Toronto FC plays with urgency in win over Chicago Fire

Toronto-FC-forward-Eriq-Zavaleta-(15)-sends-a-header-through-the-Chicago-Fire-defence-to-score-during-first-half-MLS-soccer-action-in-Toronto-on-Friday,-April-21,-2017.-(Frank-Gunn/CP)

Toronto FC forward Eriq Zavaleta (15) sends a header through the Chicago Fire defence to score during first half MLS soccer action in Toronto on Friday, April 21, 2017. (Frank Gunn/CP)

• MLS – Chicago Fire 1 (Accam 88’), Toronto FC 3 (Giovinco 28’, 82’, Zavaleta 32’)

TORONTO – This wasn’t a “must win” game. We’re far too early into the season for that.

But there was a sense of urgency around BMO Field on Friday night. Toronto FC left too many points on the table through its first six games of the MLS season. The Reds needed this one. Not badly, but they needed it.

A 3-1 win against the Chicago Fire, featuring two highlight-reel goals by Sebastian Giovinco, ended a modest three-game winless skid. More important, it was TFC’s best overall outing of the campaign thus far after some uneven performances led to just one win on the campaign before this evening.

That it came against a Chicago side, buoyed by the recent arrival of German star Bastian Schweinsteiger, made it all the more impressive. Chicago suffered just one loss ahead of Friday’s affair, and was coming off a pair of shutout wins. On this night, though, they were second-best, as Schweinsteiger and forward Nemanja Nikolić were kept quiet.

“I was pleased. Are there things there to build on? For sure. Was everything perfect? No. But I’m happy with the performance … for us it’s to start building some momentum now off of this win,” TFC coach Greg Vanney stated.

Vanney made one lineup change from last week’s loss in Columbus, swapping in Marky Delgado (his first start of the season) for fellow midfielder Armando Cooper. With Drew Moor still out due to an irregular heartbeat, Nick Hagglund started in the middle of TFC’s three-man defence for a second straight game.

In only his third MLS start, Raheem Edwards impressed at the left wingback position. The Toronto native played with a maturity and poise well beyond his 21 years – he was a threat going forward in linking up with Giovinco and Jozy Altidore, and lent a helping hand in tracking back to defend.

“He’s proven very, very clearly that he’s fully capable of playing at this level, and he’s fully capable of being an important member of this team,” Vanney enthused.

Victor Vazquez continues to be a true find for the Reds. The Spanish playmaker, one of Toronto’s biggest off-season acquisitions, displays such intelligence and patience on the pitch, often bypassing the easy pass for the better option – when defences appear to have the answers, he changes the question. He had a hand in setting up the first two goals, building upon his growing reputation as the Reds’ chief orchestrator.

“He’s settled in quite well and shown that he can drive our attack,” Vanney offered.

A quick-fire start saw both teams score goals within the opening three minutes that were called back for offside.

Giovinco carved out a pair of chances for himself, including a bullet of a shot from 25 yards out that just whispered over the crossbar. The Italian’s persistence paid off when Vazquez fed him at the top of the box, he quickly turned and blasted a snap shot into the lower corner that whipped past goalkeeper Jorge Bava. He nearly scored later in the half on an almost identical play, this time sending his effort just wide of the post

The Reds doubled their advantage off a well-worked set piece. Vazquez played a short corner kick to Justin Morrow, who then delivered a dangerous cross deep into the box. Eriq Zavaleta beat two Chicago defenders to the ball to nod it home. It was Zavaleta’s second career MLS goal, both of them coming for TFC.

Toronto continued to dictate the pace of the game in the second half, and should have added to their lead on several occasions, with the best chance coming in the 77th minute. Captain Michael Bradley picked off a Chicago pass, and played a sublime through ball for Giovinco down the right flank. The Italian took it in full stride before delivering a pinpoint pass across the box to the far post, but Altidore couldn’t put it away, ballooning his shot over the crossbar.

Giovinco took matters into his own hands moments later, scoring on an absolutely gorgeous free kick from 22 yards out that tucked in just under the bar and into the upper left corner. Bava had no chance.

Giovinco was subbed out with five minutes left in regulation. Denied the chance to complete his hat trick, the Italian stormed off the field, down the tunnel and back to the locker room.

Vanney explained he took the Italian off in order to add another midfielder and try to close the game out. In what he called a miscalculation, Vanney said he also wanted to give Seba a special moment where he could be applauded off the field by the appreciative crowd of 27, 097 spectators.

“The game was opening up … He’s passionate and he wants to score,” Vanney said in downplaying the situation. “He’s a competitor and he was not happy that he was coming off.”

David Accam netted a late consolation goal for the visitors.

NOTES: Chicago leads the all-time MLS series against Toronto, with nine wins and eight losses in 25 meetings… These sides will meet again on Aug. 19 in Chicago… TFC hosts the Houston Dynamo (April 28) and Orlando City (May 3), before travelling to Seattle take on the Sounders on May 6 in a rematch of last season’s MLS Cup final.

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