Toronto FC's Patrick Mullins and Justin Morrow acknowledged their goals against Club Leon on Wednesday night came with an outpouring of emotion.
For Mullins, the reason was simple. His grandmother passed away recently.
His teammates knew and captain Michael Bradley was quick to get to Mullins after he opened the scoring in Toronto's 2-1 win over the Mexican side in the second leg of their Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League round-of-16 tie at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
The result gave TFC a 3-2 victory on aggregate, moving the MLS side into the quarterfinals of CONCACAF's flagship club competition against Mexican league leader Cruz Azul.
Starting in place of the injured Jozy Altidore, the 29-year-old Mullins got the job done with some help from his friends.
Bradley helped trigger the Mullins goal, driving into the Leon half and finding Jacob Shaffelburg open to the left. The pacey winger sent a perfect cross through the legs of one Leon defender and out of the reach of another, to find Mullins who was in the right place and the right time for a simple tap-in in the 55th minute.
"Things happened very quickly in that goal … And once the ball was in the net, a lot of things hit me," Mullins recalled after the game. "But then I heard Michael come over and say, 'That's for the Mullins family.'
"Then things really came down to earth to me. I had lost my grandmother this past week, so I had very much had a heavy heart in this game, and I think the team supported me so much through that loss of my family."
Morrow made it 2-0 in the 71st minute, five minutes after entering the game.
"It felt really good. It felt like a little emotional release, to be honest," said Morrow, who did not dress for last week's first leg in Mexico.
"It's been a couple of months since I've been on the field. (I've been), dealing with some little injuries. I was out most of pre-season. So to make my way back — I was in contention to maybe be subbed into the game in a couple of different positions. At the end of the day I was happy just to get on the field and make a difference for the team."
Taking a pass from teenage midfielder Ralph Priso, Morrow somehow bundled the ball in as he collided with goalkeeper Rodolpho Cota. TFC's high press made the goal with a Leon defender, under pressure, giving the ball way to Priso.
"Not the most pretty goal but I'll take it. Any goal is a goal for me," said the 33-year-old fullback. "So it was really emotional to get that."
A TFC spokeswoman confirmed Thursday that former Sporting Kansas City and Orlando City forward Dom Dwyer is training with the team but has not signed a contract.
Toronto kicks off the MLS regular season Saturday against CF Montreal in Fort Lauderdale. Both Canadian teams have taken up residence in Florida while the Vancouver Whitecaps have shifted their base of operations to Sandy, Utah, because of pandemic-related travel restrictions.
The Whitecaps host the Portland Timbers at Rio Tinto Stadium on Sunday.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 15, 2021
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press