TORONTO, Ont. — While Toronto FC obviously wanted to win Wednesday night, talking to coach Greg Vanney after the match, it was hard to pick apart his side’s performance. While they ultimately lost the Canadian Championship to the Montreal Impact in penalties, the Reds put in another strong effort despite the bitter ending.
Here are a few things we noticed after the match at BMO Field.
A Worrying Trend
As mentioned in the intro, Toronto FC put in another strong effort, despite coming up just short in the end. However, that’s starting to become a concerning pattern: the Reds play well enough to walk away with three points, but are forced to settle with one.
Over their past eight MLS matches, TFC have dropped points to Orlando, Columbus, New England, New York City FC, and LAFC. You can make a strong argument that Toronto should’ve won all of those games, but instead, that’s 10 unclaimed points in the league. You can also make a strong argument that Toronto should’ve found at least two goals over the 90 minutes at BMO Field Wednesday night against Montreal, but instead, were forced to settle for penalties — coming up just short again.
It’s great that they’re not losing, but they’re not winning either right now.
This was the first time that I’ve gone to a soccer game and a player was given a standing ovation for taking a red card. Shout-out to the knowledgeable fans at BMO Field tonight, who understood the Toronto FC defender’s ‘professional foul’.
With about five minutes left to play, Montreal forward Lassi Lappalainen got in behind the TFC defence and was in on goal. Chris Mavinga, aware of the time left and imminent penalty-kicks that followed, elected to intentionally take down Lappalainen outside the TFC box — before he could get a shot off — resulting in a free kick. He was sent off for taking away a clear goal-scoring opportunity, but Mavinga’s decision was rewarded, as Montreal couldn’t take advantage off the ensuing free kick.
After conceding a penalty that cost the Reds two points on Saturday, the sporadic Toronto FC center back could’ve received an ugly reception from the Toronto faithful. However, Mavinga left to one of the loudest applauses we heard all evening, almost as if a goal had been scored.
It helps to know that the fans have his back.
Red card for @TorontoFC @Chris_Mavinga takes down Lappalainen on the breakaway... TFC will play a man down for the remaining six minutes of regular time.— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) September 26, 2019
TFC 1 - 0 MTL ⚪️#CanChamp | #TORvsMTL | #CanChampxOneSoccer pic.twitter.com/Je47OtfmoR
Jekyll & Hyde
At times, watching Alejandro Pozuelo play soccer is like watching an artist on an empty canvas. Despite the finite space in front of him, he stares at an infinite amount of possibilities around him.
But there are other times when it’s frustrating to watch the Toronto FC designated player, and I think we got to see both versions of the Spanish midfielder last night.
During the first half, Pozuelo linked up well with Richie Laryea on the right side of Toronto’s attack, opting to cut inside more often, which in turn freed up space down the wing for the TFC fullback.
However, the frustrating part for me is that in a game where the Reds needed a goal and severely lacked an end product, I would’ve liked to see Pozuelo get on the ball a bit more early on, as he is one of the few TFC players who possesses the quality and ability to consistently breakdown a defence with a single pass.
In the second half, the Spaniard played with more urgency, demanding the ball down the right side and eventually finding Jonathan Osorio in the box with one of his trademark crosses en route to Tsubasa Endoh’s third goal in three games. From my perspective, he took over Toronto’s offence down the stretch, finishing Wednesday’s match leading all players in chances created (4) and touches (104).
It’s not fair to compare Pozuelo to Sebastian Giovinco, as they are drastically different players, yet it’s easy bring up the latter’s name when talking about Toronto FC’s new No. 10 — especially after Pozuelo’s jaw-dropping two-goal debut back in April against NYCFC.
They’re drastically different players, both capable of the sublime. Pozuelo may be a better passer and dribbler, but he’s not as direct as Giovinco. As coach Greg Vanney pointed out after the match, Pozuelo tends to slow the game down and play in-between the lines. Perhaps we were spoiled, but Seba’s 1v1 ability is what separated him from the rest. Pozuelo needs help in order to be successful, but in an 11-player sport, that may not necessarily be a bad thing.
Richie Laryea/Auro Jr Debate
The reason why Toronto FC coach Greg Vanney elected to use two of his substitutions on his fullbacks was because he felt that he’d been asking a lot out of them in terms of work rate. Left-back Ashtone Morgan was the first to be recalled for Justin Morrow at halftime before Canadian International Richie Laryea — who was fantastic for the Reds in his 61 minutes of action — was replaced by Auro Jr..
Gianluca Lia tackled this ‘problem’ last week for us, but I believe Wednesday was the perfect analogy for how tight the race really is for Toronto FC’s starting RB position.
After a blistering opening half for Laryea — and a scorching 90-yard run in the second half — Vanney still felt comfortable going to Auro to close out the match. The Brazilian appeared to pick up a knock against LAFC Saturday night, but was healthy enough to see Wednesday night out. The TFC head coach spoke highly of his fullbacks after the game, especially Laryea, so we’ll see if that’s where he leans moving forward.
There were a lot of flashes of excellence last night from the Reds, but there wasn’t necessarily one player who did that consistently over 90 minutes for me. With that in mind, honourable mentions go to Omar Gonzalez, Pozuelo, and Laryea, but for me, yesterday’s MOTM was Chris Mavinga, who bounced back strong after what could’ve been a confidence-shattering game Saturday night.
TFC managed to do the unlikely, keep a clean sheet against a motivated and revamped Montreal Impact side. There were a few fires at the back that needed to be put out, but I think his game-saving “professional foul”, his ability to pick a pass moving forward, and the fact that TFC kept a clean sheet are all good enough reasons to give him Mavinga the MOTM nod after yesterday’s match.