TFC pumps new life into playoff hopes with win over Fire

toronto-fc-altidore-goal

Toronto FC's Jozy Altidore. (Mark Blinch/CP)

• Chicago Fire 0, Toronto FC 3 (Altidore 52’, Osorio 72’, Giovinco 89’)
• Osorio has team-high 14 goals in all competitions
• Altidore scored 1st goal since March 30

TORONTO – One down, eight to go.

In the buildup to Saturday’s home contest against the Chicago Fire, Toronto FC coach Greg Vanney stated his team would probably have to win nine of its last 14 games of the MLS season to qualify for the playoffs.

With TFC sitting in second-last place in the Eastern Conference after a lacklustre first half of the campaign, Vanney admitted there was “minimal margin of error” going forward for the reigning MLS Cup champs.

Toronto picked up a big three points in a 3-0 victory over the Fire before 29,190 fans at BMO Field, with Jozy Altidore, Jonathan Osorio and Sebastian Giovinco scoring to pump new life into the Reds’ post-season hopes.

With the victory, TFC improved to 6-11-4 and closed the gap on the New England Revolution (who hold down the sixth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference) to six points. Toronto also moved to within a point of eighth-place Chicago, one of the teams it’ll have to leapfrog in order to get into a playoff spot.

Toronto is not out of the woods just yet, of course. But for a club that has struggled defensively due to a litany of injuries, Vanney’s side has some much-needed momentum following back-to-back wins over Chicago, and earning only its third shutout of the season.

“My message to the group [has been] we’re going to commit as a group to be the best defending team in the league in the second half of the season,” Vanney stated.

“If we do then we’ll put ourselves in position to get back in the playoff hunt because this team will always find a way to create chances and score goals as long as we are collectively reminded of our defensive responsibilities.”

A change in formation at the start of the second half that saw Vanney introduce an extra midfielder, in this case Marky Delgado, tilted Saturday’s contest in TFC’s favour.

“In the first half, we didn’t create a lot of chances. … A lot of our [attacking] actions were sputtering,” Vanney explained.

“The extra midfielder threw off their numbers and their ability to man-mark us, so as long as we moved the ball and found the extra player in midfield, it threw off their ability to track us around the field.”

TFC was missing Brazilian fullback Auro Jr., who has now sat out six consecutive matches with a hamstring issue, and veteran central defender Drew Moor, sidelined since April with a quad tear. Saturday marked Victor Vazquez’s return to the starting lineup – the Spaniard came on as late substitute in last week’s win in Chicago after missing the previous four matches due to injury.

Midfielder Nicolas Hasler, traded by Toronto last Friday, started and made his debut for Chicago. Ex-TFC winger Raheem Edwards also started for the Fire.

A non-descript first half marred by sloppy passing and giveaways by both sides didn’t produce many scoring opportunities. Justin Morrow had two chances on setups from Osorio and Giovinco but couldn’t hit the target either time. Toronto goalkeeper Alex Bono was called into action late in the half, making a save on Brandt Bronico’s long-range shot.

Giovinco was elbowed in the back of the head by Chicago defender Brandon Vincent just before the halftime whistle. The Italian had to be held back, by Altidore, from getting in the face of referee Joseph Dickerson.

Looking to give his team an attacking boost, Vanney subbed off fullback Ashtone Morgan at the start of the second half, replacing him with Delgado and forcing the Fire to contend with an extra body in midfield.

The switch paid instant dividends, as Delgado forced a save from close range from Chicago goalkeeper Richard Sanchez, but Altidore slammed home the rebound after a goal-mouth scramble.

It was the third goal of the MLS season and first since March 30 for Altidore, who has played just five MLS games this campaign due to injuries. He celebrated by taking off one of his cleats and pretended to use it as a telephone.

“I was answering the call, man. Sometimes when the city calls, you gotta pick up the phone,” Altidore joked with reporters.

“I love being here, I love playing for this team and for this city. This is my home, and any chance I get I want to express that.”

Osorio put the game away when he scored his team-high 14th goal in all competitions this season. Vazquez delivered a lovely ball over the top of Chicago’s back line to Giovinco at the far post, and the Italian played a low ball across the six-yard box for Osorio to stab into an empty net.

After hitting the crossbar from deep inside the box, Giovinco made amends in the final minute of regulation, firing a shot from outside the box that took a deflection off a Chicago defender and blew by Sanchez.

Altidore called TFC’s second-half performance free flowing and relentless.

“This is what we have to get back to,” the American forward said.

NOTES: Toronto leads the all-time MLS series against Chicago with 11 wins and nine draws in 29 meetings… TFC returns to action next Saturday with a road game against Atlanta United… The league’s best players team up to take on Serie A champions Juventus in Wednesday’s MLS All-Star Game in Atlanta. Giovinco was named to the MLS all-star team.

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