NEW YORK – A special night by Toronto FC has set up at least two more, as Greg Vanney’s team renews playoff acquaintances with the rival Montreal Impact in an all-Canadian Eastern Conference final that will send the winner to the MLS Cup.
Sebastian Giovinco scored a hat trick and Jozy Altidore and Jonathan Osorio each added a goal for a lopsided 5-0 win Sunday before 28,355 mostly stunned fans at Yankee Stadium as Toronto completed a 7-0 aggregate semifinal victory over New York City FC that must stand as one of the franchise’s finest moments.
Montreal did its part earlier in the day by dispatching the other New York team, completing a 3-1 aggregate upset of the conference-leading Red Bulls with a 2-1 win on the road.
“I think it sets up in an amazing way, for soccer in Canada, for everybody in those two cities,” said Toronto captain Michael Bradley. “We’re enjoying this for the moment but already in the back of our minds, we can’t wait for that because I think it’s going to be two unbelievable games, two games in incredible atmospheres.
“The history, the rivalry, the dislike between the two clubs, the two cities – yeah, for me you couldn’t write it up any better.”
The conference final does not start until Nov. 22 at Olympic Stadium because of a break for international games. The second leg is Nov. 30 at BMO Field, three days after the Grey Cup.
The championship game goes Dec. 10 against the Western Conference playoff winner.
In addition to their fierce regular-season rivalry, the two Canadian teams have some playoff history. Montreal spoiled Toronto’s post-season debut last year in a lopsided 3-0 win at Saputo Stadium.
It was a historic day all round Sunday as Toronto set a league playoff record for margin of victory in a two-legged series while posting its first ever post-season win on the road. Montreal won a two-legged series for the first time.
Prior to Sunday, Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver were a combined 2-6-1 in MLS playoff action.
Toronto dominated a high-scoring New York team that finished one point ahead of it in the regular-season standings. The two-game series may have been tied 0-0 for the first 84 minutes but TFC scored seven unanswered goals in the remaining 96 minutes to thump NYCFC.
Armed with a 2-0 lead from the first leg, Toronto scored in the sixth, 20th and 30th minutes to remove any drama from the tie. New York went into the dressing room at halftime needing six goals to win after a first half that saw Toronto roll like a runaway train.
Another Toronto goal in the 50th minute meant the New Yorkers needed a touchdown to win. But the home side had no answers on the night – with TFC goalkeeper Clint Irwin up to a handful of challenges – as Toronto recorded its first ever post-season win on the road.
Giovinco added a goal in stoppage time to compete the rout as travelling Toronto fans chanted “MVP, MVP.”
“Once they scored their first and second goal, it’s obviously very difficult to turn around the game,” said NYCFC’s Andoni Iraola. “We still at the half wanted to try to play a good 45 minutes but we were unable.”
TFC joins the Toronto Raptors, Blue Jays and Marlies in making their conference finals in 2016. All three of those teams foundered there, however.
GM Tim Bezbatchenko savoured the city-wide sports success.
“It’s good to kind of recognize the rise of a city,” he said. “I think that there’s been a lot of pain over the years, obviously in TFC but across all the sports.”
Passed over this week when the three finalists for MVP were named, Giovinco – the reigning MVP – was sublime on the night repeatedly carving open the New York defence.
While Giovinco diplomatically begged to differ, Vanney said the MVP snub had motivated the Italian “a lot.”
“His priority is winning a (championship) trophy but I think last year he took a lot of pride in the fact that he was the MVP,” Vanney said. “And he was every bit the same player through the course of the season and it was unfortunate that he had a little bit of an injury down the tail stretch there.”
How dominant has Giovinco been since joining MLS last season? He has five hat tricks – including two against NYFC. Over the same period, the rest of the league has only 13, according to Opta Sports.
On Sunday, the New Yorkers were caught between a rock and a hard place. They needed to score goals but could not defend against Toronto.
“It’s a special night,” said defender Drew Moor. “I wasn’t expecting it. I knew we were ready for it, I knew we were up for it. … Everything went right for us.
There was a buzz at kickoff with a section of red-clad Toronto fans singing at one end and New York supporters answering at the other. Toronto came out hunting for a goal to drive another nail in the New York coffin, pressing from the get-go. And the breakthrough wasn’t long coming.
Giovinco opened the scoring with a marvellous goal in the sixth minute. Taking a pass from Altidore after Osorio forced a Jack Harrison giveaway, Giovinco used a sumptuous first touch to befuddle defender Maxime Chanot and create space to slide a shot past goalkeeper Eirik Johansen. The joyful Italian celebrated the goal in front of the New York City fans.
The dream start continued when Frederic Brillant took Giovinco down as the little forward cut inside the penalty box. Giovinco cooly converted the ensuing penalty in the 20th minute, silencing the home fans while the travelling Toronto fans sang their hearts out.
Ten minutes later, defender Eriq Zavaleta sent a hopeful high ball towards the New York penalty box. Altidore, celebrating his 27th birthday, muscled out Chanot and sent a looping shot over Johansen.
Toronto kept the scoreboard ticking early in the second half after a horrific giveaway by substitute Khiry Shelton went straight to Giovinco. He sent the ball to Will Johnson, who found Osorio alone to his right and the Canadian midfielder made no mistake with his right foot.
Osorio, who had two goals in 30 games during the regular season, has scored twice in three playoff games.
Toronto was unchanged from Game 1. Designated players Andrea Pirlo and Frank Lampard came into the NYCFC starting 11, as did Tommy McNamara. Pirlo missed out on the opener with a calf injury while Lampard came on in the second half.
Vieira stuck with Johansen in goal. It was the third straight game for the six-foot-seven Norwegian after Josh Saunders got the first 33 starts. New York could have used both ‘keepers in goal on the night.
NYCFC outshot Toronto 16-14 but TFC led 10-4 in shots on target.
Despite trailing on aggregate, NYFC had some reason to feel confident going into the game. Vieira’s team had won its last eight games (7-0-1) at home with its last loss there coming June 2. The New Yorkers also boasted the league’s most potent offence this season with 62 goals, including 35 at Yankee Stadium.
But of the 14 previous teams to trail by two or more goals after the first leg of an MLS playoff contest, only two rebounded to win the series – in 2003 and 2004.
Toronto’s Bradley, Altidore and Armando Cooper came into the game on a yellow card, knowing a second would lead to a suspension. Unlike the first leg, when there were six yellow cards handed out, there were none in the second leg.