Toronto FC are not playing total football. They are not scoring at will. But they are MLS Cup finalists once again.
Jozy Altidore downed the Columbus Crew and sealed the Eastern Conference championship for a second consecutive season by scoring while hobbling with an ankle injury in the second half at BMO Field on Wednesday night.
Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco toiled on their return from suspension for much of the encounter - as did TFC as a whole - but combined with Victor Vazquez when it mattered for the goal that decided it.
Greg Vanney returned Altidore and Giovinco to Toronto’s starting lineup and reverted to a 3-5-2 formation, while Gregg Berhalter sprung a surprise by matching that back three and pulling Pedro Santos back to left wing-back.
Much as had been the case for Columbus in the first leg, Toronto looked unsettled by the unexpected Crew formation in the early stages of the game. The visitors carved out a couple of half-chances as a result, with Santos difficult to pick up in his new role.
But the first big chance fell to TFC.
After Jonathan Osorio had seen an earlier penalty appeal turned down, referee Ismail Elfath pointed to the spot when Josh Williams hauled down Drew Moor at a corner.
Vazquez saw his perfect run from the penalty spot broken, though, by a superb Zack Steffen save.
At half-time, Vanney introduced Marky Delgado and switched to a 4-4-2 diamond in a bid to find some fluency through the middle of the park, but looked ready to tear his game plan to shreds when Harrison Afful collided with and injured Altidore.
Then, though, came Altidore’s redemption.
Armando Cooper was stripped off and ready to come on before the American asked for a few minutes longer to attempt to run it off. He couldn’t, but he made those minutes count.
Off a long Alex Bono kick upfield, the otherwise-quiet Giovinco did wonderfully to hold off a defender and flick the ball back to Altidore, who exchanged passes with Vazquez before beating Steffen.
It was Altidore’s last action of the game, with Cooper finally introduced.
Then came the Columbus onslaught, with the Crew still only needing one goal to advance to the MLS Cup final.
Justin Meram should have hit the target when a ball fell on to his left foot in the box, but he cleared the crossbar. The biggest opportunity, though, was Ola Kamara’s.
A near-post cross was flicked through the six-yard box by substitute Adam Jahn only to pass through Kamara’s legs from point-blank range.
Toronto held out - somehow - and will play again for a championship on December 9.