A first minute Sebastian Giovinco goal was all Toronto FC (TFC) needed to earn maximum points in their 1-0 victory over DC United at RFK Stadium on Saturday. The Canadian side move up to 4th in the Eastern Conference with the win, and now have eight points from six matches. DC United created a couple of good scoring opportunities, but their finishing and lack of composure in the final third of the field let them down once again. TFC manager Greg Vanney will be satisfied with his side’s dogged defensive display, and he will be glad to see Designated Player (DP) Jozy Altidore go the full 90 minutes, a sign that the U.S. Men's National Team player is returning to full fitness.
Meanwhile, DC United manager Ben Olsen will be disappointed that his team’s offensive ineptitude reared its ugly head yet again, and he will be even more displeased that his side could not build off of the momentum of last weekend’s 4-0 victory over the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Toronto FC shows that they're more than a one-man-team
Through their first six games of last season, Toronto FC had given up eleven goals. Through their first six games of 2016, they have only given up five goals, tied with the Philadelphia Union for the best defensive record in the Eastern Conference. The additions of Major League Soccer (MLS) veterans Drew Moor, Steven Beitashour, and goalkeeper Clint Irwin have provided TFC with a solid defensive nucleus, and unlike years past when they would give up late leads or concede silly goals, this year’s defense is looking like one of the best back lines that Toronto has ever had.
Donning their secondary white and red kits, TFC got off to a dream start. Left midfielder Jonathan Osorio’s toe-poke pass found forward Altidore in space on the left side of United’s eighteen-yard-box, and the American international astutely played the ball across DC United goalkeeper Travis Worra’s six-yard-box. Right midfielder Marco Delgado attempted to direct Altidore’s pass into the back of the net, but his sliding shot instead redirected the ball to Giovinco, who fired the ball into an empty goal to give TFC the 1-0 lead just 59 seconds into the contest. It was Giovinco’s fourth goal of the season, and he’s already staking his claim to win the MLS MVP award for the second year in a row.
The early goal sparked DC United to life, and they responded well to falling behind early. A Fabian Espindola shot was easily saved by Irwin in the second minute, and a Patrick Nyarko shot was bravely blocked by a sliding Justin Morrow tackle in the fifth minute. The best chance of the half for the Black and Red came in the ninth minute. Toronto FC allowed a long Nick DeLeon throw-in to bounce in the box, and left midfielder Lamar Neagle acrobatically redirected the bouncing ball towards goal. His shot missed TFC goalkeeper Irwin’s left post by inches as DC United came agonizingly close to tying the game. TFC’s best chance to extend their lead came in the 27th minute, when midfielder Michael Bradley whipped in a curling free kick that forced United goalkeeper Worra into a sprawling save. TFC had another opportunity to add to their lead in stoppage time, but central defender Josh Williams couldn’t keep his header down after another good Bradley free kick floated into the United eighteen-yard-box.
The second half was played at a much slower tempo compared to the first as Toronto FC succeeded in taking the sting out of the game. United manager Ben Olsen threw on Costa Rican international Alvaro Saborio, who scored two goals in four minutes in last weekend’s win over the Whitecaps, and DP Luciano Acosta, who assisted on both of Saborio’s goals.
The best chance for United in the second half came in the 67th minute, when TFC right back Steven Beitashour’s risky header towards his own goal was scooped up by goalkeeper Irwin before United right midfielder Nyarko could pounce on the loose ball. Irwin did very well to catch a dangerous Espindola cross in the 82nd minute and punch away a floated Taylor Kemp pass in the 84th minute, at which point it looked like United had finally run out of ideas.
TFC saw the rest of the game through without incident, and had the last two scoring chances of the match. Midfielder Will Johnson, who has been fantastic for TFC this season, had his right foot shot well-saved by United goalkeeper Worra in the 94th minute, and Giovinco’s free-kick was blocked by the United wall in the 96th minute. Giovinco’s blocked free-kick was the last kick of the game, and when the center referee’s final whistle sounded, TFC coaches and players celebrated a richly-deserved three points.
Men of the Match
Toronto FC: Steven Beitashour
It’s rare that a right back would receive Man of the Match plaudits, but TFC right back Steven Beitashour played a nearly flawless game against DC United. Additionally, midfielders Michael Bradley and Will Johnson both had monster games defensively, and the entire TFC back line stayed organized and disciplined for all ninety minutes, but it was Beitashour who did the most defensive work. The Iranian international racked up six clearances, four recovery tackles, four interceptions, and two tackles in the open field. He dealt with the attacking threat of United left midfielder Neagle well, and made a clutch header in the 87th minute to clear a DC United cross. His only mistake was a risky header towards his own goal that Irwin had to rush out to collect, but other than that, it was another no-nonsense performance from the right back.
DC United: Steve Birnbaum
When DC United were steamrolled by FC Dallas on March 26, many DC United fans cited the absence of Birnbaum (he was with the U.S. Men’s National Team during the game) as one of the main reasons why United were so soundly beaten. Ever since Birnbaum returned to United’s starting lineup as the center back partner with MLS veteran Bobby Boswell, United have only conceded one goal in two games. The MLS Rookie of the Year in 2014 had his second straight solid game on Saturday, finishing with a whopping seven interceptions, three successful tackles in the open field, four clearances, one defensive block, and two recovery tackles. He had a header go just wide of TFC goalkeeper Irwin’s right goal post in the 37th minute, and he used his height and aerial prowess to win the majority of his aerial duels against TFC center forward Altidore. He and center back partner Boswell were both caught flat-footed and out of position when Giovinco scored the game’s only goal, but that shouldn’t detract from Birnbaum’s tireless work rate and his resolute defending in a losing effort.
What's next for both teams
Toronto FC will play their seventh straight game on the road to start the season when they take on Ignacio Piatti and the Montreal Impact at Stade Saputo on Saturday, April 23, at 4:00 PM EST. Next Saturday’s fixture is a rematch of last year’s playoff game, in which the Impact neutralized Giovinco and exploited a porous TFC defense to win 3-0 in front of a raucous Stade Saputo crowd. TFC’s current defense is vastly improved compared to last season’s defense, but the Impact have yet to lose at home this year, and boast one of the best offenses in the league. It should be a fun matchup between two Canadian rivals.
DC United will host their third straight game when they welcome the New England Revolution to RFK Stadium on Saturday, April 23, at 5:00 PM EST. The Revolution have yet to win on the road this season and have won only one game in 2016, but they sit fifth in the Eastern Conference on the back of three draws and only one loss. These two teams played to a 0-0 tie earlier this season, and both teams will not want a repeat of that scoreline next weekend. DC United’s defense has improved over the last couple of games, and they dominated the possession stats for most of Saturday’s game. However, their offense continues to look stagnant, and they will need to improve their combination play and shot selection in front of goal if they hope to beat New England and get their season back on track.