Missed opportunities had been a concerning theme for Toronto FC lately. In front of goal they were missing chances, but, more importantly, they were failing to take advantage of games and opponents who were there for the taking. This was especially prevalent at home, where the team had only won twice this season in MLS play prior to today.
However, Toronto FC only needed nine minutes tonight to make the most of an opportunity, and it would prove to be the difference in a much-needed 1-0 victory over the Chicago Fire. For Toronto FC, early goals like this haven't happened much of late, and it has forced to team to break down opponents who have settled into games.
From the opening whistle tonight, Toronto FC took it to the Chicago Fire, and they were rewarded. The goal was nothing special, but it was a well-created chance by Sebastian Giovinco, followed by some good communication between Jordan Hamilton and Justin Morrow. Morrow's finish was clinical.
"We are a team that when we get on the board first and we have a good start then we are a tough team to beat," said Greg Vanney post match. "Today was really no exception in that."
It's a refreshing change for a team who have a disappointing history of throwing away leads, especially late in matches. This year's team have not lost when scoring first, in fact, last week against the Seattle Sounders was the only time this season they have dropped points after taking the lead.
The team, for once, looks comfortable in close games. They have the defensive stability, and more importantly the mental fortitude, to finish off games that are tight. Tonight's game was only tight in scoreline, the bulk of the play went Toronto's way, but one bad move and they could have easily lost points. It didn't happen tonight, and hasn't much this year.
"I think it's good that we are playing in 1-0 games because in the hard games that's how it is going to be," said Jonathan Osorio. "It's good that we get this experience, especially when we have a lot of young players playing. It's good that they get that experience too."
Realistically, however, it never should have been this close. Giovinco, on his own, had an astounding 13 shots. Other teammates had chances as well, as Tsubasa Endoh saw one of his shots cleared off the line by a Chicago defender.
For the Italian, in particular, it was another frustrating night, culminating in him ripping his shirt open after missing a chance. It has been a disappointing stretch of games for the atomic ant, but lately, it has been statistically alone. Tonight, he did everything but score for Toronto FC, and was huge in them getting the result. He could evidently use his teammates a little more, but did set up the lone goal in the match and made other key passes.
"As a striker [scoring] is something important that I have to do," said Giovinco. "There are times where I succeeded in it.There are times where I blew it. It's always good to look ahead. It's always good to keep on the task and keep going with it."
Despite the lack of scoring, Toronto FC has managed to go undefeated in their last five home matches, and have only lost once at home all year. A big part of that has been their defensive play, and it was again on display today as they allowed the Chicago Fire little in the way of chances.
The result would be Alex Bono's first professional clean sheet. He didn't have to do a whole lot to earn it, but his maturation is clear. As is the potential that Toronto saw in him when they selected Bono 6th overall in the 2015 MLS draft.
"One of the things I've been most impressed with is that [Bono] hasn't looked too hesitant or tentative or scared since the day he got thrown in which was against Orlando," Vanney said, praising his rookie keeper. "Even in Orlando maybe he makes one mistake, but it was an aggressive mistake. It wasn't that he was on his line shaking in his boots."
It's worth remembering from a practical standpoint that this result came against the worst team in MLS, but the standings won't care. Toronto FC jumped an important two spots tonight, to fifth place in the Eastern Conference, ahead of a mini-road trip next week.
That's the value of taking opportunities in this league, even if they came against lowly opposition. The more Toronto FC can make their chances count, the closer they will get to returning to the Eastern Conference contender conversation.