TFC have secured their spot in the playoffs after a clean and focused 1-0 victory over FC Cincinnati.
Toronto FC has much to be grateful for this lovely Thanksgiving weekend. They are the current and unabashed darling in MLS, and after each passing game they find themselves in increasingly intrepid form. But best of all, after four consecutive victories, they sit poised to clinch a playoff spot with a fifth. Going into Sunday’s match against second-last seeded FC Cincinnati, the Reds’ directive was simple: win.
With the notable skill gap between the teams, Greg Vanney posted a handful of starters that usually come in off the bench, including Patrick Mullins and youngsters Jayden Nelson and Liam Fraser. Some kilometres under their feet, as well as a serendipitous (or skillful) goal would do wonders for confidence and team depth down the road.
From the first almost comically imperious long ball, TFC seemed like they were on the field to do nothing less than overwhelm their opponent. They were moving hard on the ball and passing with a rather furious pace. FC Cincinnati struggled to keep up, but the speed of the TFC’s pursuit also resulted in some sloppy control and lost balls. Regardless, in the first 10 minutes, Toronto was making it clear that this was a match they expected to control.
Through 20 minutes TFC continued to not just outpace Cincinnati, but bully them as well. The few attempts Cincinnati could generate were quickly deterred, often physically. But with the Reds’ added aggression was not totally focus, coming with two consequential yellow cards on Omar Gonzalez and Jonathan Osorio; while Toronto FC was maintaining dominance, as an overall unit it lacked that certain composure that comes with seasoned starters.
However, in the 28th minute, the group finally found their way.
A daring little run by none other than Richie Laryea on the right edge of the box corralled the FC Cincinatti defence before he deftly passed off the ball to a neatly positioned Mullins who made zero mistake in sending the ball home.
With the advantage in hand, things settled down tangibly for the Reds. They began to move the ball with more calm and position with greater celerity. The confidence was flowing. FC Cincinnati did find a few chances by the virtue of some strong runs by their offence, but as a whole they could not honestly breach Toronto’s self-assured stance.
In the closing minutes of the half the match was feeling—but more so veritably looking—like a game of keep-away. Cincinnati simply could gain a footing. The few moments wherein the ball was at the feet of a blue jersey were brief, and the first half would end with Toronto holding the 1-0 lead.
The second 45 started much like the first, with TFC coming out of the gate in a surge, trying to knock off FC Cincinnati off balance. There was a familiar untidiness about the approach, but unlike in the first half, the Reds’ seemed cognizant of precisely how it worked to their advantage.
By the 60th minute, and with a full complement of substitution bringing in the usual suspects of Ayo Akinola, Pablo Piatti, and Nick DeLeon, the Reds had established their classic siege tactic. They were confounding Cincinnati with every possession and scarcely letting them out of their own half. Their few earnest attempts, once more, were quickly denied or self-destructed because of simplistic distribution. Toronto was squelching them.
Patti’s introduction into the game was of particular note in this regard. While Alejandro Pozuelo is having an MVP quality season, his coupling with the Argentinian adds an undeniable gravitas on the field: Piatti’s finesse brings grace to TFC’s motion, and his presence on the pitch as a scoring threat demands attention, taking a lot of heat off of Pozeulo and enabling quick runs from the wingers. The shift was noticeable against FC Cincinnati.
As the game drew to its conclusion it was all textbook by the Reds. They defended strong, had few mistakes, and were keen on the transition. Into the final 10 minutes the lead remained at a single goal for Toronto, but it was surprising that it was not greater, as for a long time another conversion seemed inevitable.
But instead, at the death, drama. A last minute cross by Cincinnati was aggressively defended by Laurent Ciman and a penalty was called. But after lengthy conversations (read: arguments) it went to review and the call was rescinded. Game over, Reds win.
Moments like this seem endlessly cautionary for the Reds. Control, no, command the game for the majority, perhaps score less than you should have, and an unnerving moment arrives to punish you. However, considering the starting line up, I think this is a rare instance when a single goal is unfortunate rather than unskilled.
For Greg Vanney the game was a tactical success. The guys on the bench got some time to stretch their legs, find their stride, score, and find invaluable confidence. When the end was in sight the shock troopers came in and it was all business. Toronto wins five straight, but who cares? The Reds are in the Playoffs. That is, Toronto FC, the team who had ups and downs and injuries and asides, that Toronto FC, are the first team in the league to clinch. That’s all that matters. Happy Thanksgiving.
FULL MATCH HIGHLIGHTS