injuries — and a second-half pushback from Minnesota — made for a wide-open final 45 minutes that produced four goals before 27,249 fans at BMO Field.
"A little too entertaining for my liking ... They kept matching our goals," Toronto coach Greg Vanney said.
But Vanney took pride in the resilience of his league-leading team on the day and during a recent gruelling part of the schedule. Toronto's last five wins — Houston, Orlando, Seattle, Columbus and Minnesota — have come since April 28.
"Guys are exhausted," said Vanney. "They've put a lot into this stretch and exceeded any of our expectations over this (run) in terms of taking points in every game."
After the game, Bradley called on the league to improve its scheduling.
The good news is the team doesn't play again until Friday, but that kicks off another five-game, 15-day stretch.
Hagglund's knee injury appears the most serious on the day, requiring an MRI. Veteran centre back Drew Moor, who has been out since mid-April with an irregular heartbeat, is close to a full return, however, so a replacement is likely available if needed.
Minnesota (3-6-2) likely deserved a better fate — at least a point. After a dreadful start (0-3-1) that saw the team leak 18 goals, Minnesota arrived on the back of a 2-0 win over Sporting Kansas City and had lost just once in its last four games (2-1-1).
The Loons are 0-4-2 on the road, however.
"The last few weeks they are starting to believe in what we are trying to do," Minnesota coach Adrian Heath said. "I think the most important thing, from our point of view, is that we are getting better."
Giovinco, returning from a heel injury, scored from the penalty spot in the 20th minute for his sixth of the season. The Italian exited in the 44th minute as precautionary measure after feeling tightness in his quad. He was replaced by Jozy Altidore.
Altidore made the winning goal, fighting off Minnesota defenders before delivering a perfect cross for Ricketts, who was also the hero with two late goals off the bench in a 2-1 midweek win in Columbus.
Kevin Molino scored for Minnesota in the 52nd minute only to see Toronto pull back into the lead on a Christian Ramirez own goal two minutes later.
Molino tied it up in the 62nd minute, tapping in a rebound after Alex Bono saved his penalty.
Hagglund had hobbled off prior to the penalty. Vanney delayed making his final substitution because he wanted to see the outcome of the penalty. Had it missed, he planned to throw on defender Justin Morrow. But once the game was tied, he elected for offence by introducing Victor Vazquez.
Vanney had five of his starters from the 2016 MLS Cup final on the bench as well as Vazquez, who leads the league in assists. He would need them as the game unfolded.
"I think we have an incredibly deep team with players capable of starting on a lot of teams around this league that don't always get to start for us every weekend," Vanney said.
Added Bono: "The power we can bring off the bench is outstanding."
Toronto had most of the early possession but it did not translate into scoring chances. That changed when a Benoit Cheyrou ball found Raheem Edwards streaking into the penalty box. Ghanaian forward Abu Danladi bundled him down and Giovinco's penalty found the centre of the goal in the 21st minute.
Giovinco's go-to penalty is to the goalkeeper's right but he switched it up after seeing Nick Rimando save his spot kick in the season opener.
Bono made a world-class save in first-half stoppage time, clawing a Miguel Ibarra shot from the edge of the penalty box over the bar.
Minnesota pulled even on a fierce right-footed shot by Molino that left Bono rooted to the spot. But the tie was short-lived after a Bradley free kick deflected in off Ramirez after the striker was wrestling with Chris Mavinga at the far post.
Edwards was penalized for handball off a corner, prompting the Molino penalty in the 62nd minute.
Toronto failed to convert ties into wins in four of its first five outings this season but has been perfect since a 2-1 loss in Columbus on April 15.
The last team to win six straight in one season was New England in 2015.
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