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Recap and Highlights: TFC survive wild 7-goal gauntlet to claim victory against Montreal

The Reds hang on to take a 4-3 win against Canadian rivals Montreal Impact

Montreal Impact v Toronto FC - MLS Is Back Tournament
Ayo Akinola stunned Montreal with a hat trick, and his fifth goal of the tournament, on Thursday night.
Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Toronto FC were finally able to secure three points after staving off Montreal in an outright frenzy of a derby.

After TFC’s tie against DC United, coach Greg was quoted as saying that the team was both ticked off and embarrassed with the result, and most importantly, were raring to get back on the field and prove their mettle. It’s just that no one expected the seven-goal frenzy that would ensue in their second match against Montreal.

The Reds started strong with their expected commanding presence on the field, and at only eight minutes had found a goal with a gorgeous strike from Richie Laryea.

But, as it is with all derbys (as well as anything that involves the French), nothing is ever simple. Only five minutes later, with a breathtaking cross from Emanuel Maciel, Montreal had it level.

The return goal destabilized TFC’s grasp on the game and possession began to lean toward the Impact. However, a mere 11 minutes later Toronto struck back. A lovely combination between Alejandro Pozuelo and Pablo Piatti led to a surgical pass right to the feet of Ayo Akinola.

With the score again at parity, the pace of the game began to degenerate, with both sides swapping possession as well as fits of both good and bad movement. A spot of sloppy defending and a renegade tackle by Mavinga led to a penalty kick for Montreal, on which they again equalized.

But, the very next play saw Pozuela sync a beautiful pass with Akinola who made a quick run and sealed TFC’s third of the game.

As seems to be the case with most frontloaded matches, the second 45 was much calmer. Despite an an early surge of pace and possession from Montreal, things settled down. Toronto stabilized and began to regain some control; however, they were unable to find their usual dominance. By the 70th minute TFC looked wholly enervated, but managed to keep their defence rigid enough to repel the Impact attack.

And — just when the game seemed that it had resigned itself that late-second-half malaise — at the 82nd minute Akinola produced a little bit more magic. A crafty pass from Nick DeLeon saw Akinola get the ball on the far side of the Montreal defence, carry it to the opposing net, and — with audacity fit for Pozuelo himself — chip it cheekily right over the keeper for a hat trick.

A late handball in the box courtesy a sliding Laurent Ciman allowed Montreal another goal, but by that point the game was all but over, and when it was all said and done, Toronto came out with the win.

In terms of players, Bradley had a solid showing on the night, able to firm up the defence in the second half when TFC were looking particularly tired. Similarly Laryea put in a lot of work on the pitch, showing great pace and hustle throughout the match.

Pozuelo and Piatti have both shown that when they get the space to play their way, they can produce magic; Pozeulo in particular continues to showcase his ungodly knack for maintaining the ball in critical situations, no matter how many bodies are thrown at him.

And, of course, Ayo Akinola was the crown jewel on the night. His hat trick in the match — and, count it, five goals in two games — is a definitive showcase of his sterling positioning and his ability to work off the big playmakers on the team to produce goals. TFC fans may very well be witnessing his break out season, despite how ironically short the season may be.

Despite all of the positives, though, the Reds have one big problem. The enduring, and undeniably large obstacle Toronto is facing is their easily confused defence. Save for Mavinga’s play that allowed the first penalty, the individual members of the team perform reasonably; but, as a unit, the defensive line is worryingly vulnerable to moments of chaos and especially counterattacks. These moments cost Toronto three deserved points against DC, and as a team they should consider it opportune that the offence showed up in the way they did against Montreal.

Vanney will surely be happy with the victory, but he will just as surely not be satisfied with it. He of all people understands that better teams will afford Toronto less chances and will punish them more readily. It’s still early in the tournament, but it is now that these issues need to be resolved. The lack of players like Altidore and Osorio are considerations, but there will be nights when goals do not flow as freely as against Montreal; it is for these times that Vanney needs contingencies, or a reliable defence.

Until then, though, the Reds can rest easily having at last claimed a win.

Toronto FC faces off against New England Revolution on Tuesday at 9:00 EST.