Kevin O’Toole Unlocks New York City’s First Win Of The 2024 MLS Season

March 17, 2024
2 mins read
Major League Soccer (MLS) new logo, in New York on September 18, 2014. MLS unveiled the new logo ahead of its 20th season. AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad.

By James Nalton.

The pressure-relieving goal for New York City FC and head coach Nick Cushing came from the unlikeliest of sources. A header from left wing-back Kevin O’Toole, his first goal in Major League Soccer, gave NYC a much-needed 2-1 win against Toronto FC in the Bronx.

Julián Fernández’s cross to set up the goal was sublime, arced in with the outside of his left boot from the right, and a determined O’Toole was bursting in from the left to score the header.

An O’Toole header may not have been top of the list of expected goals for New York City this season, but at this moment in time, they will take them however they come.

It is still early days in the 2024 MLS season, but the hangover from last year’s poor performance combined with three defeats to kick off the new one meant there was plenty of pressure on the team and head coach Nick Cushing going into this fourth game of the new campaign.

Toronto are much improved under new head coach John Herdman, and had a draw and two wins to show for it going into this fixture, but Cushing consigned his compatriot to his first defeat and first goals conceded as TFC head coach.

There was a preview of O’Toole’s intent to get on the end of things at the far post when the first nearly-chance of the game arrived in his direction. A cross from right full-back Mitja Ilenič was difficult to defend, but defend it Toronto did, intercepting the ball just ahead of O’Toole.

Despite eventually enjoying their first win of the season, it was still a worrying start to the game for New York City.

All it took was one long ball. Alonso Coello lofted it forward and Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty sprinted beyond center-backs Birk Risa and Thiago Martins, leaving Ilenič the only player with a chance of catching the 19-year-old Canadian.

But the Toronto teenager’s touch was assured, and he took it past a committed Matt Freese and tucked it in the goal for his first goal in MLS. Silence befell Yankee Stadium, but their team had the resilience to fight back.

There were still some familiar problems when it came to finishing chances in open play. Santi Rodríguez found himself through on goal but missed, Monsef Bakrar hit a tame shot with no conviction, and Fernández saw a shot from distance saved by Toronto FC goalkeeper Luka Gavran, who was playing in place of injured first-choice goalie and former NYCFC man, Sean Johnson.

It looked like it was going to be more of the same from NYC in attack, but Rodríguez produced something special when it was most needed, whipping a free kick over the wall and past a helpless Gavran who couldn’t rearrange his feet to leap high enough to make the save.

NYC put together some quick, neat passages of play in tight areas. It is in these moments they look at their most dangerous. Toronto’s defence was sometimes desperate, chasing, covering, and outnumbered.

Hannes Wolf, Keaton Parks and Bakrar all tested Gavran, but it was O’Toole who proved the unlikely goal-scorer and game-winner.

Parks was then sent off with around 25 minutes to go for a mistimed, studs-showing challenge into the shin of Kobe Franklin. It was not dissimilar to the much-discussed, similarly unintentional challenge by Nashville’s Lukas MacNaughton on Lionel Messi last week.

Given the laws don’t take intent into account, this was probably the right decision, unfortunately for Parks who saw his get called when other recent similar challenges haven’t been — though he was already on a yellow and it was at least a second booking anyway.

It was a slight downer on this otherwise encouraging first win of the season for New York City FC, but they will be pleased with the way they saw the game out with ten men after last week’s late collapse against Portland Timbers.

It doesn’t get any easier for New York City. A trip to last season’s Supporters’ Shield winner, FC Cincinnati, is next, but after this hard-fought 2-1 win, Cushing and his players will go there with a spring in their step and, finally, some points on the board.

James Nalton

Freelance world soccer writer for Forbes, Guardian US, World Soccer magazine, FotMob, the BBC, and the Morning Star newspaper.

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