Never count out the ‘new’ Toronto FC

The game should have been over when the home team Columbus Crew stretched their lead to 3-nil. But instead, Toronto FC mounted a massive comeback that defied expectation.

Down 2-0 at halftime against the Columbus Crew—and on the road, no less—Toronto FC looked dead and buried on Saturday night.

The Reds carved out a few scoring chances in the opening 45 minutes that they should have buried, but defensively they were beyond suspect and disorganized in their 3-5-2 formation. The Crew took full advantage, capitalizing on some sloppy defending and slack marking by TFC’s defenders, and headed into the break in a very comfortable position.

Then Columbus carved up Toronto’s back line again in the 47th minute, with Ethan Finley scoring to give the Crew what looked like an insurmountable advantage. Game over.

This is the “new” TFC, though, and with Sebastian Giovinco in the line-up they are never out of it—even when they’re down three goals away from home.

And so it proved as the Italian netted his 13th goal of the season just minutes after Finley’s marker. That sparked an amazing comeback from Toronto, who benefitted from goals by Collen Warner and Jozy Altidore (the recipient of a soft penalty call in the 89th minute) to secure a 3-3 draw and salvage a very valuable road point—and this without captain Michael Bradley.

Amazing. Simply amazing.

A year ago such a result wouldn’t have been possible for Toronto FC. That team was mentally soft. It was fragile. It didn’t know how to fight back. The slightest bit of adversity crippled them with fear.

But this is a much different Toronto side. The core of the current roster is stronger, and the overall quality of the team is much better. The Reds also have more heart, and are playing with confidence. Coach Greg Vanney has helped to instill a greater sense of self-belief in this club, and that has made all the difference.

“I’m extremely proud of the group. We had a lot of reasons to put our heads down at 3-0 but they believed in what we were doing and believed they could create the chances. It was great to get those two goals (early in the second half) almost back-to-back which made the game manageable,” Vanney said.

What’s encouraging is that it’s not just the stars that are only carrying the load, although there’s no denying Giovinco is doing the majority of the heavy lifting—one shudders at the thought of what TFC would do if the Italian picked up a long-term injury.

Against Columbus, the midfield trio of Collen Warner, Marky Delgado and Daniel Lovitz stepped up their games in Bradley’s absence, with Warner distinguishing himself with his outstanding box-to-box play. The hustle he showed to latch onto a pass by Lovitz (who made a great run down the left before delivering a killer ball into the box) was Bradley-esque.

“Collen and Dan and Marky, the way the game was so wide open, they had a tonne of space to have to cover between the three of them. I thought all three did a nice solid job’ Vanney said.

“Colleen found ways to impact the game on both sides of the ball—defensively and winning balls and doing what he always does to be disruptive and help us keep possession, but it’s an added bonus when he can get on his horse and get into the box and pick up a goal.

“We needed that from him, and he got it done. He had a big night.”

Saturday’s draw was a statement by the Reds: Don’t count them out. Don’t discount them at any time. They’re for real.

The “old” Toronto FC that would’ve crumbled after going down 3-0 is a thing of the past. This is the new TFC. And they’ve never out of it.

LOOKING AHEAD TO NEW ENGLAND

Giovinco was subbed out late in this game due to soreness in his heel. The Italian has been carrying the injury for a little while, and Vanney said they will manage his time in training this week. Don’t be surprised if Giovinco doesn’t play next Saturday in New England.

Warner is suspended for the game against the Revolution due to yellow card accumulation. The good news is that captain Michael Bradley will be back from Gold Cup duty with the U.S. team and will be available for selection.

Ashtone Morgan didn’t make the trip to Columbus due to a groin problem. Vanney said he picked up a “mild” tweak in the friendly against Sunderland, and that he expects the Canadian fullback to be available for the New England contest.

Vanney also said Moroccan defender Ahmed Kantri, who signed with the club on Friday, could debut against the Revs.

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