Toronto FC heats up in second half to win in Champions League return

Sebastian-Giovinco

Toronto FC's Sebastian Giovinco. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

• CONCACAF Champions League – Colorado Rapids 0, Toronto FC 2 (Osorio 55’, Giovinco 73′)

GAME RECAP IN A SENTENCE

After a slow start on a frigid night in Colorado, TFC quickly heated up and scored a pair of well-worked goals in the second half to take firm control of this Round of 16, aggregate series ahead of next week’s second leg at BMO Field.

THE STORY

After a six-year absence, Toronto made a triumphant return to the CONCACAF Champions League, overcoming some pre-season rust to earn a valuable win on the road in Colorado. Setting up in a diamond-shaped, 4-4-2 formation that brought success in last year’s MLS Cup final, TFC used nine of the same 11 players that featured in that championship game against Seattle. Nick Hagglund deputized for an injured Chris Mavinga in the middle of defence, while Brazilian youngster Auro made his TFC debut at right fullback.

Off-season signing Gregory van der Wiel was back home with his pregnant wife, and coach Greg Vanney could have played it safe by starting Nicolas Hasler on the right side of defence, a position he played several times last season. Instead, Vanney had no qualms about giving a start to Auro, who only joined Toronto a few weeks ago. The Brazilian repaid his coach’s faith by putting in a fantastic effort, as his attacking runs down the right unnerved Colorado for most of the match.

Dick’s Sporting Goods Park is a difficult place to play for visiting teams on an average night due to the altitude. This was not an average night, though. It was -13 C at kickoff. But the conditions didn’t slow down Reds, nor did it quell their ambitions. Vanney fielded his strongest team possible, and the Reds set out to dictate the pace of the match right from the opening kickoff.

Things didn’t come easily at first for the visitors. Colorado managed the game well in the opening 45 minutes, and TFC looked far too deliberate in trying to build out from the back. But Vanney’s side stuck with it and remained patient, before finally breaking the deadlock via a dangerous attacking sequence that ended with Jonathan Osorio scoring on a header off a perfectly-weighted cross to the back post from Sebastian Giovinco. If that stunned the Rapids, then Giovinco’s masterful finish from in close put them down for good. Another lively passing play ended with the Italian scoring with a swivel kick that goalkeeper Tim Howard had no chance of stopping.

With two road goals in their pocket, TFC effectively killed off this two-leg series – it’s hard to see the Rapids winning by three goals next Tuesday at BMO Field. Not only that, but you had the sense from watching the Reds on this night that they had much more to give, and are capable of hitting another gear in the return match.

KEY MOMENT

55’ GOAL! Colorado Rapids 0, Toronto FC 1: The Reds carried the balance of play in the first half, but it was the Rapids who carved out the best scoring chances. Toronto reasserted itself after halftime, and took the lead thanks to Osorio. The Canadian floated a looping header past Colorado goalkeeper Tim Howard, who overcommitted himself on the cross from Giovinco. The Italian did very well to get to the end line and deliver the pass to the back post following some smart buildup play by TFC around the penalty area.

TALKING POINT

What kind of debut did Auro make for TFC? An impressive one. It couldn’t have been easy for Auro to play in such conditions, and the cold weather probably served as a bit of a culture shock for him. But the young Brazilian defender showed no ill effects, as he immediately settled into the game by linking up with Giovinco to create an early scoring chance. His runs down the right flank provided width to Toronto’s play, and gave Giovinco another option to look for as the Italian orchestrated the attack. Auro has some Dani Alves in him. He can get up the field fairly quickly, but can run back just as fast to retake his defensive position. It’ll be interesting to see how Vanney plans to deploy him with van der Wiel expected to hold down the starting spot at the right fullback position, whether it’ll be as a backup to the Dutchman or higher up the field on the right side.

QUICK TAKE

Giovinco scored one goal and set up another, and Auro was fantastic in his TFC debut. But the performance of Osorio on this night should not be overlooked. The Canadian is coming off a solid second half of the 2017 season which culminated with his stellar effort in the MLS Cup final, one of best games in a TFC uniform. Osorio’s game has matured and grown in the last year. He’s a more poised and balanced player, and we saw that on Tuesday night. He was firmly committed to his defensive responsibilities, while constantly looking to get involved in the attack and making himself available for teammates.

STANDOUT STAT

MAN OF THE MATCH

Sebastian Giovinco, Toronto FC: The Italian was involved right from the start and all the way through the game, giving Colorado’s back line plenty to deal with for 90 minutes. He set up the opener by playing a perfect cross for Osorio to nod home, and then sealed the result for the Reds with an expertly-taken swivel finish after being left unmarked inside the box. He dropped deep to receive the ball and start attacking plays, and linked well with his attacking teammates, especially Auro. Honourable mentions for the award go to Osorio and Auro.

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