MLS Playoffs: Toronto FC wins game for the ages

Regardless of how it ends, this MLS postseason is evolving into an incredible story.

In this tale’s penultimate game on Wednesday, a team wracked by a history of failure rewarded the largest home crowd in its history by winning its biggest game, and stretching the limits of MLS postseason drama.

Goals by five different players powered Toronto FC, playing just the third home playoff game in its 10-year history, to a 5-2 victory in a pounding rain at a packed, rowdy BMO Field to eliminate Montreal, which had led the Eastern Conference final series, 3-2, after the first leg.

The 7-5 aggregate win sends TFC, which prevailed despite losing top scorer Sebastian Giovinco to a late-game injury, into the MLS Cup final Dec. 10 as host. TFC plays Western Conference playoff winner Seattle, another team that exorcised a few demons by getting to the last dance for the first time.

TFC bounced back from a bad start, quickly matching goals by Dominic Oduro and Ignacio Piatti in regulation and then, after Giovinco’s departure, scoring two less than two minutes apart in a dazzling display of attacking soccer.

Armando Cooper, Jozy Altidore, and Nick Hagglund scored from corner kicks in regulation to tie the series on aggregate, 5-5, and substitutes Benoit Cheyrou and Tosaint Ricketts tallied in extra time to push TFC into a 7-5 lead it held despite the entry of Didier Drogba and several desperate thrusts into its goalmouth.

Montreal quieted the largest crowd (36,604) in BMO Field history by scoring first. In the 27th minute, Matteo Mancosu shook off a challenge from Steven Beitashour and dribbled through the middle and to slip a ball that Dominic Oduro cushioned with his first touch and then fired into the bottom corner. Seven minutes later, TFC first exploited a corner kick when Armando Cooper collected the rebound of a Hagglund header cleared off the goal line and banged it into the net.

In the last minute of the first half, Altidore did the honors to tie the aggregate at 4-4 by darting to the near post and heading a Giovinco corner just inside the base of the upright. BMO Field erupted. Yet Montreal shook off that emotional hammer blow and after a bright start to the second half, regained the aggregate lead when Ignacio Piatti rolled home a shot as he squeezed between defenders Eriq Zavaleta and Drew Moor on a feed from Johan Venegas, who had replaced a banged-up Hernan Bernadello at halftime.

With that goal, the Impact regained the advantage on aggregate, 5-4. Rather than bunker down to protect the lead it kept pressing and forced several turnovers in the middle third as TFC labored to regain the momentum and adjusted to the entry of Ricketts, who replaced midfielder Will Johnson.

Twice before in the playoffs Ricketts had revived the TFC attack at crucial junctures, but Montreal’s counterattacks forced TFC to scramble nervously. A big save from Clint Irwin thwarted Venegas in the 66th minute, and two minutes later Montreal fell asleep on a short corner kick; Justin Morrow, unchallenged on the left wing, chipped into the middle and Hagglund drove forward to connect with yet another header.

Half-chances at either end closed out regulation time, and TFC’s fortunes suffered greatly in the sixth minute of the first extra-time period when Giovinco cramped up taking a shot and hobbled off. He cut a sad figure as he walked slowly, his body and uniform drenched by the rain and his face lined with pain and disappointment.

TFC gave itself and its fans no time to brood. Incredibly, Giovinco's replacement, Cheyrou, overpowered Hassoun Camara to head home Beitashour’s inswinging cross from point-blank range, and on TFC’s next attack Altidore stormed down the right flank to center a low ball that Ricketts touched over the line as three opponents converged too late.

Irwin saved again in the second extra period on a Drogba free kick to snuff out the final faint hopes of Montreal, which played a few memorable scenes in this postseason production by getting to this point in the script. But it is the other representative from eastern Canada that will stage the final act.
Nov. 30 in Toronto
Toronto FC 5, Montreal Impact 2.
(Toronto wins, 7-5, on aggregate.)
MTL: Dominic Oduro (Matteo Mancosu) 27.
TFC: Armando Cooper 34.
TFC: Jozy Altidore (Sebastian Giovinco) 45.
MTL: Ignacio Piatti (Johan Venegas) 53.
TFC:  Nick Hagglund (Justin Morrow) 68.
TFC: Benoit Cheyrou (Steven Beitashour) 98.
TFC: Tosaint Ricketts (Jozy Altidore) 100.
Toronto FC -- Irwin; Hagglund, Moor, Zavaleta, Beitashour, Morrow, Johnson (Ricketts 62), Cooper (Osorio 88), Bradley,  Giovinco (Cheyrou 96), Altidore.
Montreal -- Bush; Camara, Cabrera, Ciman, Oyongo, Donadel, Bernier (Shipp 103), Bernadello (Venegas 46), Oduro, Mancosu (Drogba 73), Piatti.
Yellow cards: Montreal -- Ciman 8, Camara 82.
Referee: Jair Marrufo.
Att.: 36,604.

9 comments about "MLS Playoffs: Toronto FC wins game for the ages".
  1. Kevin Sims, December 1, 2016 at 8:43 a.m.

    wonderfully entertaining matches ... love to see two newcomers to the final ... with rabid, deserving fan bases ... here's to hoping the final produces an entertaining evening

  2. Miguel Dedo, December 1, 2016 at 10:05 a.m.

    Fantastic match. The last two Toronto goals were masterful plays by the players who scored, to hold off a defender who was pressing hard and guide the ball into the goal. (as well as by the players who served the balls)
    The second Montreal goal will show up on referee training films. Oduro (no. 7) was in an offside position when the shot was taken, by Piatti (no. 10) Orduro then shielded a defender (no. 33) from kicking the ball away before it entered the goal -- this was "involved in active play by interfering with play [or] interfering with an opponent." [quoted words from Law 11, Offside]

  3. beautiful game, December 1, 2016 at 10:24 a.m.

    Lots of goals and terrible soccer IQ by Impact on the pitch. Ref Marrufo needs a refresher course on the rules of the game.

  4. trebor gt, December 1, 2016 at 6:54 p.m.

    Defending was awful pretty much the whole night and the officiating was sub par, but it was still a fun match to watch.

  5. Daniel Clifton, December 1, 2016 at 7:45 p.m.

    For years I have been reading these comments about "Lazy" Jozy Altidore. What I saw in this match was a guy who was challenging to win a ball at the 120 minute mark of the game. I saw a guy who set up the 5th goal with a creative move and burst of speed at 98th minute mark that came from commitment and desire.

  6. aaron dutch, December 1, 2016 at 8:32 p.m.

    Where was that Jozy vs. Mexico & Costa Rica?

  7. Wooden Ships, December 2, 2016 at 9:44 a.m.

    Agree Aaron, same with MB. Both guys are sufficient when their into it. Problem is consistency. So what if they don't care for the national team coach. Be a professional, man up, you're playing for your country and teammates.

  8. trebor gt, December 2, 2016 at 11:25 a.m.

    Its a love/hate relationship with these two in perpetuity. But Ships is right, they are not nearly "there" enough when it counts and I'm not convinced a coaching change is going to prevent MB from giving the ball away 10 times a match.

  9. Miguel Dedo, December 2, 2016 at 1:07 p.m.

    Great play, great officiating. The play I commented above -- on closer look, the ball was played by a defender, correct action by Oduro, correct action bu the referees. Those who did not see fine play and fine officiating here should confine themselves to fantasy football.

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