Great viewing was on show in the first leg of the Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs match between the New York Red Bulls and Toronto FC on Monday night, and it was the visitors who came away with a big result.
The Red Bulls will now have to find a way to not only win in Toronto this weekend but also prevent the home side from scoring, something they were unable to do tonight no matter how hard they tried.
The two teams trade goals in the first half
Toronto started things off with an early goal. Jozy Altidore, who according to the NYRB fans, was the villain of the night, got by Damien Perrinelle in the eighth minute of the game and put the ball into the penalty area towards his teammates. Luis Robles stretched to prevent the low cross from finding Giovinco but he ended up diverting the ball into Vázquez' path.
The Spanish midfielder took a few touches before firing home and giving his team a shock lead. Vázquez could have made it two for Toronto in the 15th minute as once again, Altidore made Perrinelle look silly before finding his teammate in the box. Vázquez was blocked inside his own area by Michael Murillo and NYRB managed to clear the rebound.
The Red Bulls were being stymied at every turn by a very steady Toronto midfield and defense which were keeping Sacha Kljestan and Bradley Wright-Phillips quiet throughout the first half. In the 36th minute, Marco Delgado should have given Toronto their second when Vázquez picked him out with a peach of a cross but the midfielder cannoned his header off the crossbar. Toronto were made to pay for that miss as right at the end of the first half, Drew Moor tripped up Wright-Phillips in the box and Royer calmly placed his penalty in the middle of the goal after being forced to wait while Moor received treatment.
NYRB 'huff and puff' but Giovinco makes them pay for an error
The second half was a much better showing from the Red Bulls. They were quicker to the ball and moved it around with a faster tempo as they looked to find the winning goal. Wright-Phillips almost put them ahead in the 61st minute when he was picked out by Royer's long ball but Alex Bono was quick off his line and smothered the ball before Wright-Phillips could get his hot away. Substitute Gonzalo Verón was the next to have a sight of goal as his first touch of the game resulted in a shot that hit Bono on his chest before bouncing out for a corner kick.
The longer this went on, the more you could feel that all Toronto needed was one opportunity to put the game away if NYRB did not find a way to goal with all of their pressure. That ended up being the case when in the 72nd minute, as Toronto tried to fashion a chance off of the counter, Murillo brought down Giovinco just outside of the penalty area. The little Italian stepped up to the free kick and proceeded to bend it away from Robles' despairing dive, giving Toronto the lead once again. Verón, Wright-Phillips and Murillo all had looks at goal after that but Bono was on hand each time to stand tall and make the saves needed to keep his team in front.
The night may have ended positively for Toronto but there will be some concern over the injuries that pulled both Moor and Vázquez out of the game. Those that came on in place of them, filled in admirably but head coach Greg Vanney will be hoping that those two will be good to go for Sunday so he can field his best team.
On the other side, Jesse Marsch will have to rethink his strategy for the second leg as his team just did not have enough to get the result against the Major League Soccer regular season champions.