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Toronto FC’s Leg 1 performance promising, but not perfect

Here’s what coach Greg Vanney had to say about it.

MLS: MLS CUP-Toronto FC Training John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Toronto FC marched into the coldest game they’ve ever played on Tuesday, and emerged pretty much unscathed. They scored two goals, kept a clean sheet, and (perhaps most importantly) have no injuries to speak of. Their odds of advancing in the CONCACAF Champions League are pretty good now.

On paper, it was a pretty dominant performance from the Reds. They bossed the Colorado Rapids in most areas, with 61.2% possession and 51 out of 83 duels won. TFC made 650 passes to Colorado’s 402, and theirs at an impressive 88% success rate.

All that said, it wasn’t perfect. By the last half hour of the game, Toronto’s quality had emerged pretty clearly, and they had things pretty well under control. For much of the first half especially, though, they didn’t quite look like a team about to win 2-0.

Greg Vanney wasn’t quite satisfied with his team’s first half performance (quotes courtesy of Matt Pollard, lastwordonsoccer.com).

“We were in between things a bit too much, too spread out,” the coach told reporters after the game. “There was just too much space in between us. Second half we reorganized that, got our guys a little closer together.”

He’s right; the Rapids found a few gaps in the first half that TFC just barely kept out of the net. I remember one Dominique Badji chance in particular that, if it wasn’t for a combination of Alex Bono heroics and poor finishing, would’ve given Colorado the lead. The Reds had 25 clearances in the game, which, while an indicator of some strong, no-nonsense defending, may also imply a little too much desperation at the back.

Even though Colorado was understandably disjointed with several new players working in a brand new system under new coach Anthony Hudson, they didn’t look too bad. They threatened TFC at times, and neutralized Jozy Altidore pretty well (which gave Sebastian Giovinco extra space at times, though).

I’m not sure just how much stock we can put into TFC’s ball movement from this game; it was, after all, cold enough to freeze Jack Price’s beard. That said, they actually did pretty well on the ball, even if they were missing that final pass a few times (especially early on). Colorado generally did a pretty good job of clogging up the box, leaving attackers with few options and prompting a few overly ambitious Giovinco distance shots.

“From a possession standpoint, the ball circulation, the continuity of things we did was nice,” said Vanney. “I don’t think we created as many chances, I think the final action and the aggressive runs still need to come.”

Vanney (and pretty much every TFC fan, it seems) was satisfied with Auro’s debut. The Brazilian, who’s certainly never played in anything resembling those conditions, looked constantly eager to get up in the attack and make runs along the right side of the box.

He left Drew Moor and Nick Hagglund a tad stretched out at times, but I think things will be better when he can be more of a right winger in front of Gregory van der Wiel as a traditional right back.

“I thought he did a great job of managing the conditions but still playing soccer,” Vanney said. “The one time he really worked to get in behind the back line he serves a great ball in and we get something out of it.”

Ultimately, TFC could hardly have asked for better from this game. Giovinco looks to be on another level at the moment, scoring his first open-play goal since last August. I can’t wait to see him once the temperature warms up.

Speaking of the temperature, Vanney thinks it leveled the playing field in TFC’s favour a bit. His side was training in Mexico to get used to the altitude, which Colorado would be more used to. The cold, though, was so teeth-chattering that the altitude’s effects were forgotten.

“I’m not sure, given the temperature, that anybody was thinking for one second about the altitude,” admitted Vanney. “I think they were thinking just stay warm, keep moving.”

Keep moving, they did.

The Reds now need only to hang on next week at home. If I were them, I’d consider sitting Michael Bradley for that test, just to avoid a possible suspension for the quarterfinals (honestly, it might’ve been smarter for him to take another yellow card after he got the first one).