It’s hard to overstate just how remarkable an effort that was from Toronto FC, who left four key men at home, had another out injured and gave three players their first starts of the season in Washington but came away with a 1-0 victory.
Toronto were on less than 72 hours of rest and had flown across the continent for this match but picked up a fourth consecutive win courtesy of Jozy Altidore’s first-half penalty after he had been fouled in the area by Roman Torres.
After coming through an early period of pressure and seeing a Seattle goal correctly disallowed for offside, TFC had the better of the first half and Altidore narrowly missed the target after latching on to a through pass from the outstanding Jay Chapman.
Altidore also tested Stefan Frei with a fierce long-range effort and though Toronto tired after half-time, they absorbed the high balls and set pieces the Sounders aimed into their box to earn a completely unexpected three points.
1. Altidore is one of MLS’ best: Without his usual partner in crime in Sebastian Giovinco or Toronto’s chief creator, Victor Vazquez, Altidore must have known he had a thankless task on his hands.
As it turned out, he received more able support from the midfield than might have been expected but that should not lessen the brilliance and bravery of the American’s performance, which - on national television both sides of the border - demonstrated to any of his remaining critics that he belongs in the elite group of strikers in MLS.
Altidore’s work rate was phenomenal and he managed to fire four shots towards Frei’s goal, as well as creating two chances. Is there anyone in the league Greg Vanney would swap him for right now?
2. Chapman & Cheyrou a class apart: The big danger for Toronto in playing in such a defensive shape was that they would struggle to support each other sufficiently in possession, allowing the Sounders to simply send wave after wave of attacking pressure at the Reds.
That was not the case thanks largely to Chapman and Benoit Cheyrou, as well as the ever-reliable Michael Bradley. Chapman’s ability to create time on the ball in such a difficult environment was exceptional, and he engineered Toronto’s two best chances in a a display that suggested he is the man Vanney should turn to when Vazquez is not available. Cheyrou simply glided through the match.
3. A phenomenal work ethic: An away game like this, even at full strength, is a team defensive effort. If the midfielders and forwards do not apply themselves off the ball, the defenders will not look good and will not be able to do much about it.
Toronto’s pressing and harrying was spot on all afternoon, fortunately, but the men at the back still deserve their share of the credit given how unfamiliar a back line this was. Chris Mavinga was much improved, if unconventional at times, in his second start and Jason Hernandez was barely noticeable, which is pretty much exactly what you want him to be as the sweeper.
There is something not quite right with the Sounders - a lack of pace and explosiveness in the final third, I think - but this was a mammoth effort out of possession by every man in red. Other teams might have phoned this one in given the circumstances, but it says a lot about TFC that they did the opposite.
What’s next? Toronto visit the Columbus Crew on Wednesday night. Kick-off in Ohio is at 7.30pm ET.