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Chicago Fire 1-2 Toronto FC — What we learned

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TFC halted their winless streak to earn three massive points in Chicago

MLS: Toronto FC at Chicago Fire Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

There was a lot of “Finally” in this game.

Finally, Toronto FC returned to victory after coming to this Chicago Fire tie on the back of six winless games in MLS.

Finally, Chris Mavinga and Gregory van der Wiel’s experience returned to the defensive line.

Finally, Jozy Altidore was deployed into the starting XI to form TFC’s trademark tandem with Sebastian Giovinco.

The 2-1 victory on the road puts TFC, who have 19 points, nine points behind sixth-placed New England Revolution (28), with a game in hand in the Eastern Conference.

Hence, this win has revived some hopes to grab a playoff berth even though in the next three league games, Greg Vanney’s clan are set to deal with Atlanta United and New York City FC, currently first and second respectively in the East.

Yet, last weekend’s victory showed glimpses of the 2017 TFC and one of the reasons was obviously the return of some of the senators such as Mavinga and Altidore amid the relief of Vanney who was wondering when his side could get itself back on track in view of the second part of the season.

This game augurs well for the next part of the domestic campaign and I have highlighted some situations on which TFC can bank in order to push themselves higher up the ladder.

Security at the back

Coming to this match, the biggest concern was Chicago’s power up front with Aleksandar Katai, who leads the side with nine goals and three assists and also talisman Nemanja Nikolic who has got already 14 goals in all competitions this season.

How could a vulnerable TFC side defend those two? Luckily for them, van der Wiel and Mavinga were available.

The Dutchman’s experience of dealing with formidable wingers and his positional awareness were key in nullifying Katai from the game, especially in one on one situations.

The 2010 World Cup finalist had one defensive block, three interceptions, one clearance and seven recoveries.

On the other hand, Mavinga’s ability of handling the penalty area by himself trapped the Hungarian striker Nikolic who — except on one occasion in the first half (did not connect with the ball in front of an empty net) — never really threatened Alex Bono.

In terms of attacking, the former PSG defender finds himself at ease when imposing himself with the ball from the back. On one occasion, in minute 31, Mavinga exploited the acres of space left by the Fire midfield to advance with the ball before unlocking Giovinco on the left-wing.

Those were the type of movements that TFC were missing because whenever Michael Bradley or Jonathan Osorio struggle to slide balls behind the defensive line, Mavinga could present himself as a second option.

Having the presence of Ashtone Morgan in the side is important as well. Personally, I believe Morgan sometimes is under-appreciated but what Vanney sees in him is the versatility that the defender provides. Morgan can play as wingback in a 3-5-2 and slide back to form a four-man backline when required. Moreover, his passing ability and orientation towards the inside allows players like Giovinco or whoever is ahead of him to widen the field and create space between the lines.

One flaw shown during the game was the marking on dead-ball situations. They risked on a couple of occasions against Ottawa Fury and against Chicago, they paid the price. TFC applies the man-marking approach but somehow, opponents are still managing to unmark themselves inside the penalty area.

Osorio’s importance

Osorio is having the best season of his life. He is one of the leaders in that locker room and having lived through both the worst and best seasons of TFC’s history, he is allowed to share his voice alongside the other senators to inspire his team mates.

With his 12th goal of the season, Osorio paved the way for TFC to snap a winless streak and put his team back on track in MLS.

He had some impressive numbers in this game:

One goal; two shots; 47 touches; 37/39 passes (94.9% accuracy), 2/2 long balls, one key passes, 2/2 dribbles, 3/4 duels won and seven recoveries.

Altidore’s return

Altidore returned to action after missing 16 games, with his last appearance being on April 25 in the second leg of the CONCACAF Champions League final.

Undoubtedly, with his presence in the starting XI, the team looked more solid and automatically gained more confidence in its tools.

Giovinco felt immediately at ease, roaming behind the USMNT forward while the latter pulls defenders by himself to create spaces for the Italian or the midfielders.

Jorge Corrales was his main opponent throughout the 90 minutes, but Altidore’s physicality and ability to protect the ball made difficult for the Fire’s marker to dispossess the TFC’s forward.

With Altidore dealing with the centre-halves inside the 18, Giovinco could move freely on the flanks and in fact, he managed to score from such a situation with Bradley spraying a wonderful ball onto the Italian before the latter cut inside to send the ball into the far post.

This was the Italian’s 60th goal in 103 MLS games — he has now been involved in 106 goals in 103 games.

Controlling the game

What impressed me most from TFC in this game, was the ability to control the game and never look shambles throughout the encounter, like what has happened in previous encounters during this 2018 campaign.

First of all, not conceding an early goal helped TFC to gain momentum in the first stages of the game.

Moreover, when they conceded the equalizer, they staged a quick reaction and managed to put themselves in the lead for the second time.

Chicago looked like they had no urgency in pressing TFC but this was also due to the fact that skipper Bradley was marshalling the backline and covering the half-spaces that were denying Bastian Schweinsteiger, author of six assists this season, from finding his colleagues behind TFC’s defense.

Here are Bradley’s numbers for this game:

One assist; three chances created; 95 touches; 78/85 passes (92% accuracy); 8/12 long balls; four crosses; 2/2 dribbles; 2/4 duels won; eight recoveries; one tackle; one interception.