To start with, if you have not been aware already, at this point you have surely recognized Miguel Herrera is a very outspoken person, sometimes crossing the line in his speeches as well.
Besides creating tension at post-game, the Club América’s coach had already let sparks fly during the pre-match press conference when he said, “our league doesn’t compete with the MLS.”
Well, those words looked to have fired up the entire Toronto FC clan as they delivered another solid display in front of the home crowd, on a cold and rainy night that only the city of Toronto knows how to offer.
It was a night in which TFC’s most acclaimed players had to step up and take victory home, and they did so with Sebastian Giovinco scoring and serving one up for Jozy Altidore while, as usual, Michael Bradley masterminded the home side’s resilient behaviour.
Another excuse to show the highlights.
While on one hand he was forced to play with three at the back due to the injuries of Nick Hagglund, who will spend six weeks away from action and Chris Mavinga, who should be available for the second leg, on the other, seeking to have more cover in the midfield, Greg Vanney opted to shape TFC into a conservative 3-5-2 system.
Gregory van der Wiel’s performance as a central defender against Real Salt Lake last Friday looked to have convinced Vanney as he roped in the Dutchman in a three-man backline together with Drew Moor and Eriq Zavaleta.
Among the three defenders, he put up the best display with his positional awareness annulling Cecilio Dominguez’s forward surges, especially in the first half. To put this in a better picture, Dominguez is one of the best defensive midfielders in Liga MX and he is one of the players who set everything in motion for Herrera’s team, so basically vdW bullied one of Club América’s pivots.
He completed over 90% of his passes, most of which helped TFC to overcome the first line of pressure brought forward by Club América. He was crucial inside TFC’s 18 with two interceptions, two recoveries and five clearances.
Bradley, Marky Delgado and Jonathan Osorio were the three central midfielders, all with different tasks while Auro and Ashtone Morgan were TFC’s outside backs.
Up front, it was all about the chemistry between Altidore and Giovinco to work its magic.
One has to keep in mind that Vanney couldnèt make use either of the aforementioned Hagglund and Mavinga but also of Justin Morrow (calf strain) and Victor Vazquez (back spasms), who recently re-signed with the club.
Hence, this meant that TFC needed to function more as a collective rather than banking purely on the quality of its individuals.
Giovinco pulling the strings
The very first minutes saw Club América pushing men forward and pressing with three players outside the area, especially when Alex Bono was with the ball with Bradley retreating back next to goal to receive the ball.
However, this was not the prelude to a dominant affair from Club América but to a pulsating first-half which saw Toronto facing their opponents eye-to-eye, fearing no one but themselves (or the miserable weather).
Immediately, I got the impression that Club América did actually underestimate TFC a bit. Why? They were pressing so high that their central defenders were constantly almost in the centre of the field without any type of preventive marking, leaving TFC’s main threats in Giovinco and Altidore to easily find space between the lines.
In fact, the penalty drawn by the Italian came from such a situation when he received the ball on the left flank and as we all know, once he is in a one on one situation, most of the time it is a death sentence to the opponents (goal, assist or a set-piece from which much of the time he scores).
He is now the third all-time TFC scorer in this competition with three goals together with Terry Dunfield. Ryan Johnson and Joao Plata the leading scorers with six goals each.
No mistake this time from Seba. 1-0 TFC. pic.twitter.com/b1yIVBoecS— Waking the Red (@WakingtheRed) April 4, 2018
At this point, one would have expected the opponents to step up and respond but it was the home side who continued to inch their way up the field, thanks to Giovinco’s contribution. Hereceived the ball deep before setting his companions in motion.
One of the players who was communicating with the Italian in an excellent manner was Delgado, who was exploiting the half-spaces most of the time even though TFC never really capitalized on such threats. Here is one example.
