MLS Counterattack: Altidore invaluable for Toronto FC

Toronto FC manager Greg Vanney comments after a disappointing home opener for the squad.

Welcome to Counterattack, Sportsnet’s Monday column that recaps the weekend and previews the week ahead in Major League Soccer for the Montreal Impact, Toronto FC and Vancouver Whitecaps.

And then there was one. While TFC was held to a draw in its home opener after earning three points in Vancouver, the Whitecaps finally picked up their first win of the season with a solid comeback effort. The Impact, on the other hand, let a victory slip through their hands—again!

What happened?

Kansas City 0, Toronto 0
Montreal 2, Chicago 2
LA 2, Vancouver 4

What did we learn this weekend?

Jozy Altidore is invaluable to TFC
Fresh off an appearance for the U.S. national team earlier in the week, Jozy Altidore started on the bench against Kansas City last Friday, and the Reds struggled until he entered the contest in the 62nd minute. Toronto sorely missed Altidore’s hold up play, not to mention his ability to serve as the first line of defence—especially against a pressing team such as Kansas City where Altidore’s style of play serves as a release valve and offers relief to TFC’s defenders and midfielders. His presence up front also opened things up for Sebastian Giovinco, giving the Italian more time on the ball and space to exploit than he had when partnered with Tosaint Ricketts.

Impact need to work on set-piece defending
It was their undoing throughout last year’s regular season and playoffs, and it continues to plague them in the current campaign. Twice within the opening 10 minutes on Saturday, Bastian Schweinsteiger found teammates off corner kicks wide open at the top of the box, giving them clear looks on net. On Schweinsteiger’s opening goal, Chicago played a short corner and was allowed to work the ball down low before David Accam played a great cross into the box for the German to nod home. It was far too easy for Chicago, who took full advantage of Montreal’s slack marking and lack of urgency in closing down Accam.

Matias Laba has scoring chops
After scoring just twice in his first three and half years in MLS, defensive midfielder Matias Laba bagged a brace in Vancouver’s first win of the season on Saturday. The Argentine showed a deft finishing touch on the game’s winning goal, and then added a classic poacher’s goal late in the contest to seal the victory. Both goals came after newcomer Tony Tchani entered the match as a second-half substitute, his sturdy presence in midfield instantly giving Laba creative license to get forward and show a bit more attacking invention than normal. Maybe Tchani’s arrival in Vancouver will allow Laba to add another element to his game?

Upcoming schedule

• Tigres vs. Vancouver (Wednesday, 10:00 pm ET)
Montreal vs. LA (Friday, 10:30 pm ET)
• Atlanta vs. Toronto (Saturday, 7:30 pm ET)
Vancouver vs. Salt Lake (Saturday, 9:30 pm ET)

Burning questions

How will Osorio respond for TFC?
Moments of genuine creativity by TFC were fleeting in their home opener, with some promising build-up sequences undone by a poor final ball played into the box or a misfired shot on net. Jonathan Osorio was the worst offender, spurning three quality scoring chances alone in the first half. “He does a lot of the work before the finish very well, coming up with things other guys can’t,” coach Greg Vanney said. “I don’t know if it’s just an anxious moment … or he tries to rush his shots. Sometimes I think he’s trying to hit things too hard when he just needs to pick out a spot.” It’ll be interesting to see if Osorio can show more composure in front of goal against Atlanta this weekend—or if he’ll even get the chance.

Can the Impact see out a game?
Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla’s goal in the final minute of regulation against Chicago appeared to give Montreal its first win of the season. The Impact’s celebrations were short-lived, though, as Luis Solignac netted an equalizer deep into injury time. Impact coach Mauro Biello was no doubt shaking his head after watching his team yet again fail to close out a game when they were on the verge of victory—the Impact conceded a late equalizer against Seattle in their home opener three weeks ago after going up 2-0. A tough road test against the LA Galaxy awaits this Friday, and it might provide another chance for Montreal to show it can finish opponents off—or not.

Can the Whitecaps tame Tigres?
After having a week off due to the international break, the Whitecaps started a busy stretch on Saturday. They will attempt to overturn a 2-0 deficit against Mexican club Tigres UANL in the second leg of their CONCACAF Champions League semifinal Wednesday at B.C. Place. Three days later, they’ll travel to Utah to take on Real Salt Lake in MLS action. With a first win under their belts, the Whitecaps have a bit of momentum and extra confidence after stumbling their way through the opening weeks of the campaign. Can Vancouver build on that against Tigres and book their spot in the Champions League final?

The first decade of Toronto FC in the words of the players, coaches, executives and fans who built the franchise.

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