TORONTO—A victory for Toronto FC, but at what price?
TFC earned a crucial 2-1 win over the Montreal Impact on Saturday evening before 30,266 fans at BMO Field, but star forward Sebastian Giovinco was subbed out after only 51 minutes due to soreness in his abductor—an injury for which he received treatment in the days leading up to this contest.
Toronto coach Greg Vanney confirmed Giovinco will still travel to Italy as he’s been called up by the Azzurri for a pair of Euro 2016 qualifiers next week. Giovinco will be assessed by Italian national team doctors after going through the normal medical protocol with the Reds’ medical staff before it’s decided whether he’ll actually play for the Azzurri.
“We’ll be in contact with (the Italian national team) as we have been leading up to this. We’re a part of that process but he’s going to go there and be with their team, and we’ll see whether he progresses or not,” Vanney explained.
No doubt TFC will be holding its collective breath over the status of its franchise player, and for very good reason.
Giovinco has started all 25 regular season games, but this was the Italian’s second-shortest stint—he lasted 45 minutes in a match against New England earlier this month, but was subbed out early for tactical reasons, not because of injury. The former Juventus star has 17 goals with 13 assists, and has quickly established himself as one of the best players in MLS—and it’s safe to say TFC wouldn’t be where they are without the mercurial Italian.
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If the status of Giovinco isn’t worrying enough, influential French midfielder Benoit Cheyrou left Saturday’s game with an ankle injury midway through the first half. Defender Daniel Lovitz (heel) was subbed out at the start of the second half. Vanney said it was too early to tell if they’ll sit out next week’s road game in Seattle—although Jozy Altidore will miss that match due to U.S. national team commitments.
Also, midfielder Collen Warner can expect to be handed a suspension by MLS for next week’s match after a dirty tackle he made on Dominic Oduro was only punished with a yellow card.
Some good news: TFC improved its record to 11-10-4, equalling a club record for wins in a season set last year. Also, the Reds solidified their hold on fourth place in the Eastern Conference (the top six advance to the playoffs) and widened the gap over sixth-place Montreal (8-11-4) to nine points—although the Impact still have three matches in hand.
“We’re in a positive position,” Vanney said.
And it’s games like this—holding onto a slender lead late with the other team pressing—that TFC made a habit of losing or drawing under previous managers.
“I haven’t been here a long time but I’m going to assume that in the past this was a game we would have lost or drawn. In an important (game) like this where we needed the three points to separate ourselves from a group (of teams) that is chasing us, (the players) dug deep and they pulled out the three points. I’m proud of them,” Vanney stated.
Captain Michael Bradley concurred: “Great three points for the team despite not playing our best. We didn’t have the sharpness in this performance. However, you have to know how to win these types of games.”
Montreal was without star forward Didier Drogba (toe), Argentine playmaker Ignacio Piatti (calf) and influential defender Hassoun Camara (thigh). Starting goalkeeper Evan Bush was at home because his wife recently gave birth. Right fullback Jackson (hamstring) and central defender Damien Perquis (hip flexor) were out for Toronto. Altidore started on the bench for the second straight game.
Montreal was the more forceful side from the opening kickoff. Former TFC forward Oduro picked the pocket of Josh Williams after he mishandled a simple back-pass from Warner at the top of the penalty box. Oduro rushed in and rounded goalkeeper Chris Konopka, only to comically misfire with his shot while facing an open goal. This will go down as the miss of the season in MLS.
The Impact continued to press in the final third, and Warner was lucky to only see yellow when he cynically hacked down Oduro from behind—it could have easily been a red card. Toronto was then forced to sub in Altidore for Cheyrou after he limped off the field. Vanney switched from a 4-2-3-1 setup to a flat 4-4-2 formation, with Altidore partnering Giovinco up front.
“Greg and I talked about it before the game and to not start and come off the bench behind Giovinco is not exactly a bad thing,” Altidore said.
Montreal was bossing it, but it was Toronto who opened the scoring in the 35th minute on a play started by Giovinco. Canadian Jonathan Osorio took the Italian’s pass and showed great patience inside the box before playing a great ball into the middle for Bradley to bury with an exquisite finish.
Oduro nearly leveled late in the half through Oduro from in close. Konopka swiped the ball away before it trickled over the goal-line, and Johan Venegas followed up by skying his rebound attempt high over the crossbar. Again, it was another comical miss by Montreal.
Vanney made two more subs early in the second half due to injuries—Ashtone Morgan for Lovitz and Robbie Findley for Giovinco. The Italian walked straight back to the locker-room after coming off, and was not made available to speak to the media after the game.
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But Toronto padded its lead moments after Giovinco’s exit. Bradley patiently let the play develop and held onto the ball before shifting it inside the box to Osorio—instead of exploiting one of two closer options—and the Canadian cracked his shot off the crossbar. Altidore astutely jumped on the rebound and slotted it home in the 55th minute for his 10th goal of the campaign.
Bradley nearly bagged another goal in the 62nd minute, only to see Eric Kronberg make a fantastic save in tipping the shot over the crossbar. Oduro broke in alone on Toronto’s goal, but was thwarted by Konopka, who expertly rushed off his line.
Oduro redeemed himself a few minutes later, scoring on a tap in off a feed from Andres Romero, but then Montreal was forced to play with 10 men after captain Laurent Ciman picked up his second yellow card in the 77th minute.
NOTES: Toronto leads the all-time MLS series against Montreal with five wins and three draws in 10 matches. Montreal is winless in six league games at BMO Field… TFC earned a 3-1 home win over the Impact earlier this summer. These teams will meet for the third and final time in Montreal on Oct. 25 on the last weekend of the season… TFC returns to MLS action next Saturday when they play at Seattle… The Impact host the Chicago Fire next Saturday.