‘Everyone stepped up’: Toronto FC goes above and beyond in statement playoff win
TORONTO — With his tongue out amid an expression of complete post-goal elation, Sebastian Giovinco posed as he sprinted by photographers behind the north-end goal.
It was more opportunistic than anything. The first playoff goal in Toronto FC’s decade-long history was the product of a hustle play from Giovinco’s Yorkville condo mate, Jozy Altidore.
The American international raced onto a defensive miss-clearance from Philadelphia’s Ken Tribbett before squaring a ball that Giovinco hammered off the underside of the crossbar and into the goal a quarter-hour in.
“He was digging the whole game,” TFC coach Greg Vanney said of Giovinco. “You see the flashes of brilliance. It’s off the charts.”
The goal felt different than anything we’ve experienced inside this venue. It was a first, of course, but also a moment that lifted untold anxiety inside BMO, a moment that was just the start of a convincing 3-1 win.
When Jonathan Osorio banged home a ping-ponged corner minutes after halftime, it kicked off celebrations you’d expect from a beleaguered fanbase, desperate for its first-ever playoff win — 10 seasons in the making.
“It’s just the first step for us this postseason,” Vanney added. “Hopefully the fans could feel it. The speed and tension was a different level than any of the regular season games we participated in. We were ready for it.”
The Reds didn’t just win Wednesday night. They went above and beyond what we’re used to.
This was a statement game that demonstrated a collective effort and commitment to get the job done — something you’d expect from a side littered with playoff experience and big game minutes
The Union began Wednesday night’s first-round fixture with only three players with MLS playoff experience. The Reds had nine, including a collection of new signings with hundreds of MLS appearances.
“The guys stood up for themselves,” Vanney said. “They looked ready. Guys were saying the right things in the locker room. There was a different intensity.
“It was going to be a street fight more than a soccer game. We had to be ready to compete and scrap and challenge first balls and win.”
Nights like this are why Toronto FC cracked open the coffers to sign guys like Giovinco and Altidore, whose determination and win-at-all-cost mentality was palpable.
“Jozy was huge,” Vanney explained. “He played big, physical. He looked possessed to track down the ball and take it from people.”
Behind him, Michael Bradley appeared determined to keep everyone alert. The club’s captain, its quarterback, was the architect of a tic-tac-toe passing sequence that brought fans to their feet with 20 minutes remaining.
The superior display produced chants of “Ole!” upon every touch until the Union’s Alejandro Bedoya capitalized on Toronto FC’s only bad moment of the game — a corner kick in the 73rd minute.
The Reds lost back-to-back 50-50 headers inside the penalty area before the ball bounced to wide-open Bedoya, who rocketed a half-volley past a stranded Clint Irwin to create unnecessary drama.
Irwin came up big with under 10 minutes remaining when he got down to parry a whipped-in restart that evaded every player and might have nestled side-netting had he not pushed it away.
Indeed, this was a match in which every Red contributed — one that showed the club’s offseason acquisitions and big time players have this team in position to do something special this year.
“Everyone stepped up,” Vanney added. “Everyone answered the call. This is the time of year where you have to.”
With the game still in question five minutes from the end, Giovinco — in another MVP calibre performance — picked out Altidore’s run at the back post.
The American striker’s attempt to head back across goal came back off a defender before he settled, cut to his right, and beat Philly’s Andre Blake at the near post to re-extend TFC’s lead to two goals.
“The goal was massive,” Vanney said. “It took tension out of the game when things were getting a little stressful.”
Then the singing began from the 21,759 in attendance. They serenaded Giovinco on a night in which he continued his pursuit of TFC lore.
At full-time, Bradley lifted the Atomic Ant into the air as they made their way towards supporters, none of which bothered leaving the stadium despite a frigid night down by Lake Ontario.
“It’s a happy group, but a group that’s focused,” Vanney said. “Most of the guys are icing and cleaning up scrapes.
“The celebration is for the fans. It’s to celebrate our relationship with them and what they give us during the game.”
They’ll be back Sunday night when the Reds open the Eastern Conference semifinals against New York City.
NEW YORK CITY NEXT
The league’s head honchos must be drooling. Toronto FC will host star-studded New York City on Sunday in the opening leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
That means a visit from Spanish World Cup-winner David Villa, who tallied 23 times during the regular season. Oh, and Italian legend Andrea Pirlo.
Ex-England international Frank Lampard also is expected to play a part as he returns form injury.
“I do think New York is different than Philly,” TFC head coach Greg Vanney said. “They’re tactical. They have players who are seasoned. They’re going to be tactical and savvy. It will be a different game for us.”
The Reds are 0-1-3 in four previous meetings against New York City.
Second-place City finished a point ahead of Toronto FC in the East standings to lock up a first-round bye in these playoffs. Toronto FC will travel to Yankee Stadium a week from Sunday for the second leg of the aggregate series.
“We’ll do the recovery,” Vanney added. “We have to be ready to go, whatever day, whatever opponent.”