Quietly, Toronto FC has put together a very strong run of form over the past month, and at the perfect time too.
June has been a strange one.
It began with the two legs of the Voyageurs Cup semi-final round against Montreal, broke for the Copa America Centenario, and then resumed with a star-less LA Galaxy and a short turnaround to face Vancouver in the Canadian Championship finale.
Last week, this very column spoke about how crucial it was for the club to put aside an off May, bracing for two months that would define their season. It is something they have done.
Largely unnoticed amidst all the other soccer at the moment is that Toronto is unbeaten in four matches, keeping clean-sheets in their last three – a return to the type of defending that won them such plaudits on their road trip.
That is, in fact, their best run of form this season. Perhaps it is because it has been split between league and cup that is has received less fanfare.
The 1-0 win over LA was huge. It put TFC right back into the mix for the top of the East – they currently sit in fifth, but are a mere four points off the top spot with a match (or matches) in hand.
And last night's win over Vancouver refrained that success with another 1-0 victory, giving Toronto a lead heading into the second leg next week.
If the opponent cannot score, that gives Toronto a good chance of winning the game – obvious, but easier said than done.
And these results have seen the resurgence of three key players, as well as several other positive signs.
Clint Irwin's signing in the off-season was a masterstroke. Pondering the in-league options available at the time, Zac MacMath, also in Colorado, seemed a reachable option. Acquiring their starter was unthinkable, until Rapids eyes were drawn to the possible return of Tim Howard.
Irwin proved his worth again against Vancouver, making a crucial late save on Kendall Waston's overheard attempt.
Another who has impressed of late is Benoit Cheyrou – which comes as no surprise. Cheyrou is such a classy player, that it is easy to overlook the work he puts into the midfield. His calming effect on the side is tremendous – no wonder Greg Vanney noted that his return to fitness came at the 'perfect time'.
And then there is Sebastian Giovinco, who looked more himself against the Whitecaps last night. His goal was well-taken, if deflected. That horizontal run across the top of the box to find space for a shot is something that has not been seen enough of late.
He should probably have had a second with an even better attempt that eluded Paolo Tornaghi, but not the goal-post, in the second half.
Prior to that goal, Giovinco was actually undergoing his longest slump in MLS – if one can call it that. He had started four league games, and made an appearance in the cup, without a goal. Shocking stuff.
Add to those three the performances seen from the reserves – Jordan Hamilton, Ashtone Morgan, Nick Hagglund, et al. – in the two legs against Montreal, Eriq Zavaleta proving he has the quality to step in and be a starter, and the continued growth of Mo Babouli – who assisted on Giovinco's goal and was unfortunate to not score his own, or pick up another assist – and all is trending in the right direction in TFC-land.
And, once more, at the perfect time too.
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