TFC still has a long way to go, but the progress Nelsen preached may be starting to peak through, as the Reds picked up their second consecutive victory for the first time since last July.
Matias Laba's first MLS goal, scored just two minutes into the match, provided the difference in a 1-0 victory over New England on Sunday night.
A haul of seven points in three games gave Nelsen plenty of reason to smile after his players protected the early lead to see off the playoff-chasing Revolution at Gillette Stadium.
"The guys showed today that sometimes when it's not going as well with the ball, you need a foundation to fall back on — that's our organization, our structure and working really hard for each other," Nelsen said. "And that's what won us the game with a little bit of brilliance to get us the goal."
Laba, who was signed by TFC as a young designated player from Argentina in April, claimed possession in midfield and made a run toward the exposed Revolution goal.
He hesitated as he entered the penalty area, creating a yard of space, and poked toward the far post. New England's Scott Caldwell blocked his initial effort, but the 21-year-old persisted to score the match's lone goal.
"For me, it's just a magical goal," Nelsen said. "Everything about it — he read the pass, the pressure, then the acceleration with the ball, the burst, the composure to beat the man and a finish any striker would have been proud of. And then he followed it in.
"It was a magical goal and then all of the boys worked ever so hard. They've got great character."
The visitors needed every ounce of resolve to repel a Revolution side that asserted control in possession and probed for an opening to even the match. But TFC stood its ground in the first half as the Revoultion laid siege, withstanding several close calls.
Richard Eckersley and Ashtone Morgan produced goal line clearances to protect the lead, while goalkeeper Joe Bendik parried away a Lee Nguyen half-volley and watched Saer Sene thrash into the side of the net more than once before the break.
"It makes a change for us," Eckersley said. "Joe's been brilliant all season. It's about time he had a bit of a day off and we started doing some of the saving."
TFC continued to protect its lead in the second half, dropping deeply to stop New England from creating opportunities in the final third.
New England striker Diego Fagundez tried to even the score with the last kick of the game, but his acrobatic effort hit the outside of the goal frame.
TFC's second road victory of the season offered plenty of encouragement for a side still building for the future.
"It happens in football," Morgan said. "Sometimes, you don't possess the ball the whole time and you need to weather the storm. We kept our shape. They threw the whole kitchen sink at us. We just held the fort down and kept the clean sheet."
TFC will play a midweek friendly against Italian giants AS Roma at BMO Field Wednesday before hosting Seattle — and potentially seeing the debut of U.S. international Clint Dempsey — on Saturday.