MONTREAL — That’s it? We waited nine years for that?
A Toronto FC season that promised hope and achievement when it began back in March ended Thursday in embarrassing fashion courtesy of a 3-0 loss to the Montreal Impact in the first round of Major League Soccer’s playoffs.
Patrice Bernier, Ignacio Piatti and Didier Drogba each scored to give the Impact a commanding three-goal lead after 39 minutes, as Montreal feasted on a slew of downright comical defensive mistakes, taking TFC’s dreams of a victory in their playoff debut and twisting them into a macabre nightmare.
With the win, Montreal advanced to the Eastern Conference semifinals and continued its hot run—the Impact have now won eight of their last 12 games with just two losses. Drogba has 12 goals in 12 appearances since joining Montreal in August.
What the 18,069 fans in attendance at Stade Saputo witnessed on this chilly night was a good, old fashioned hammering. Don’t try looking for nuance or some underlying narrative. In the biggest game in club history TFC got owned by the Impact, plain and simple. And it was ugly. Very ugly. Really, the score line could have been worse. A 3-0 loss flattered TFC—they were that terrible.
Toronto coach Greg Vanney gave full credit to Montreal—and how could he not?—but he was also brutally honest in his post-match diagnosis of his team’s performance, especially in its defending.
“We were tentative. We were a little bit hesitant to close people down, to get too tight to people. We were second to loose balls. We weren’t closing up space or moving together. To me, they just out-competed us in the first half. We made some poor decisions defensively,” Vanney said.
He also admitted that stage fright played an issue, and that some players were overcome by the occasion.
The knives will rightly come out after this one, and it might as well start now—this was one of the worst performances in TFC history, a new low point for this franchise, and that’s covering a lot of ground.
Outplayed, out-fought and out-thought, Toronto was often its worst enemy on this night, with the team living up to its well-earned reputation as the worst defensive unit in all of MLS. Defenders Jackson, Josh Williams and Ahmed Kantari had terrible nights, and were routinely left exposed by their midfield teammates.
While Piatti and Drogba were at the top of their games, Toronto’s star DPs Michael Bradley, Sebastian Giovinco, and Jozy Altidore—had quiet games. When your best players aren’t your best players, what hope do you have?
Usually one of the team’s most articulate interview subjects, Bradley appeared shell shocked as he sat in his locker room stall after the game, quietly sipping on a can of Coke before the press horde surrounded him.
“On nights like this it’s not easy to find answers. Talking doesn’t do a whole lot of good,” Bradley quietly offered. “It’s not the night to sit here and talk, to make excuses, to act like anybody’s got all the answers.”
Full credit to Bradley for sticking around to answer questions after this debacle, as the overwhelming majority of TFC players were already on the team bus by the time reporters entered the locker room for the post-match media scrums.
Vanney tried his best to put a positive spin on the season, pointing out the Reds qualified for the playoffs for the first time and that the team made progress this year.
“This is a project, it’s a process, and it takes time. The group has to grow together,” Vanney offered. “No excuses—that was not a good enough performance, especially in the first half. But that’s part of becoming a championship team. You have to endure and fight.
“We need to feel this. We need to take this emotion in so that when we get back here next year it’s a different situation.”
Vanney went with the same starting lineup from Sunday’s 2-1 loss to the Impact in their regular season finale. Montreal manager Mauro Biello made two changes, swapping in Canadian midfielder Patrice Bernier for Johan Venegas and Dilly Duka for Dominic Oduro.
The opening minutes were tense, with both teams feeling each other out. Toronto carved out an early chance when Benoit Cheyrou played a ball over the top for Giovinco to run on to. The Italian broke in on goal with a defender draped all over him before Impact goalkeeper Evan Bush came out to cut the angle.
Montreal dominated the rest of the first half, with Piatti running rampant down the left side and taking advantage of Jackson, who was routinely caught out of position.
It was Jackson’s failure to transition back into defence after a Toronto turnover in Montreal’s end that led to the opening goal in the 18th minute. The Impact quickly launched a counter-attack, with Piatti delivering a lovely ball for Bernier who slipped in under TFC goalkeeper Chris Konopka.
Another defensive miscue led to Montreal’s second goal. Kantari played a simple square ball across the top of the box for Williams who lost his footing. Piatti swooped in on the mistake, sidestepping Williams before beating Konopka from in close.
“It was a killer goal,” Vanney said of that particular self-inflicted wound.
Believe it or not it got worse. Another defensive breakdown by Toronto deep inside its end led to Bernier having all kinds of time on the ball as he delivered a cross from the end-line to the back post for Drogba to knock in.
Needing three goals, Vanney went to a 3-5-2 formation at the start of the second half, pushing Jackson into midfield. He also took Kantari off, replacing him with Eriq Zavaleta.
Giovinco nearly got Toronto on the score sheet after the restart, but Bush came up with an incredible diving save to clear the Italian’s dipping free kick just before it crossed the goal-line.
TFC never really threatened after that, and Montreal nearly made it 4-0 in the 78th minute when Piatti’s chip shot hit the far post.
NOTES: Montreal will play the Columbus Crew in the next round of the playoffs. The Impact host the first leg on Sunday. The return match is Nov. 8 in Columbus… This was the first time a Canadian team has ever won an MLS playoff game. The Impact previously lost in the first round of the post-season in 2013. The Vancouver Whitecaps lost both of their first-round matches in 2012 and 2014…