Just when Toronto FC thought they had exorcised the demons that had haunted them since their inception, they came crawling back tonight. The bell at Olympic stadium rang three times, the Montreal Impact looked to have buried TFC early and a nightmare from a year ago was repeated.
Then Toronto FC woke up. They got two crucial away goals late in the match, courtesy of Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore, to completely change the narrative.
It wasn’t enough to completely dissipate the haunting images of the first half. But a 3-2 loss away from home in the first leg of the MLS Eastern Conference finals was enough to keep Toronto FC’s MLS Cup dreams alive.
Toronto should never have needed such a late surge in the first place. However, just as they did a year ago in a 3-0 playoff loss, also to the Montreal Impact, they looked out of answers as Montreal put on an early onslaught.
The Impact were simply too quick for Toronto FC’s backline, a counterattacking issue that presented itself all night long. Dominic Oduro, he of speed although often little else, tore through the Toronto backline who simply could not match his pace.
In fact, Oduro was fantastic for the Impact, and also played a role in the second Impact goal as well, which came just twelve minutes into the match, and two minutes after the Impact’s opener. The former Toronto FC forward used the fast-playing turf of the Big O fully to his advantage.
Why was Toronto FC so slow out of the gate? One can only speculate. Perhaps the 38-minute delay while the grounds crew repainted the 18-yard box hurt their momentum. Perhaps they weren’t properly prepared in the first place. Either way, Toronto were exposed at the back like they have not been in several months.
Toronto FC’s back three of Eriq Zavaleta, Drew Moor and Nick Hagglund did not look nearly quick enough to deal with the Impact’s waves of attack. Hagglund was the only player who was able to match the Impact’s relentless pace, but it wasn’t enough.
That trio, and Clint Irwin considering what happened on the third Impact goal, will take a lot of blame for what happened tonight in the early going. In reality, they were only part of the equation. The middle of the park saw far too many giveaways and missed defensive responsibilities.
That’s how Ambroise Oyongo scored the third Impact goal, allowed to just waltz right up the middle of the park before blasting a shot from range. It should never have beat Irwin, but i also should never have been allowed to be taken in the first place.
It was a goal that, given their history, should have sunk Toronto FC. At the time it seemed like the final nail in the coffin. But TFC, who had looked like a zombie for most of the match, had some life injected into them in the 57th minute.
That’s when coach Greg Vanney made a double substitution, bringing on Will Johnson and Tosaint Ricketts for Jonathan Osorio and Armando Cooper. Johnson played his part, but it was Ricketts who truly shook Toronto FC out of their slumber.
The Canadian cemented his reputation as a “super sub” by instantly threatening the Impact goal, something that Toronto had rarely done before he joined the match. It was he who lit the spark that ignited the club’s late-game fire.
In a five minute stretch, starting in the 68th minute, Toronto FC scored a pair of away goals that turned a dire result into a manageable loss. Ricketts was central in both plays, hitting the post prior to the scoring of the first goal before setting up the second.
By no means did this change the end narrative: this was not a positive performance from Toronto FC. They still go into the second leg next week at home with a mountain to climb. But they showed tonight that unlike last year if they are to be eliminated, they aren’t going out without a fight.