MLS review: TFC takes advantage of imploding Whitecaps

Toronto FC midfielder Jonathan Osorio (21) moves the ball while being chased by Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder Matias Laba (15) during the first half of an MLS soccer game in Vancouver, B.C., on Saturday March 18, 2017. (Darryl Dyck/CP)

• BC Place – Vancouver Whitecaps 0, Toronto FC 2 (Vázquez 76’, Altidore 80’)

GAME RECAP IN A SENTENCE

After an uneventful first half, the match turned on its head when Vancouver’s Brek Shea was sent off in the 70th minute for dissent, allowing Toronto to take firm control and net two second-half goals en route to earning its first win of the MLS season.

THE NARRATIVE

A scrappy contest in which two key starters were missing—Toronto was without the injured Sebastian Giovinco, while Whitecaps goalkeeper David Ousted was suspended—saw legitimate penalty appeals from both teams turned down in the opening half. Toronto carried the majority of the play through the first 45 minutes, but at times they looked a little vulnerable at the back, with the Whitecaps coming close to capitalizing.

The introduction at the start of the second half of Costa Rican Christian Bolaños at the expense of teenager Alphonso Davies breathed a bit of life into the Whitecaps, with the home outfit looking far more creative, applying pressure and keeping TFC pinned in their half for long stretches. But two substitutions by Toronto coach Greg Vanney—Victor Vazquez in the 64th and Raheem Edwards in the 75th—proved to be especially astute moves after Vancouver’s Brek Shea was sent off.

Edwards was given far too much time on the ball by Whitecaps defender Sheanon Williams, allowed a second crossing attempt after his first was cleared away. Jozy Altidore skilfully nodded Edwards’s cross back across the box to Vazquez who headed home from in close to give Toronto a deserved lead. It went from bad to worse for the hosts when Altidore took a smart pass from Jonathan Osorio, turned past Whitecaps defender Kendall Waston and buried his shot by goalkeeper Spencer Richey.

It was hardly vintage stuff from TFC on the day. But the result was never in doubt—the visitors were the better team on the day by a wide margin, Shea’s expulsion providing the foot in the door that the Reds needed to bust it down. Once they did, it was all over for Vancouver.

KEY MOMENT

70’ TWO YELLOW CARDS! Vancouver 0-0 Toronto: With the result still very much hanging in the balance, Brek Shea was called for a foul on Toronto’s Nick Hagglund. Referee Ismail Elfath produced a yellow card, and Shea appeared to respond by telling the official to “F off.” When Elfath looked at Shea in disbelief, the Whitecaps attacker confirmed what he said, and the referee produced another yellow card. Shea was sent off and the momentum turned in favour of TFC, who capitalized by scoring a pair of goals within 10 minutes.

TALKING POINT

Did the Reds miss Giovinco at all? In a word, no. The Italian sat out this game with a minor leg injury picked up in last week’s draw against Philadelphia. While Toronto didn’t score until after Shea’s act of lunacy, Tosaint Ricketts and Jozy Altidore both caused problems for the Whitecaps’ back line. TFC did create chances, they just couldn’t finish them off, with the debuting Spencer Richey making some nice saves for Vancouver. Though the Reds laboured at times in the final third, they looked far more dangerous in attack than the Whitecaps, and you had the sense it would be only a matter of time before they broke the deadlock.

QUICK TAKE

It was a smart move by Toronto coach Greg Vanney to give Clint Irwin the day off and start backup Alex Bono. Vancouver was coming off a midweek game in the CONCACAF Champions League, and looked rather unimpressive through their first two MLS contests, so Toronto was catching the Whitecaps at the perfect time. Vanney previously stressed the importance of managing his starters’ minutes over the course of the year, so it made sense to work Bono into the starting 11 in order to give him some reps this early in the campaign.

STANDOUT STAT

58 percent possession for Toronto:

MAN OF THE MATCH

Jozy Altidore, Toronto FC: The Toronto FC forward used his power and strength to bully Vancouver’s defenders for most of the game. He had a hand in setting up the first goal, nodding on Raheem Edwards’ cross into the box for Victor Vázquez to head home. Six minutes later, Altidore took a lovely pass from Jonathan Osorio, turned and fired a quick shot past goalkeeper Spencer Richey. The U.S. international has carried over his form from the second half of last season, with two goals and an assist through the first three games of this campaign.

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