TORONTO – Pretty? Hardly. Convincing? Not exactly. A big win? You betcha.
Sebastian Giovinco scored two first-half goals to pace Toronto FC to a 2-1 victory over Orlando City before 25, 200 fans at BMO Field on Wednesday night.
Orlando entered this match with an MLS-best 6-1-0 record, buoyed in large part by forward Cyle Larin’s six goals and the midfield solidity of fellow Canadian Will Johnson. Toronto managed to hand the Florida club its first loss in five outings when it jumped out to a lead courtesy of Giovinco’s brace, and then sat back and weathered everything the visitors could throw at them.
After playing some eye-catching, and free-flowing soccer in recent weeks, Toronto took a far more pragmatic approach on Wednesday to earn its third straight win.
This was a big result for the Reds, as they managed to win ugly against the best outfit in MLS, and that’s what the best clubs do.
“We felt like early on in the year we didn’t take the points that we deserved on enough days. … It’s important to take points on nights where you have to grind things out and use your mentality and the spirit of the group to pull yourself through,” captain Michael Bradley offered.
TFC coach Greg Vanney would like to see his side start putting opponents away when they have them at their mercy.
“When we have the game by the scruff of the neck [we need to] finish it off … We have to progress a little bit in our ability to control games in possession, not just in our defensive shape,” Vanney admitted.
With a quarter of the regular season in the books, Bradley likes the way TFC is trending is at the moment, while saying the team’s margin for improvement remains very big.
“We feel good about the group that we have, and we don’t step onto the field on too many days feeling like we’re not going to win,” Bradley stated.
Vanney used the same lineup for the third consecutive game, with youngsters Marky Delgado and Raheem Edwards keeping their places in the starting 11. Former TFC goalkeeper Joe Bendik started for the visitors, but they were missing Johnson, who spent last season with Toronto, due to illness.
The absence of Johnson and Antonio Nocerino forced Orlando’s defence to play very narrow, and TFC took full advantage as they routinely bombed down both flanks.
Edwards did well to chase down a long ball down the left wing. He then used some fancy footwork to blow by Orlando defender Scott Sutter into the box before cutting the ball back to Jozy Altidore, who teed it up for Giovinco at the top of the penalty area. The Italian took a touch to get the proper angle and then fired a low shot through the legs of an Orlando defender and by Bendik at the near post.
Giovinco doubled the Reds’ advantage off another great setup, this time from Victor Vazquez. Bendik cleared Steven Beitashour’s low cross into the box, but only so far as Vazquez, who played a gorgeous no-look pass to the Italian, who slammed it past Bendik from the edge of the six-yard box. The goal was his fifth of the season and 50th in all competitions, making him the first TFC player to reach that milestone. Vazquez tallied his MLS-leading sixth assist on the play.
Orlando pulled a goal back just before the halftime break when Larin headed a Carlos Rivas cross to the far post back across goal for an onrushing Kaka to smash home.
Toronto struggled to play through Orlando’s high press, and the visitors began to control the game in the second half. Alex Bono made a miraculous goal-line save, doing well to recover and swat away the ball while it was on Larin’s toe. Bono came up big moments later to deny Larin from in close a second time.
The Reds continued to sit back and invite Orlando to come at them, but Larin and his cohorts couldn’t find a way through TFC’s bend-but-don’t-break defence.
“We finished off the game in the right way, but there was a pretty long stretch there in the second half where we were defending and having to deal with some things,” Vanney admitted.
“Alex came up with some incredible stops. This win is really because of the saves he made in the second half.”
NOTES: Toronto FC leads the all-time series against Orlando with five wins and one draw in seven meetings. Orlando is winless in four visits to BMO Field, with three losses… These sides will meet again this season on July 5 in Florida… Wednesday marked Greg Vanney’s 100th game as TFC coach. It was also Justin Morrow’s 100th regular season start for TFC… The Reds have a busy schedule over the next 10 days, with road games against Seattle (May 6) and Columbus (May 10) before welcoming Minnesota to BMO Field (May 13).