• MLS – Toronto FC 3 (Delgado 14’, Hasler 63’, Giovinco 89’), Chicago Fire 1 (Accam 54’)
GAME RECAP IN A SENTENCE
TFC marched into Chicago and made the league’s best home team look pretty ordinary, extending its unbeaten streak to seven games while defending the city of Toronto’s sporting honour on the same day the Blue Jays capitulated against the Cubs at Wrigley Field.
THE MAIN STORY
Chicago has been unbeatable at home this season – literally.
The Fire entered Saturday’s match having won a club-record nine straight at Toyota Park, boasting a record of 10 wins, one draw and no losses in 2017. What’s more, the club from the Windy City had only lost once to Toronto at home in 12 contests, so history was certainly not on the Reds’ side. But for a team that was supposed to be stern test and threatened to slow down the “Big Red Machine,” the Fire looked pretty average in suffering their first home loss of the campaign.
What was especially gratifying about TFC’s win was that its three DPs – captain Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco – weren’t its three best players. That’s not to say they had off-nights, but it was the supporting cast who stepped forward in this contest. Goalkeeper Alex Bono made some critical and timely saves when called upon, while midfielders Marky Delgado and Nicolas Hasler were the driving forces behind Toronto’s probing attack.
Earlier this week, Bradley said: “One of the most exciting parts about our group this year is we feel like we can beat anybody on any day no matter where we’re playing, and we can do it different ways. We’ve got a group that has responded to different challenges in different games, and has always been up for the big moments.”
Make no mistake, Saturday was a big moment. With the win, table-topping Toronto opened up a nine-point lead on third-place Chicago with nine games remaining in the season. Barring a sudden loss of form by TFC, the Fire aren’t going to catch up, so this result pretty much ended their hopes of finishing in first place. TFC sent a not-so-subtle reminder to Chicago and the rest of the league, in case anybody harboured any doubts, that it is the team to beat this season, and that the path to the MLS Cup goes through Toronto.
63’ GOAL! Toronto 2-1 Chicago: Chicago had the momentum after David Accam’s goal, but the Reds swung the game in their favour for good when Victor Vazquez floated a perfect cross to the back post for Hasler to head home.
Will Beitashour have to win his job back?
Hasler has improved with each game he’s played for TFC, and Saturday was easily his best effort since debuting for the Reds earlier this summer. The Liechtenstein international has proven to be a valuable asset to the team during the injury absence of Steven Beitashour, who came on for the final 23 minutes in his first appearance since late June. Coach Greg Vanney now has an interesting decision to make. Does he go back to Beitashour as his first-choice right wingback after such a lengthy layoff? Or does he stick with what’s been working and keep Hasler in for the time being? Does he sacrifice the continuity the team has achieved in recent weeks to accommodate Beitashour?
Chicago’s back line was decimated thanks to the injury absences of Brandon Vincent, Joao Meira and Matt Polster. Chicago compensated by dropping midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger into the defence, having him act as a sweeper who had license to go forward when needed. But with the German playing deep, Toronto had plenty of room in midfield to exploit, and Schweinsteiger was dragged out of position on the opening goal, playing Delgado onside. It says a lot about the quality of this TFC side that Chicago changed its tactics and deployed a player of Schweinsteiger’s calibre as a roaming centre back in order to thwart the Reds.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Marky Delgado, Toronto: The youngster from California continues to show why he’s rightfully earned a spot in the starting 11. Delgado was in the right place at the right time, scoring off a rebound to give the Reds the lead, and then played a pivotal role in the build-up to Hasler’s winner in the second half. In between, he caused plenty of problems for Chicago with his quick movement with the ball and his pace.