TFC methodically pick apart Timbers to extend home unbeaten streak

Toronto FC forward Sebastian Giovinco (left) takes the ball away from Portland Timbers defender Vytautas Andriuskevicius during first half MLS action in Toronto on Saturday, August 12, 2017. (Chris Young/CP)

• Portland Timbers 1 (Valeri 89’), Toronto FC 4 (Morrow 58’, 76’; Vazquez 72’, Delgado 87’)
• Toronto still unbeaten at home with 9 wins, 3 draws
• Morrow bagged a brace; Hagglund left injured in 1st half

TORONTO – The Portland Timbers are the latest team to swim with the fishes at BMO Field.

Toronto FC didn’t dispatch Portland with the gruesome brutality of a bloody mafia hit. Instead, Saturday night’s 4-1 win over the Timbers was slow and methodical – it looked as though TFC enjoyed teasing the visitors, roughing them up like some traitorous mob member who flipped, before finally finishing them off with four second-half goals.

Justin Morrow bagged a brace for TFC, who kept hold of top spot in the Major League Soccer standings and remained unbeaten at home this season (nine wins and three draws). Victor Vazquez and Marky Delgado also scored for the Reds.

Toronto coach Greg Vanney, honoured by fans in the south stands prior to kickoff with a wonderfully whimsical tifo heralding him as “The Gregfather,” masterfully pulled the tactical strings on the night, further endearing him to the TFC faithful.

Vanney was humbled to the point of embarrassment over the public display of affection, downplaying his role in the team’s success this season.

“I am pretty quiet; the whole thing is not about me. I am kind of embarrassed to be honest, but I appreciate it. Ultimately, it comes down to the players doing the right stuff on the field, and they make us look good on the sidelines,” Vanney said.

Saturday wasn’t a perfect performance, Vanney argued. Like his coach, Morrow bemoaned what he felt was his side’s wasteful start to the game that saw the Reds produce some lovely build up, but no end product in the final third of the pitch.

“Truthfully, I don’t think we can be happy with the way the game went in the first half. We responded in the second half, but I think that was a character thing. We challenged ourselves to make the killer pass, to make the killer play,” Morrow said.

Saturday’s win came in the aftermath of TFC’s disappointing 1-1 draw against last-place D.C. United, a result that allowed the second-place Chicago Fire to close the gap on the front-running Reds. Captain Michael Bradley bristled at one reporter’s question that asked him to juxtapose this contest with last week’s match against D.C.

“Everybody needs to relax a little bit after the D.C. game. We took a point on the road – there’s teams in this league who’d kill to take points on the road. Obviously, we hold ourselves to high standards… Quite honestly, it doesn’t matter where we play or who we play against, we feel like we should win,” Bradley stated.

“Having said that, we’re not going win every game. It’s important on the days that we don’t win to still know how to come away with points… Were we frustrated to not come away with [a win]? Of course. But again, we still came away with a point on the road.”

Veteran centre back Drew Moor was given Saturday off by Vanney, as his wife was expecting to give birth to the couple’s second child. Nick Hagglund started in Moor’s place, the only change to Toronto’s starting lineup from last week’s match in the U.S capital.

Aside from defender Steven Beitashour and midfielder Benoit Cheyrou (both out with long-term injuries), Toronto was also missing rookie Oyvind Alseth (foot laceration). Portland was without influential forward Fanendo Adi (hamstring) and defender Liam Ridgewell (quad).

Toronto’s Sebastian Giovinco nearly opened the scoring in the third minute, only to see Portland goalkeeper Jake Gleeson tip his dangerous free kick destined for the back of the net around the post. Both teams were forced to make injury substitutions at the 18-minute mark: Jason Hernandez in for Hagglund (left knee sprain), and Jeff Attinella replaced Gleeson (hamstring).

The injury to Hagglund was a cruel blow, as the 24-year-old sustained a torn MCL to the same knee in May, and was making just his second start on Saturday since recently returning to full fitness.

“Hopefully, it’s a quicker turnaround. Hopefully, it’s not too serious,” Vanney offered.

As the Timbers bunkered down defensively and tried to hit out on the counter, the Reds tightened the screws on the visitors for the remainder of the opening half with some fleet-footed combination plays.

Portland had its scoring chances, though. Early in the second half, David Guzman was played in on goal via a quick one-two, only to misfire over the crossbar while having TFC goalkeeper Alex Bono at his mercy.

Shortly after, Bono collected a corner kick and quickly started the Reds out on transition that ended with Morrow firing into the roof of the net after the Timbers failed to clear their lines. Both Vazquez and Jozy Altidore nearly doubled the Reds’ advantage in the ensuing minutes – Vazquez’s wicked shot whispered past the post, while Attinella came up big to deny Altidore on a clear break.

Vazquez wouldn’t be denied, as he netted his fifth goal of the campaign when he slotted home from close range on a setup from Giovinco.

Morrow put the game beyond doubt when he was in the right place at the right time, scoring from the top of the six-yard box after Giovinco’s pass took a fortunate deflection. Delgado compounded the Timber’s misery to make it 4-0. Diego Valeri scored a late consolation goal for Portland.

NOTES: TFC returns to action next Saturday when it visits the Chicago Fire in a battle of the two top teams in MLS… Alex Bono tied Stefan Frei’s club record for most wins (20) by a TFC goalkeeper… Saturday marked the only regular-season meeting this year between Toronto and Portland…

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