TORONTO, Ont.—It’s difficult to put into words and tangibly capture the amount of chaos that ensued during Saturday evening’s 5-1 victory over Wayne Rooney’s D.C. United. Aside from Toronto FC’s extra-time first-half explosion, there were several tidbits within the game that made this one so memorable.
Here are five things I noticed in Toronto FC’s first-round MLS Cup Playoffs victory.
The Heart of Defence
Let’s start this one off by giving a serious shoutout to Toronto FC CB Laurent Ciman after the defender learned he’d be starting Saturday’s playoff game about an hour prior to the match when Omar Gonzalez (hamstring) failed a fitness test.
The former MLS Defender of the Year had only gone 90 minutes ONCE in the past three months, so with that in mind, his performance against D.C. was all that Toronto FC could ask for.
It also helped playing beside CB partner Chris Mavinga, who has quietly begun to return to his 2017 form. Mavinga was there whenever Ciman needed help (and vice-versa) as the two players — with the support of their fullbacks and goalkeeper — put out any fires at the back that needed to be put out, with of course, the 93rd minute equalizer aside.
Ciman and Mavinga were a tad sloppy in the second half, but with all things considered, it was a great overall performance at the heart of TFC’s defence. With that said, expect to see Gonzalez return for Wednesday’s match in New York City.
On Wayne Rooney
Despite some reporters waiting 30-45 minutes after Saturday’s match for Rooney’s swansong, the former Manchester United player opted not to talk to media at BMO Field — in what was likely his last in MLS. Clearly, Rooney was frustrated after having, in my opinion, one of his poorest showings since coming to North America.
In the opening 45’, Rooney shockingly had the least amount of touches in the match (20) while completing just 71.4 per cent of his passes. The England legend only had one real breakthrough in the second half when both of his opportunities were denied by TFC goalkeeper Quentin Westberg.
And in what sort of summed up his sentiments towards MLS, Rooney exited the match at the half-way point of extra time with his team down 5-1, a disappointing end to the 33-year-old’s MLS career.
With Jozy Altidore absent from Greg Vanney’s 18 all together, Toronto FC designated player Alejandro Pozuelo was given a golden opportunity. After their match against the Columbus Crew on Decision Day, the Spaniard told reporters that while he would do anything to help Toronto FC win, he believed that his best position was through the middle of the park as opposed to on the wing.
Pozuelo had the chance to prove that Saturday afternoon, and boy, what a difference it makes when you play the 28-year-old in a more central role. Playing mostly as a False 9 up top replacing Altidore, Pozuelo was able to find space in tight areas of the field, rarely conceding possession in the process. More involved in the play, the midfielder sprayed dangerous passes in the attacking third en route to a game-high nine chances created — as much as D.C. United had the entire match.
Pozuelo also led all players on the field with 105 touches on the ball, a testament to his involvement in an important area of the field. When the talented dribbler is playing through the middle, he’s not hiding — something he can be prone to on the wing.
“I think using [Pozuelo] in that spot is interesting,” said Toronto FC captain Michael Bradley after Saturday’s match. “Because his ability to come off the centre backs, ask questions of them, and then when you put guys around him like Tsubasa [Endoh], Nico [Benezet], [Osorio], and Marky [Delgado] — guys who are mobile, guys who are dynamic, guys who are smart — their ability to then use the space that he leaves, it asks a lot of questions from the other team.”
What a week it has been for the Canadian Men’s National Team and its players, in particular Toronto FC’s Jonathan Osorio and Richie Laryea. After picking up one of the most important victories in #CanMNT history, Osorio and Laryea followed that up by picking up TFC’s first playoff win since 2017.
There is something special about Osorio that helps the Canadian midfielder step up in big games, and Saturday night was no different. Despite going 90 minutes in Tuesday’s Concacaf match at BMO Field, Osorio saved his best for last, scoring two goals in injury time — including this volley below — to help the Reds advance to play NYCFC at Citi Field on Wednesday.
Laryea, meanwhile, did what he does best after coming on in the 81st minute: getting behind the defence. He was able to finish to give Toronto a 2-1 lead, thus opening the floodgates. It was imperative that Laryea provided some offensive support in extra time after TFC made several defensive subs to protect the lead, and the young Canadian stepped up big time.
Do I even need to provide an explanation for this one? What a time for Quentin Westberg to be reaching his form. I’m sure he’s going to remember those two saves against Wayne Rooney for a very long time, but his best of the match came against Ola Kamara when the attacker managed to get in behind the Toronto FC defence.
Westberg was also great at coming out and supporting his defenders — with or without the ball. This is why Greg Vanney had so much faith in the Toronto FC goalkeeper this year, and what a time to repay his coach’s faith.