Another good buildup from #TFC, who are flowing forward early on. Giovinco to Delgado, great backheel to return it to Seba, but no one was there to finish his cross. #TFCLive #TORvAME #CCL #SCCL2018 pic.twitter.com/uK9rfXfCob— Jason Foster (@JogaBonito_USA) April 4, 2018
Nonetheless, when you face such strong opponents, you have to be prepared to concede the field to them and to know your tasks when you are required to halt danger.
That was something which TFC failed to do when Club América leveled terms from a turnover. It was a positive transition from the home side as they outnumbered their opponents but the flat defending and lack of aggressiveness cost them the lead as Andrés Ibargüen danced his way into the box and rifled the ball past Bono.
This was a heck of a goal from Club America to draw it level at one. pic.twitter.com/Mkntox0luG— Mitchell Tierney (@mitchelltierney) April 4, 2018
This goal came as a cold shower for the home side but it was a moment in which TFC had to roll their sleeves up and show what they are made of.
The reaction was positive, going into every challenge with determination and aggressiveness until they made their pressure count when Delgado won the ball in a midfield contrast before notching the ball towards Giovinco.
With a perfectly weighted pass, the former Juventus player unlocked Altidore and the latter hit a thumping volley to net his 51st goal for the club. Once again, clutch time as he scored on the brink of halftime.
Jozy Altidore, when he is on he is unstoppable. pic.twitter.com/m7mRa4SGU1— Waking the Red (@WakingtheRed) April 4, 2018
So, from the first 45 minutes I could draw three conclusions.
- First, Vanney was right about being a threat by moving the ball quickly. The day prior the game he said, “It’s about moving the ball quickly. When teams start to press or extend themselves, if you can move the ball quick and shift the angle, then you can find entry passes in behind those players and into some of the pockets that might be available,” — for example, both the first and second goals together with Altidore’s attempt on goal which was blocked.
- Second, despite conceding 10 goals in 13 Liga MX outings, Vanney was quickly to underline that, “They are by no means a defensive side. They don’t sit back. Instead, they try to force the issue,” — example, the second goal.
- “My anticipation is they’ll come and they’ll try to play and they’ll try to still create turnovers in advantageous positions and try to play on the transition. They’ll still look for their moments to really try to be aggressive,” — example, Club América’s goal.
There were no signs of slowing down after the change of ends.
Almost on the hour mark, TFC scored their third of the night with one of best moves ever produced by Toronto in their short history.
Morgan, in a very Justin Morrow-esque role, sent a searching pass to Delgado. The latter immediately notched to the oncoming Auro who sent an inviting ball into the box on which Morgan capitalized to conclude a well-engineered play which he had started.
This was a further testament to Morgan’s rapid growth as a player this season despite being absent from action for a long time prior this season.
ASHTONE MORGAN ARE YOU KIDDING ME? pic.twitter.com/Z7GasY0tlN— Waking the Red (@WakingtheRed) April 4, 2018
Prior the game, Waking the Red had spoken to Rafa Diaz of FMF State of Mind about how TFC should mark Oribe Peralta.
He said, “The solution is to disconnect Peralta from the game. Isolate him or force him to misplace a pass to a teammate.”
Barring a couple of Ibargüen threats and a late Bono save, Club América never really hemmed TFC into their own half and Peralta was isolated from the game as TFC’s defenders took it in turns to man-mark him while TFC’s midfield, in particular Bradley, was able to fill the gaps between the defensive line to halt any open-space balls.
On Tuesday, Bono might have actually boosted TFC’s chances of qualifying when in the closing stages of the game, he denied Henry Martin from close-range to preserve the two-goal cushion.
Big save from Alex Bono to keep Toronto FC up two. pic.twitter.com/7pxdQYl0O9— Mitchell Tierney (@mitchelltierney) April 4, 2018
Next week, Vanney’s clan will head to the famous Estadio Azteca in front of a wild, hostile crowd which will do anything in the interest of seeing their team punch their tickets to the final.
Clearly, TFC need a performance for the ages to pull it off.