Toronto FC steamroll Union to remain unbeaten at home

Tim Bezbatchenko, the general manager of Toronto FC, joins Joey Vendetta to discuss the heated rivalry between the Montreal Impact and Toronto FC and go over why it might be the best rivalry in the MLS.

Philadelphia Union 0, Toronto FC 3 (Giovinco 10’, Hasler 30’, Altidore 57’)
• Giovinco scored team-leading 13th goal of the season
• TFC unbeaten at home, with 11 wins and three draws

TORONTO – “We haven’t won anything yet.”

Toronto FC GM Tim Bezbatchenko wasn’t being a party pooper when speaking to Sportsnet earlier this week in the buildup to Wednesday’s home game against the Philadelphia Union. He simply wanted to remind his players that the MLS Cup is handed out in December, not August, and that they should stay focused as the regular season enters the final stretch.

They took Bezbatchenko’s warning to heart. Sebastian Giovinco netted his team-leading 13th goal of the campaign, and Nicolas Hasler scored on a header for the second time in as many games to lead TFC to a convincing 3-0 win over Philadelphia before 28,645 fans at BMO Field. Jozy Altidore also scored, while Victor Vazquez collected a pair of assists, and now leads the league with 13.

Toronto is unbeaten at home this season (11 wins and three draws), and hasn’t lost in eight games overall (with five wins), a streak that dates back to Canada Day when it dropped 3-1 decision in Dallas.

“We talked about it before the season about trying to make BMO a fortress. So far I think we have done a good job of that,” Toronto goalkeeper Alex Bono said.

TFC remains atop the MLS table, and with eight games left in the campaign they look a sure bet to collect the Supporters’ Shield trophy, awarded to the team that finishes the regular season in first place. With 53 points, they also moved closer to breaking the single-season points record of 68 held by the 1998 L.A. Galaxy.

If the pressure is getting to TFC as they chase that mark, then it’s not showing. This was another complete performance from Toronto – the “Big Red Machine” continues to roll along, ruthlessly steamrolling any opponent that dares to step in its path.

“We all know it’s out there [L.A.’s record]. We really don’t talk about it too much as a group… I was pleased that we showed up tonight, played some very good soccer and put together a good performance,” Toronto coach Greg Vanney told reporters after the game.

As if opposing teams didn’t already have enough to worry about when facing TFC, it would appear they must now contend with another dangerous weapon in the Reds’ arsenal in the form of Hasler. Brought in to fill the void left by the injured Steven Beitashour, the Lichtenstein international has seamlessly integrated into the side, scoring two goals in four appearances. One has to wonder if Hasler has done enough to hold onto his starting role with Beitashour now back from his injury layoff.

“He’s getting more comfortable with the group. He clearly has an attacking mindset, but he’s also shown some defensive awareness and positioning,” Vanney said of Hasler.

Vanney made one personnel change from the weekend, as defender Eriq Zavaleta had the night off and Canadian midfielder Jonathan Osorio was given a rare start. Vanney also switched from his favoured 3-5-2 formation to a 4-4-2 setup, with Justin Morrow dropping back into the left side of defence and Hasler on the right, and Vazquez playing a more advanced role behind Giovinco and Altidore.

The formation and tactics changed, but for TFC, the result, and the way it was achieved – in a dominant fashion – remained the exact same. Philadelphia played with two banks of four players spread across the middle when defending. The Reds remained patient, though, slowly chipping away before breaking them down. Even when the Union tried to trap TFC with its pressing game, the Reds calmly played their way out of the pressure.

Vanney believed it was his change in tactics that tipped the game decidedly in his team’s favour, as the Union didn’t know how to deal with the Reds in a 4-4-2 formation.

“A lot of teams expect us in a 3-5-2 now, and they expect certain players in certain areas of the field, and they just weren’t there today – guys were in different parts of the field. It’s very difficult to [have a] game plan and expect reference points to be in certain areas, and then all of a sudden it’s changed,” Vanney offered.

Minutes after being denied in close by Philly goalkeeper Andre Blake, Giovinco scampered across the middle of the park before earning the foul. The Italian made no mistake on the ensuing free kick, delivering a majestic ball into the far corner while Blake stood glued to his goal-line.

Toronto doubled its advantage on the half-hour mark when Vazquez picked out Hasler at the top of the six-yard box with his corner kick. Hasler met the ball perfectly, heading it off the underside of the crossbar and past a helpless Blake.

“It’s an incredible feeling. I’m not use to scoring goals, even back home, and now I’ve scored twice in a row, twice with my head. I’m not used to this so for me it is incredible,” Hasler said.

Vazquez set up TFC’s third goal, playing a quick give-and-go on the edge of the box with Altidore who broke in on goal and slid his shot past Blake.

NOTES: Toronto leads the all-time MLS series against Philadelphia with seven wins and five draws in 18 meetings… Wednesday’s match marked the Union’s return to BMO Field for the first time since last season’s first-round playoff loss… TFC returns to action on Sunday when they visit the Montreal Impact.

TFC Pitchside will provide Toronto FC supporters with an inside look into their favourite obsession Monday nights at 11 pm ET on Sportsnet 590 The FAN. Call it an all-access pass for all things MLS brought to you by co-hosts Dan Riccio, Thomas Michalakos and producer Amil Delic. You'll hear from the biggest names around the club, and the MLS. You'll also get reviews and previews of every TFC game with reports from Pitchside at training and on game days at BMO Field. The Six is about to get done!