TFC clinches playoff spot with exclamation point


Toronto FC's Sebastian Giovinco. (Aaron Vincent Elkaim/CP)


Even with all three designated players missing from the starting lineup, Toronto FC earned a 2-1 win over the New York Red Bulls on Wednesday night to clinch a playoff berth for the first time in franchise history.

Herculez Gomez opened the scoring early in the second half and Sebastian Giovinco scored on a fabulous solo effort coming off the bench to help TFC record its first-ever four-game winning streak.

More than eight years of hurt—a time marked by comical mismanagement, fan revolts against MLSE, DP flops, a coaching merry-go-round and massive player turnover—came to an end on a chilly night with a memorable victory before 18,143 fans at BMO Field against the best team in Major League Soccer.

“I’m excited, I’m relieved, I’m a lot of things. We put a lot of work to getting here. I think the last four games have been outstanding for us. We have some nice momentum right now,” coach Greg Vanney said.

Defender Ashtone Morgan, the longest-serving member of TFC, described the club’s securing of a playoff berth after all these years as “surreal.”

“I’m proud of the boys. I’m proud of the organization. We stuck through it,” Morgan offered.

Gomez is a newcomer to TFC, but he understood the significance of this achievement.

“I know it has been a long time, nine years of suffering, so to finally get this going and to make history feels pretty damn good. To be part of this I couldn’t ask for anything more, I’m excited. More than anything, that was a playoff game. I’ve been in plenty of playoff situations and that is what they’re like and today we put together quite a performance,” Gomez stated.

This is the promised land—the playoffs! At times, it felt like this day would never come for TFC, such was the comical way this team had been run over the years, and how much that dysfunction was the norm for so long. Finally, there’s a reward for this club’s loyal and long-suffering fan base.

Yes, reaching the playoffs was the bare minimum requirement for a Toronto FC side with the highest payroll in the league, and competing in a conference with two expansion teams where an extra playoff spot was up for grabs this year.

But for a franchise that has never been able to break free from the tight grip of its history and culture of failure, this is a big deal—a bloody big deal—and a momentous occasion. We can endlessly debate over what constitutes a successful season for TFC, point out their defensive deficiencies, worry about their lack of roster balance, and wonder why it took this organization so long to finally reach this point.

Those are all valid concerns to voice, questions that should be asked. But not tonight—tonight should be about celebration, not introspection. There’s been little to celebrate over the last nine seasons. Let’s just enjoy this for the moment. Tomorrow, we can examine and dissect.

Captain Michael Bradley was missing due to a minor groin injury, while forwards and fellow DPs Giovinco and Jozy Altidore—the club’s top two scorers—were on the bench after playing for their national teams on Tuesday. Both arrived in town just hours before this game, Giovinco on a flight from Rome, so Vanney wisely kept them out of the starting 11.

The first half was a tense affair, played at a quick pace between two teams who kept their defensive shapes to limit scoring chances, although Marky Delgado and Jonathan Osorio effectively linked up to ask the odd question of New York’s defence.

The flashpoint of the half came in the 35th minute when Altidore was shown a red card while on the bench after using foul language directed at the assistant referee. Altidore’s ejection means he’ll be suspended for Toronto’s next game. Central defender Damien Perquis hobbled off the pitch just before halftime with a hamstring injury. He was replaced by Ahmed Kantari.

The breakthrough came in the 51st minute when Jackson whipped a dangerous cross into the box from the flank. New York’s back line couldn’t deal with it, and the ball fell kindly to Gomez who took a touch before hammering it past goalkeeper Luis Robles. It was Gomez’s first goal in just his fifth appearance since joining Toronto in August.

“I thought Herc was outstanding tonight. He really competed and battled, and took a physical beating. It was a tough matchup with their two centre backs, but he kept coming back for more… He hasn’t had a lot of minutes so far but he’s shown he can make a difference,” Vanney offered.

After playing 30 minutes for Italy vs. Norway in a Euro qualifier on Tuesday, Giovinco replaced Gomez in the 71st minute and then struck seven minutes later. The Atomic Ant went on a fabulous run, working the ball between both feet as he slalomed through a handful of New York players before firing home from inside the box, and scoring one of the best goals ever witnessed at BMO Field.

All of this just four hours after his flight from Rome touched down in Toronto. Incredibile, as they’d say in Italy.

“He texted me immediately after the [Italy] game last night. He texted me before he got on the plan. He texted me when he landed. He texted me as soon as he got [to BMO Field]. He said he was going to play, he was ready to play,” Vanney said.

Nobody would have blamed Giovinco if he wanted to take the night off considering his work and travel schedule over the previous 24 hours. But the desire to compete burns brightly within the Italian, and his sheer competitiveness is one of the reasons why he should walk away with the league MVP honours at the end of the year.

“This was a really important game for the team, the city, and the club and I knew it. I just tried to be available for selection,” Giovinco said through a translator.

New York pulled a goal back through Shaun Wright-Phillips with four minutes left in regulation, the Englishman beating TFC goalkeeper Chris Konopka with a powerful strike from distance.

It wasn’t enough, though, as BMO Field erupted at the final whistle in celebration of TFC ending its playoff drought.

NOTES: New York leads the all-time series against Toronto with 12 wins and five draws in 23 games. The Red Bulls earned a 3-0 win on Aug. 15 in the only other meeting between these clubs this campaign… TFC returns to action on Saturday when it hosts the Columbus Crew… Toronto closes out the regular season on Oct. 25 away to the Montreal Impact…

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