While Toronto FC had to endure a heartbreaker Saturday night in their first visit to Banc of California Stadium thanks to a late Carlos Vela penalty, the Reds showed — especially in the first 45’ — why teams are starting to fear a potential playoff match-up with the 2017 MLS Cup winners.
Let’s talk about what else we noticed in Saturday night’s playoff-clinching 1-1 tie with MLS-leading LAFC.
Vanney smelled blood
Full credit to TFC coach Greg Vanney, who had the willingness to start close to his strongest XI Saturday night against a first-place team on the road. He was well aware of LAFC’s recent struggles, and the Reds came in with a clear game plan, which we’ll get to more later. Chris Mavinga’s poor tackle aside, Toronto FC should’ve picked up three points but instead will have to settle for one.
Making his case
I wrote about Tsubasa Endoh earlier after his great goal against the Colorado Rapids last Sunday, but once again Saturday night the 2016 first-round pick showed why coach Vanney has felt comfortable slotting the Japanese-born attacker in on either wing in his 4-3-3 formation.
With Nicolas Benezet out against LAFC, Endoh found tons of space down former TFC defender Steven Beitashour’s right-hand side and looked dangerous doing so, eventually leading to the Reds only goal of the game in the 19th minute.
That was Endoh’s career-high third goal of the season. The 26-year-old could be a “super sub” for Toronto FC down the stretch, who, as a team, have shown an impressive amount of depth during their unbeaten two-month run in MLS.
Clog the middle
As mentioned in one of my previous points, the Reds entered Saturday night with a clear gameplan, leading to arguably their best half of the 2019 season. A highly energized and organized press that reached its peak when LAFC had the ball in their central midfield — namely when Eduard Atuesta was in possession — led to countless turnovers from L.A., including on TFC’s opening goal. In particular, Marky Delgado was fantastic at forcing countless poor decisions from talented LAFC players thanks to his relentless work rate.
Once again, credit to coach Vanney and co. for doing their homework heading into this one. The Reds manager was even able to withdraw some of his key players ahead of Wednesday’s Voyageurs Cup final against the Montreal Impact.
Valuable points dropped
We saw Sunday why the two points dropped in L.A. was so pivotal for the Reds.
With the game all but locked up in injury time, Mavinga — who has been one of the better defenders for Toronto over the past couple of seasons — made one of his trademark risky challenges in the 18-yard-box, conceding a needless penalty and costing TFC a full three points on the road.
Collecting only one point, the Reds temporarily moved one point ahead of D.C. United and two points up on the sixth-place NY Red Bulls. However, wins by both D.C. and New York on Sunday propelled the two American teams ahead of Toronto, leaving TFC in sixth and facing a potential away playoff game in Philadelphia.
Man of the Match
There were a lot of worthy candidates for the MOTM award Saturday night, as Toronto put in one of their best performances of the season despite the disappointing finish. With such an emphasis placed on defence heading into the weekend contest, steady Omar Gonzalez earns the MOTM nod this week after yet another strong game at the back for the Reds.
If it weren’t for Mavinga’s tackle at the end, it would’ve been an impressive clean sheet — led by Gonzalez — against a first-place team on the road. It’s no coincidence that TFC have only lost one time in the 12 starts that the 31-year-old has made since his arrival to Toronto.