Toledo Heads to Fort Wayne Sunday for Key Battle of 1st & 2nd Place Sides
Coming together as a team at the right time is starting to show for Toledo Villa FC.
Heading into the Fourth of July weekend tilt at Fort Wayne on Sunday afternoon, Toledo has not conceded a goal since the 66th minute of a 3-1 loss at home versus Cleveland Force SC on June 17. Both clean sheets came with goalkeeper Jordaine Jaeger in the net and he sees that team maturation as well.
"We are communicating better and generally the form is just better," said the St. Francis University product who grew up playing in Germany. "I too got more comfortable with a three-back system because I'm used to four-back. I'm getting more comfortable and it's good for me to learn that more."
The 3-0 road win at Buffalo along with a home draw last weekend at home against Dayton keeps Villa (4-2-2, 14 points) in control of the second playoff spot in the Valley Division with four matches left to play with both Cleveland (3-3-3) and Kings Hammer FC (2-3-3) still in contention for the spot as well. Fort Wayne (8-0-2) has assured itself of a playoff berth as it sits on 26 points with two matches left in its season.
"The game against Dayton, to be honest, we should have won because we didn't allow much. But it is what it isn't," Jaeger said. "We got it out in Buffalo."
Right now Fort Wayne is next for Jaeger and the club, but the bigger picture, he said, is to get to the playoffs.
"At the end of the day, I want to win and I want to get to the playoffs," Jaeger said. "Win against Fort Wayne, and get three important points for us, and then there's the next step to get to the playoffs."
Starting close to a typical Starting XI, Toledo shined early with Cam Territo nearly getting a boot on a cross into the box from Jayden Da.
Territo's great pass later gave Toledo the lead in the 23rd minute. A run by Eli Shope was stopped by the Buffalo defense, but Territo was able to corral the ball on the right side of the box and find Ali Nasser at the top of the 18. He was able to curl the ball to the upper corner past the dive of Buffalo keeper Jamie Berry to put Toledo ahead.
Shope and Nasser helped set up the second goal in the 33rd. Off a throw-in deep in Buffalo's territory, Nasser threw into Shope who was able to backheel it to an open Nasser behind two defenders. He sent a cross directly into the goalmouth and Zack Mowka was able to get his left foot on the ball to deflect it in for a score.
Mowka had just entered the game in the 27th minute after Jacobo Sanfeliu had been playing injured through a majority of the contest. Sanfeliu aggravated a previous injury and will be out for the remainder of the season.
"He just planted to change direction and his foot was a little bit off-kilter underneath and he just rolled an ankle," Johnson said. "The season is so short, that any injury becomes a significant injury because there's two more weeks (in the season)
"It's unfortunate we're all disappointed. Obviously, he was playing very well and scoring goals. So that's goals that we have to replace."
Rain began to come down before the end of the half and slowed some of the play down, but that didn’t stop Toledo from some opportunities in the middle of the second half. A 35-yard boot from Mowka found Jayden Da alone on the left side and he was able to keep his defender to his right and get off a left-footed shot on goal for Toledo's 3-0 lead in the 62nd.
Buffalo put some pressure on late by Jaeger was there to make the stops.
"The first half, they didn't have much except for one cross," he noted. "That gave me a little confidence. But most of the confidence came from playing out the back with the defensive line and just having a good first touch on my feet that gave me a lot of confidence.
"That gave me the chance to be there in the last 10-15 minutes to get the clean sheet."
Johnson gave credit to Jaeger but added the team also did a good job throughout of limiting their opportunities and controlling the game.
"That for me, that's not a back-five thing," Johnson said. "That's an 11-player's thing. So it was good, it's nice to have two clean sheets for sure."