New England right winger Sainey Nyassi looked at Toronto FC's team sheet before Saturday night's 4-1 win at Gillette Stadium and spotted a potential weakness.
After stalwart left back Jim Brennan retired, Toronto signed Raivis Hscanovics to fill the hole and handed the Latvian fullback his MLS debut against the Revolution. Once Nyassi saw TFC opted to start Hscanovics, he decided to test the Reds' new defender early and often.
“I knew I could beat him,” Nyassi said. “He's a new guy in the league. I think he landed three days ago and [I thought] he must be a little bit tired, so I decided to always go at him.”
Challenging fullbacks isn't a new approach for Nyassi. The 21-year-old Gambian international attempts to exploit defenders frequently with his considerable pace, though he has yet to obtain the consistency to do so game in and game out.
Unfortunately for the visitors, Nyassi produced a performance that made Hscanovics' debut particularly uncomfortable. Whenever he collected the ball in space on the right wing, Nyassi ran at Hscanovics. Revolution coach Steve Nicol said he encouraged Nyassi's approach once he saw the Gambian dart past his marker in the early stages of the contest.
“Right from the word go, Sainey ran right past him,” Nicol said. “[Hscanovics] ended up getting booked early in the game, so we just told Sainey that we wanted to be getting the ball wide and we wanted him running at the guy. If he stayed on any longer, he was going to get sent off. He couldn't handle Sainey's pace. Obviously, that paid off.”
Although Nyassi unsettled Hscanovics in the early stages of the contest, the matchup didn't yield tangible dividends until the second half. New England struggled to find their way through Toronto's organized midfield and provide enough service to the wide areas in the first half. The situation changed at the start of the second half as the Revolution midfield—marshaled by the returning Shalrie Joseph—gradually assumed control of the match and started to spray the ball around with some regularity.
“We got Shalrie back, so he always know when to play the ball wide and when not,” Nyassi said. “That's what we've worked on and Stevie kept telling us to get the ball wide all the time. Shalrie was fantastic tonight. I was getting the ball a lot. That's what I want: to get more balls on the wide side.”
Nyassi showed what he could do once he received a steady supply of service two minutes after the interval. After collecting the ball on the halfway line, Nyassi played a one-two with Kheli Dube to exploit the space behind Hscanovics. One pinpoint cross and a tidy finish by Zack Schilawski later and the Revs were on level terms after falling behind to a Dwayne De Rosario header in the opening stanza.
The equalizer opened the floodgates as Schilawski completed his hat trick within 11 minutes as a combination of effective wide play down the right and shoddy TFC defending fueled the Revolution attack. The third goal—another cross from the right wing, this time by Dube, for another Schilawski simple finish—chased Hscanovics from the game with a half-hour to play.
Unrelenting, Nyassi then tormented his replacement, Nane Joseph, by intercepting a slack back pass and firing home the Revolution's fourth goal after 66 minutes.
“Sainey's talent is unbelievable,” Joseph said. “It's just a matter of him putting all of that stuff together. He and Kenny [Mansally, Revolution midfielder], they're going to be unbelievable kids to watch. He played some great balls in with Zack finishing them. That's what we work on in training and that's what they did tonight.”