The week leading up to the night’s bout has been — to put it in the lightest possible terms — humbling for Toronto FC. After looking dominant for the better part of a month, TFC suffered two consecutive losses to two different Canadian teams, leaving them in a rather dire, must-win situation. Foremost, the Reds would be looking to reestablish some authority on the pitch on Wednesday night, as well as — if possible — pride.
From the first touch things felt different for both sides. Toronto was pressing with a conviction, but a touch of unrest as well, clearly feeling the burden of the much-needed win, while Montreal — as if having freshly witnessed the “disrespect” of the now notorious Pozeulo-Piatti penalty kick (a moment that surely fanned the flames of rivalry between the two sides, if ever there was a danger of them dying) — came out looking more certain than they yet have in the regular season.
Right around that ten minute mark that the Impact began to amplify the pace. On two occasions Justin Morrow was beaten by Montreal defender Zachary Brault-Guillard, both resulting in beautiful passes that found a waiting Impact attackers who could not convert.
Conversely, Montreal was defending with poise, reading balls well and effectively curbing the distribution coming from TFC’s wingers.
But, as the game continued, TFC started to regain their stride. By and by they maintained possession and were able to move the ball with more agency. However, Montreal’s defence was steady. Specifically they were committing hard to Jozy Altidore, and flooding the box with defenders at the slightest scent of opportunity.
(Comically, even the Impact fans were in on the defence, having rained a procession of boos down on Altidore after he collected a clearly offside ball).
Finally, at the 32nd minute, TFC drew first blood. In a moment of brilliance, Richie Laryea took a transition ball and tore down the left wing all the way to the net, the deflected pass finding Pablo Piatti who pushed the ball easily into the net.
But Montreal did not sulk. They began to push even more intensely. Special mention must go to Romell Quioto, who was was a terror in the Toronto backline, and in fact found the back of the net as well, although on an offside ball. Despite the response, however, the Impact could not find an equalizer, and the first half ended with the Reds up a goal.
Montreal continued their ferocity to open the second half. They were pressing hard and smothering TFC across the field to try and squeeze out a mistake. At the 54th minute some drama ensued. An Impact free kick found Victor Wanyama wide open in front of net, where he headed the ball into and under Quentin Westberg for a goal. However, it was immediately called offside. Some fixing later, the situation went to video review, after which it was deemed a goal.
The Impact continued their pressure around the field after the goal and Toronto struggled to reclaim their usual calm. They were interacting sloppily with the ball and found themselves often pinned inside their half, often near their box. However, Westberg was playing exceptionally, coming out to meet and mitigate incoming plays, and key members of the defence like Auro and Chris Mavinga kept things tied for the Reds.
At the 70th minute Toronto were finally able to stabilize and returned to the game to a more even place. However, at this point the match was starting to sputter, with both teams exchanging promising but never really challenging attempts at goal; it seemed as though the game was set to simmer down until it’s finish. But the final ten minutes brought with it a host of chances for both teams, culminating in something unexpected.
At the 88th minute a long cross ball found Jozy Altidore (who I was getting ready to pan at the end of this write-up) alone against the Impact keeper. After a few steps and a moment of poise, he blasted the ball through the legs and into the net.
The last minute goal stole the order from Montreal, who continued to push, but were shell-shocked by the goal. The game ended shortly thereafter.
While TFC will be overjoyed with the victory, they should consider themselves lucky. Seldom were they the better, if not at best equal, side to a team they only weeks ago dominated. Altidore (who I will now pan) had a moment of glory, but truthfully did not play well, often looking lethargic and disinterested.
Again, the playmakers on Toronto shoulder much of the burden, but there is a feel as if no true strikers exist on the team. Furthermore, the points that came for the Reds came off of individual skill, not team unity. These things will weigh heavily on TFC as they go forward.
Regardless, a win is a win, and they will be pleased with the three points. All eyes shift to the Montreal Impact now, and how they rebound against the Vancouver Whitecaps.