Toronto FC one point away from MLS record after beating Montreal

Toronto FC's Sebastian Giovinco (centre) plays the ball as Montreal Impact midfielder Andres Romero (15) looks on during MLS soccer action in Toronto on Sunday, Oct.15, 2017. (Frank Gunn/CP)

Montreal Impact 0, Toronto FC 1 (Altidore 16’)
• Toronto ties mark for most points in a season
• Reds can break record next week in Atlanta

TORONTO – One game, and one point.

That’s how far away Toronto FC is from recording the greatest regular season in Major League Soccer history.

TFC put one over the Montreal Impact in the “Canadian Classique” on Sunday evening, earning a 1-0 win against its bitter rivals on the strength of Jozy Altidore’s first-half goal before 27,866 spectators at BMO Field.

The Reds now sit on 68 points, tying the league record for most points in a single MLS campaign, set by the LA Galaxy in 1998. Toronto can eclipse LA’s mark in its final match of the regular season next Sunday on the road against Atlanta United FC.

“[Beating LA’s record would be] a nice feather in the cap for a group of guys who have worked very hard this year. They’ve set out goals in front of them and they keep attaining them and pushing forward,” said TFC coach Greg Vanney, who played for the 1998 Galaxy team.

“They want to create a legacy for themselves, and to be able to make history and little things like this are always great talking points. But they also have their eyes focused on the playoffs and lifting the MLS Cup. That’s the next goal in front of them.”

With Toronto having previously wrapped up first place, a playoff berth and a first-round bye, Sunday evening took on a party-like atmosphere for fans. That it happened in front of the Impact, who were eliminated from post-season contention last weekend, made the occasion that much sweeter for the TFC faithful.

Prior to kickoff, supporters in the south-end stands unfurled a massive tifo display that read, “Started from the bottom now we’re here,” a playful reference to TFC’s rise from perennial underachievers to the best team in MLS.

After the game, Toronto FC was officially awarded the Supporters’ Shield trophy which goes to the club that finishes the MLS regular season in first place. TFC clinched the honour in its previous game, a 4-2 home win over the New York Red Bulls on Sept. 30. Toronto players and coaching staff took turns hoisting the trophy and parading it around the field in front of fans as fireworks went off to celebrate the achievement.

“For so many of [the fans], who have been here from the beginning, to see the way the club has grown, to see the way the city has completely embraced the team and the club – there were some dark days, that’s for sure – so for all the people in the stadium who have been here since the beginning, today is for them. It’s a special day,” captain Michael Bradley offered

Vanney went with a full-strength lineup that included top scorer Sebastian Giovinco, who missed the previous four matches with a quad injury. Sunday marked the first time that Toronto’s “Big Four” – Giovinco, Altidore, Bradley and Spanish midfielder Victor Vazquez – all started together since Sept. 9. Montreal coach Mauro Biello made seven changes from the Impact’s last game. Star playmaker Ignacio Piatti was ruled out due to a minor knee injury.

This was a sloppy game. Neither team looked polished, with errant passes, needless giveaways and missed chances in great supply.

“It lacked some continuity. We weren’t as sharp as we’d like to be. … We were just off a little bit. We missed some passes, we missed [our] timing. We made some silly errors that put us under some pressure. It was probably the strangest 1-0 game that I’ve ever been a part of because it could have very easily been 6-5 or something like that. For us to get a shutout in that game was interesting and fortunate, [with] some good hard work combined,” Vanney said.

For Altidore, the goal and the win was extra special, as they came just days after the U.S. national team was eliminated from qualifying for next summer’s World Cup following a 2-1 loss away to Trinidad and Tobago.

“It has been one of the toughest periods of my life. The darkest three days, I didn’t really leave the house or do anything. But then I remember I’m in a special place and quickly I’m reminded just going to get a coffee and seeing somebody in a TFC shirt and hear them say how much it means to them how, how well the team’s done, and I’m just reminded how special the club and the city are and the opportunity that I have,” Altidore said.

It was a sentiment echoed by Bradley, who like Altidore started for the U.S. against Trinidad, and appreciated the unconditional love shown by TFC fans on this night.

TFC’s Marky Delgado hit the crossbar from distance with a thunderous strike to give the Impact an early scare. Goalkeeper Alex Bono made a pair of big saves to deny Montreal forward Matteo Mancosu from in close.

Delgado turned playmaker in the 16th minute, artfully spinning around while in possession and delivering a pass into the box that took a fortunate deflection off Impact defender Shaun Francis. The ball fell into the path of Altidore who slotted inside the far post. The goal was not without controversy, as TFC defender Chris Mavinga appeared to foul Mancosu at the opposite end before the home side pushed up the field.

Just before halftime, Giovinco was brought down inside the box, but his penalty attempt hit the post. The Italian was allowed a retake after Montreal goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau was judged to have come off his line too early, but Giovinco hit the same post on his retry, and the Impact escaped the half lucky to be down just 1-0.

Giovinco came close to scoring again early in the second half, one-timing his shot over the crossbar from 12 yards out after receiving a lovely cut-back pass from Altidore. Giovinco unleashed a shot from distance that forced a save from Crepeau in the final minutes of regulation time.

Toronto FC supporters get an inside look into their favourite club every Monday night at 11 p.m. ET on Sportsnet 590 The FAN. It’s an all-access pass with co-hosts Brendan Dunlop and Thomas Michalakos as they interview the biggest names around the team and preview and review of every TFC match.