For about 20 minutes in the second half on Monday, it looked like things were going to end the way they usually do for Toronto FC at Red Bull Arena: badly.
After getting frustratingly close to the half-time whistle with a 1-0 lead built on the back a dominant first-half performance in the first leg of their Eastern Conference semi-final, TFC conceded a penalty. New York Red Bulls’ resulting goal not only tied the match, but seemed to give the home side new life.
They came out of the gates in the second half and pressed hard for a crucial go-ahead goal.
That they never found it is thanks in no small part to a resilient effort from goalkeeper Alex Bono and a back line led by substitute Nick Hagglund, who came in for his first appearance since August at the interval.
Monday was Bono’s first MLS playoff game, but it sure didn’t look that way. With his team under fire, he maintained the confidence and composure of a veteran. The command he had over his box was particularly impressive, as he consistently claimed balls that could have otherwise resulted in dangerous scoring chances.
This, in particular, is something Bono struggled with in the last few matches of the regular season. Then again, the rest of the team didn’t look so sharp either. Monday was a reminder of why Bono is the man to carry this team forward between the sticks.
He was credited with three saves in the win. His most important came deep into stoppage time, when he denied a Kemar Lawrence header to preserve Toronto’s lead. He smartly realized that he couldn’t claim a looping ball into the box, re-adjusted and made a fine save at his near post.
For his efforts, Bono was voted as Toronto’s man of the match in the first leg of the New York tie by Waking the Red readers. His Rate the Reds rating came out at +138.
The only blemish on Bono’s game came when he allowed a goal from a penalty kick just before half-time. It has been pointed out that Daniel Royer picked the exact same spot he did against Bono earlier this season - down the middle - but penalty saves are so rare anyway he can hardly be faulted.
Second behind Bono in the Rate the Reds rankings was Hagglund (+127), which is impressive considering he only played the second half. In fact, that was the first 45-minute stretch of soccer Hagglund had played since July 22, and his first action at all since suffering a second knee injury of the season on August 12.
Hagglund probably didn’t initially draw into Greg Vanney’s plans but was needed after Drew Moor went off injured at the end of the first half. He did exactly what was asked of him to in order to get the Reds out of Harrison with only one goal conceded.
In just 45 minutes, Hagglund made 13 clearances. He also had two recoveries and led Toronto in passing accuracy at 77.8 per cent, according to Opta. He wasn’t perfect, and lost his man on a few occasions, but the overall results were very positive.
Like Bono, Hagglund also provided a highlight-reel moment during the match. His came when he stretched out to take away what looked to be a sure Red Bulls goal.
While Hagglund is getting plenty of plaudits and deserves them, Toronto’s most solid defender on the occasion was, once again, Chris Mavinga. His stat line reads two tackles, three interceptions, nine clearances and two blocked shots and his passing accuracy was second only to Hagglund at 77.1 per cent.
Full Rate the Reds rankings:
- Alex Bono +138
- Nick Hagglund +127
- Victor Vazquez +122
- Chris Mavinga +116
- Sebastian Giovinco +111
- Jozy Altidore +107
- Michael Bradley +96
- Jonathan Osorio +76
- Steven Beitashour +73
- Armando Cooper +56
- Justin Morrow +27
- Eriq Zavaleta +24
- Marky Delgado +12
- Drew Moor -19