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Toronto FC boosted by vintage performance from core players

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Toronto FC continued its comeback towards a playoff berth with a splendid victory over one of their direct rivals in the standings.

MLS: Chicago Fire at Toronto FC Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Last Saturday’s victory over the Chicago Fire has propelled Toronto FC six points behind rivals Montreal Impact, with two games in hand. In a nutshell, that means that TFC have their fate (somewhat) in their own hands despite a dismal start which almost condemned the MLS Cup champions out of a postseason spot.

It was imperative for the Reds to claim three points in this encounter. This was the first time that TFC have won back-to-back MLS games this season and they came at the back of their semi-final victory over the Ottawa Fury in the Canadian Championship.

Undoubtedly, in order to obtain their goal in this match, Greg Vanney’s clan needed a boost from the returning players including Chris Mavinga, Victor Vazquez and Jozy Altidore. And in fact, this trio of players, alongside the usual suspects in skipper Michael Bradley, Jonathan Osorio, and Sebastian Giovinco, showed that the TFC side that produced mesmerizing stuff in 2017 is not far away from resurfacing.

Sterile first half

Vanney opted to deploy his team in the trustworthy 3-5-2 shape with Mavinga in the back three, Bradley anchoring the defensive line, Vazquez on the same line with Jonathan Osorio and Giovinco paired up with Altidore in front of goal.

Remarkably, this was the first time that the former Barcelona midfielder, the Italian forward and the United States national team member featured together since the infamous CONCACAF Champions League final second leg against Chivas Guadalajara.

TFC knocked on Chicago’s door after 11 minutes, when Bradley connected with Vazquez before the latter unlocked Justin Morrow on the left-hand side who immediately sent an inviting ball inside the eighteen but no one connected. Nonetheless, this was a demonstration that the transitional plays are one of the best traits of this side — whenever they move the ball at a rapid pace, they always outwork their opponents.

A similar play occurred two minutes from hal-time but Giovinco failed to hit the base of the net after receiving from Vazquez. However, in between both actions, TFC’s passing was sterile as Chicago’s man-marking approach and physical defending made it difficult for the hosts to slide into the half-spaces or behind the defensive line.

For almost 20 minutes, Vazquez, who had 38 successful passes throughout the whole encounter, disappeared from the game while Altidore never really clicked with Giovinco as he was continuously static, struggling in his usual hold-up play.

Vanney’s intuition

The second half was another demonstration that Vanney’s in-game management has improved in the past years. He removed Ashtone Morgan to play with a four-man backline, advancing Vazquez towards the attacking pair while including Marky Delgado behind the Spaniard.

This move also affected Bradley, who had more presence up front as shown by his numbers: 100 touches, 89% passing accuracy, 4/8 long balls and 5 crosses.

Buoyed by a more offensive shape, Toronto looked a different team as they registered 17 shots while dominating their opponents in every aspect.

Altidore redeemed his poor first 45 minutes when he capitalised from an action that saw Giovinco working a splendid pass towards Osorio, the latter whipping the ball into middle before the U.S. international drew first blood.

From this point onwards, Altidore was handling the centre-halves by himself, Giovinco was roaming more, Vazquez was spraying balls towards the flanks, and Osorio was finding more space inside Chicago’s penalty area.

The question that I posed to myself during this moment was, “is the backline focused enough when there is a need to defend?” There were not many occasions to obtain a reply for this question except for a couple of long-range shots which did not harm. However, this was also a testimony that TFC was exerting its superiority on the field and players like Mavinga and Eriq Zavaleta were actually being involved in the start-up of some of these attacking drives.

The second goal was poetry in motion; Altidore moving wide, creating space and moving the ball towards the oncoming Osorio who was finding acres of space in the middle due to the lack of mobility of the Fire midfield. Osorio sent the ball towards Vazquez, and the latter sprayed a wonderful on the far post towards Giovinco. The former Juventus player showed a lot of athleticism in laying off the ball towards Osorio who had the simplest of tasks in netting his eighth MLS goal of the season. He now has as many goals as in his previous four seasons combined.

Osorio had another excellent game with one goal, one shot, three chances created, 80 touches, 90% passing accuracy, 8/13 duels won, three fouls won, five recoveries, five tackles and two interceptions.

After hitting two posts and registering 10 shots from TFC’s 20 of the match, Giovinco made his pressure count as he sealed the win with the third goal of the night.

With the best players around and the tactical shape that accommodates him best, Giovinco showed that he is still one of the most valuable players in this league. In this game, he chalked up one goal, one assist, 10 shots, three shots on target, two posts hit, four chances created, 56 touches, 82% passing accuracy, 3/4 long balls, three crosses and 5/8 duels won.

Now, a bigger test looms for the Reds as they are set to face the best team in the whole league so far, Atlanta United.

But if TFC’s grind and winning mentality are on their way back into this roster, Vanney and the rest of the team’s environment can aspire big and target silverware.