Toronto FC solidified their grip on top spot in MLS with a 5-0 hammering of the Columbus Crew on Friday night, retaining the Trillium Cup in the process.
Victor Vazquez was the star of the show for the Reds, opening the scoring from the penalty spot after Tosaint Ricketts had latched on to the Spaniard’s pass and been felled by Jonathan Mensah.
Justin Morrow doubled Toronto’s lead after good work by debutant Ben Spencer before Vazquez made sure of the points after half-time with a brilliant under-the-wall free-kick.
Jonathan Osorio and Jordan Hamilton notched late goals off the bench to put a gloss on the scoreline and the only blemish on the night was the red card shown to Marky Delgado for a high tackle on Wil Trapp.
1. Vazquez steps up: What else you can say at this point without descending into hyperbole? The Crew’s suicidal game plan undoubtedly played its part (more on that in a moment), but did Vazquez ever punish them brutally. Ricketts feasted on the balls he slipped behind the defence all game long and the under-the-wall free-kick was the icing on the cake. It was a perfect encapsulation of his performance on a night when he was just smarter than everyone else.
Even the little things Vazquez does draw oohs and aahs from the crowd; things like the little cushioned header he guided straight to Michael Bradley without looking after a ball had been fired in his general direction in midfield. The fraction of a second less that he requires before moving the ball makes such a difference.
2. Take what you’re given: Gregg Berhalter can take the blame for this one from a Columbus perspective. His game plan made no sense whatsoever.
The scenario was this: Toronto’s two most talented strikers are out. One is their best player and the other their top goalscorer this season, and the man they rely on to hold the ball up and bring others into play. Of their replacements, one tends to come alive late in games but can struggle to get involved without space to run into and the other is making his MLS debut.
The obvious move was to sit relatively deep, let TFC have the ball in safe areas and try to frustrate a team missing its usual punch in the final third, tempting the wing-backs and midfielders to try to compensate and thereby leave more space to break into on the counter-attack behind them.
Berhalter set the Crew up to do the exact opposite, dropping a holding midfielder for an extra forward and encouraging an aggressive, possession-based game. It opened up a world of space in which Vazquez could operate and enabled Ricketts to have a field day behind the high defensive line.
Columbus had a couple of decent looks at goal, but they were chasing the game from start to finish.
3. Spencer gets a taste: Spencer took a seat on the bench smiling after plenty of high-fives following his substitution, which tells the story of a debut he can be satisfied with. The American will have undoubtedly learned that the physical battle is dialled up another notch in MLS compared to USL and there were moments when he was too slow to react in possession and release the ball, but his work ethic was commendable and he got his reward with the assist on Morrow’s second goal.