Toronto FC alleviates doubt with convincing win over Union

Toronto FC midfielder Victor Vazquez (left) celebrates with Jonathan Osorio after scoring his team's opening goal against Philadelphia Union during first half MLS action in Toronto on Friday May 4, 2018. (Chris Young/CP)

• Philadelphia Union 0, Toronto FC 3 (Vazquez 29’, Giovinco 65’, Chapman 89’)
• TFC secures its 2nd win of the MLS campaign
• Giovinco scores his 1st goal of the season

TORONTO – It certainly wasn’t a must-win game, but it was one that Toronto FC needed to win.

A laboured start to the MLS campaign, due in large part to its run to the CONCACAF Champions League final, saw TFC collect just four points and one win through its first six games. Toronto began this week in last place in the Eastern Conference and 16 points adrift of leaders New York City FC, which raised some questions about its ability to repeat as Supporters’ Shield champions.

A convincing 3-0 victory over the Philadelphia Union on Friday night probably won’t convince the doubters that TFC can come back to finish in first place for the second straight MLS season. But it should go some way in erasing any doubt that its Champions League hangover is over, and that it is serious about getting down to business in MLS.

“It was important for the team, for everybody because the moment is great, so these points are important,” Toronto forward Sebastian Giovinco said.

Unlike last weekend’s 2-2 draw at home versus the Chicago Fire when TFC faded as the game wore on, the Reds comfortably dictated the pace of the contest with a disciplined and composed performance over the course of the full 90 minutes against Philly.

“We stayed within the flow and rhythm of what it is we wanted to do, and never got hectic or chaotic. It’s nice to see a game just remain controlled from beginning to end,” coach Greg Vanney offered.

TFC was missing several starters due to injuries on Friday, including defenders Chris Mavinga and Drew Moor, left fullback Justin Morrow, and forward Jozy Altidore. Also missing were defenders Eriq Zavaleta and Nick Hagglund.

Due to the rash of injuries on the back end, Vanney used central midfielder Michael Bradley and right fullback Gregory van der Wiel in the middle of defence for the third consecutive match. A first clean sheet of the season for TFC, earned with a makeshift duo in central defence, offers some hope that it can ride out this injury crisis that has decimated the back line.

“A lot of credit should go to the back group, Michael and [Gregory] and their ability to move the line and keep things nice and tight. The back four have done a fantastic job of condensing space, and choosing the right moments of when to step up and when to drop back,” Vanney explained.

“For a group of guys who have now played a few games together … they’ve done a really good job.”

Toronto applied plenty of pressure early on as Giovinco unleashed a shot from distance that forced a save from Philadelphia goalkeeper Andre Blake. Moments later, Philly’s Alejandro Bedoya delivered a powerful header off a corner kick that hit the crossbar.

TFC opened the scoring on a fluid passing play that saw Giovinco release Nicolas Hasler into the penalty box, and the Liechtenstein international cut the ball back for Victor Vazquez to expertly side-foot it inside the far post. It was the Spaniard’s second goal in as many games after a lengthy absence due to a nerve issue in his back.

“I saw Seba getting the ball and I was wide open. I received the ball and Victor tells me always in training to look, look, look back when I get the ball as he’s always there and I’m happy that he was there then and could score,” Hasler explained.

Giovinco doubled the Reds’ advantage in the second half, netting his first goal of the season by beating Blake from in close after shaking off two Philly defenders. Giovinco has now scored six goals in seven career appearances against Philadelphia. It was also the Italian’s franchise-leading 70th career goal in all competitions.

Jay Chapman sealed Toronto’s win late in the game, beating Blake with a cool finish inside the far post after being played in on goal by fellow Canadian Jordan Hamilton.

NOTES: Toronto leads the all-time series against Philadelphia, with eight wins and six draws in 20 meetings… Including the playoffs, Toronto is unbeaten in its last nine matches against the Union, with seven wins… TFC returns to MLS action next Wednesday at home versus the Seattle Sounders. The Reds are then on the road against the New England Revolution on May 12.

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