Toronto FC held serve as the top seed by beating the Red Bulls, 2-1, and taking command of their Eastern Conference semifinal series Monday night at Red Bull Arena
The second leg will be
played at BMO Field on Sunday with TFC holding two away goals and needing only a tie to advance.
1. Big names come through for TFC.
An aggressive start by Toronto FC perhaps surprised the Red Bulls and set up an early goal that enabled it to take command. By applying pressure at key moments throughout the game,
it forced errors the Red Bulls could not counteract. But most of important of all was TFC’s stars shone at the right times.
TFC scored in the eighth minute after a square throw-in
by defender Daniel Perrinelle, who was thus out of position when Feiipe lost possession. Marky Delgado played the ball wide and Jozy Altidore hit a low cross
that keeper Luis Robles parried it out to the edge of the penalty area, where Victor Vazquezcushioned it with his first touch and cleanly struck it right-footed inside the far post.
The quick transition into attack and Vazquez’s sharp finish personified the
elements added to TFC since it lost the MLS Cup final last year. Vazquez led the team with 16 assists and nearly earned another later in the first half when his precise cross from the left side was
headed off the bar by Delgado from point-blank range. His ability to sniff out the spaces left by Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore in transition helped Toronto FC pile up
74 goals during the regular season.
Buoyed by a Daniel Royer goal in first-half stoppage time, the Red Bulls started the second half stronger but again committed a critical mistake
under pressure from TFC. Giovinco drove at the back line on the dribble and won a free kick that he elegantly whipped over the wall and into the top corner, near-post. His nine goals from outside the
penalty area are more than twice as many as anyone else in the league. 2. Red Bulls didn’t measure up.
After overrunning Chicago, 4-0, in the Knockout Round game on the road, the Red Bulls came home but could not display the pressuring dominance by which they often smother
In the first half the central midfield of Felipe and Sean Davis could not cope with their TFC counterparts, and accurate passing out of the back by Chris Mavinga and
Eric Zavaleta consistently cut through NYRB’s disjointed efforts to break up passes. As a result, there was little supply for Sacha Kljestan and thus few opportunities to threaten
goal himself or play Royer and Bradley Wright-Phillips into dangerous spots.
Giovinco’s superb strike ruined an improved showing in the second half, though Gonzalo
Veron could have done better with his two chances and an overhit ball from Wright-Phillips deprived him of an excellent opportunity. Veron played well enough to merit consideration for a starting
spot in the second leg with the Red Bulls behind a goal on aggregate, 2-1, and arrears in the away-goals tiebreaker, 2-0. In effect, the Red Bulls need to flip the script as the road team at BMO
Field, where their high-pressure game will be risky but necessary. 3. Subs show TFC’s depth.
Centerback Drew Moor did not return for the second half. He injured himself committing the foul on Wright-Phillips that resulted in Royer’s coolly chipped penalty kick yet his
replacement Nick Hagglund stepped right into the middle of TFC’s three-man back line.
Hagglund racked up a dozen recoveries in the second half, including four from the edge
of the six-yard box. He hadn’t played since suffering a sprained knee in a game against Portland Aug. 12. That game was just his second start since suffering a torn MCL in May that kept him
sidelined for two months, but he worked smoothly between Mavinga and Zavaleta as TFC squelched numerous Red Bull attacks.
Vazquez left injured midway through the second half but Giovinco,
who’d been rather quiet up to that point, raised his game to earn and convert the decisive free kick. Jonathan Osorio replaced Vazquez and once TFC took the lead, helped lock down the
midfield by covering passing lanes and playing safe, simple passes.
Leading the series and with two away goals, TFC head coach Greg Vanney can set up a game plan for the second leg
without Vazquez and Moor if need be. There will be a long break between the conference semifinals and finals, which start the week of Thanksgiving, and if any team can grind through a second leg
without two starters, it’s TFC.
Oct. 30 in Harrison, N.J. New York Red Bulls 1, Toronto FC 2. TFC: Victor Vazquez 8. NY: Daniel Royer (pen.) 45+3. TFC: Sebastian Giovinco 72. NY Red Bulls –- Robles; Murillo, Perrinelle (Bezecourt, 82), Long,
Lawrence, Felipe, Davis (Veron, 63), Adams, Royer, Kljestan, Wright-Phillips. Toronto FC –- Bono; Mavinga, Moor (Hagglund, 46), Zavaleta, Delgado, Bradley, Morrow, Beitashour,
Vazquez (Osorio, 65), Giovinco, Altidore (Cooper, 86). Referee: Drew Fischer. Att.: 18,107.