Toronto FC’s playoff run wasn’t always pretty, but the Reds are through to the MLS Cup final for a second consecutive season.
Gritty Eastern Conference series wins over the New York Red Bulls and the Columbus Crew paved the way for TFC to reach the league’s championship game. Now, they get a shot at redemption and revenge, as they’ll host the Seattle Sounders on Saturday at BMO Field – the same team that beat them in their house via a penalty shootout in last year’s title match.
Here’s a look at the top five moments in Toronto FC’s post-season run to the 2017 MLS Cup final.
1) Jozy Altidore or Keyser Soze?
The Eastern Conference final against Columbus was still in the balance when the teams kicked off the second leg at BMO Field after playing to a scoreless draw in the opener in Ohio. Early in the second half, Toronto forward Jozy Altidore crumpled to the ground with an ankle injury after accidentally being clattered into by Crew defender Harrison Afful. Altidore limped off the field and received treatment before heading back out. He returned to the sidelines to get his ankle taped before giving it one final try, but he was hobbling around, and it was clear he couldn’t continue, and that he had to be subbed out.
Then it happened: Sebastian Giovinco held up the ball on the edge of the box, and back-heeled it to Altidore. A give-and-go sequence followed, with Victor Vazquez delivering a perfectly weighted pass into the penalty area for Altidore to finish off at the far post. “The moment when he scored, it was like Keyser Soze – he went from limping to a perfect sprint and finished it beautifully,” Toronto coach Greg Vanney quipped.
2) Bono’s save on Bradley Wright-Phillips
The second leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals was a tense affair, as a very chippy first half led to the infamous “Tussle in the Tunnel” at BMO Field. New York took control of the game after the halftime break when it scored a fluky goal. Down a goal from the first leg, New York tied the aggregate series at 2-2. The Red Bulls continued to press, pinning TFC inside its half as it searched for a second goal. It looked like it was going to come when Daniel Royer played a deft back-heeled pass for Wright-Phillips, who took a touch as he slipped between two Toronto defenders and rushed towards goal. Goalkeeper Alex Bono, though, quickly sprung off his line, cutting down the angle to make a big save on Wright-Phillips.
Bono’s save helped Toronto stave off a New York team that had the momentum at a critical juncture in the match, and allowed TFC to advance to the next round on the away goals rule. “Yes, we can say that [save was] the difference,” New York coach Jesse Marsch conceded after the game.
3) Giovinco’s free-kick goal
Toronto took an early lead on the road in New York in the first leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals, and dominated much of the first half. But the Red Bulls delivered a sucker punch just before the halftime whistle when Royer converted from the penalty spot. It looked like the game was going to end in a stalemate, but that’s when Giovinco stepped up. Quiet for most of the contest, the Italian drew a foul and then did what he does best: score a majestic free kick, this one from 25 yards out that New York goalkeeper Luis Robles had no chance of stopping. Toronto earned a crucial away victory, and went on to win the series.
“He’s amazing. We talk about it all the time, but the knack to step up in the moment and make a play is what star players do, and he was able to do that tonight,” Vanney said of Giovinco.
4) Bradley’s tackle
Toronto captain Michael Bradley was an unsung hero for the Reds in the Columbus series, with his finest moment coming midway through the first half of the second leg. The Crew nearly opened the scoring on the counter-attack when Justin Meram was closing in on TFC goalkeeper Alex Bono, but Bradley made a lung-busting recovery run from 30 yards to prevent the Crew midfielder from getting his shot off.
Had Columbus scored, the complexion of the game would have changed, as Toronto would have needed two goals to advance to the final. Bradley’s incredible athleticism in breaking up that scoring chance kept the game at 0-0, and set the stage for Altidore’s heroics in the second half.
5) Bono’s save on Affull
Bono came up big late in regulation time of the first leg against Columbus, making a point-blank stop on Afful after TFC defenders failed to clear their lines as the Crew swarmed their penalty area. A rebound attempt from Kekuta Manneh was blocked by substitute Eriq Zavaleta, preserving the valuable road draw for Toronto.
“We tried to get a clearance out and it dribbled right to [Afful], and he was able to take a touch and at that point you’re just hoping that [his shot] is somewhere around you and you can have a reaction,” Bono said.