A rocking BMO Field witnessed Toronto FC take a huge step in moving onto the next round of the Major League Soccer Cup Playoffs for the first time in their history. The cold weather did nothing to deter a vociferous crowd that cheered on their team against visitors New York City FC and their players responded to that support to get the win.
An edgy first half sees no goals scored
In the first half, neither team seemed to be able to take over proceedings and dominate the game. Although NYCFC had started the game in a 4-3-3 formation, during the early parts of the first half, head coach Patrick Vieira changed the formation to a 3-5-2 to match up to Toronto's formation and thus, prevent them from finding key players Jozy Altidore and Sebastion Giovinco in space.
The best chances of the half fell to Giovinco but even those chances were not clear cut, although Giovinco has scored from a small sight of goal before.
His first chance came in the 12th minute after a long ball from Nick Hagglund was brought down and laid off for Giovinco by his strike partner Jozy Altidore. The Italian broke into the box and tried to slip the ball in between Eirik Johansen's legs but the goalkeeper made a good stop to prevent the goal. Giovinco tested Johansen again in the 41st minute when his free-kick took a strange deviation in the air due to the wind. Johansen adjusted quickly and prevented the opening goal.
NYCFC's game plan was one that looked to stop the ball from getting to the likes of Altidore and Giovinco by any means necessary. That meant that the away side were more concerned with breaking up the flow of the game with niggly fouls which were reflected through the amount of bookings that they picked up throughout the course of the game.
What this did to NYCFC was also stop them from getting any real momentum going forward and limited the amount of touches that David Villa had in dangerous areas. Villa himself was lucky to still be on the field after an earlier coming together with Armando Cooper led to him lashing out at the TFC midfielder. The referee on the night, Silviu Petrescu did not see Villa's infringement and thus did not book him for his retaliation.
Toronto FC take control in the second half
Head coach Greg Vanney's half time instructions were clearly heard by his team as they came out after the break with a real desire to win the game. In the 51st minute, Justin Morrow thought he had scored the opening goal of the game after a TFC attack resulted in him putting the ball into the back of the net. The goal was called back after Altidore was adjudged to have handled the ball during the build up. Not long afterwards, Toronto had a corner kick hit the post after Drew Moor got his head to the ball. TFC were clearly in the ascendancy and NYCFC could not adjust to the pressure they were under.
In the 62nd minute, Jonathan Osorio was found in the box by Steven Beitashour but he sent his volley over the crossbar. Giovinco was involved again in the action when in the 67th minute, his free-kick sailed just wide of the goal after he put a great spin on his set piece. Osorio had the chance to score again in the 72nd minute but again Osorio could not get his connection right and the ball was cleared out by the NYCFC back line.
In the last ten minutes of the game, TFC's Clint Irwin was called on to make a great save to keep the score at 0-0. A bounce in the box allowed RJ Allen to have a shot at goal and Irwin got down quickly to make a sharp save for his team. That save would turn out to be crucial as the game began to wind down.
Altidore, Ricketts seal it for Toronto
The long-awaited goal of the game came in the 84th minute through Altidore. A ball into the box was not cleared away properly by New York's defenders and Giovinco pounced on the ball to send an effort on goal. After a few deflections, the ball found substitute Tossaint Ricketts who then whiffed on his shot. His bad touch fell to Altidore who reacted quickest and stabbed the ball home, much to the delight of the home fans.
Many could be forgiven for thinking that that was the end of the scoring but Toronto were not done and continued to try and give themselves as big an advantage as possible for the second leg of this tie.
In stoppage time, Nick Hagglund got forward and chipped the ball into the box. It was too high for substitute Will Johnson but it fell to Ricketts who was unmarked in the box. Johansen managed to block Rickett's initial shot but the striker got to the rebound and bundled it home to give Toronto the 2-0 win.
The onus next week will be on New York City FC and they will need all the help they can get to overturn this 2-0 deficit. Andrea Pirlo should be back from injury and Frank Lampard should be back to full-fitness after his return from injury as well. NYCFC can score goals and plenty of them, but the question will be on whether their defense can keep Toronto off the score sheet or not. It sets up a great second leg for any fans and neutrals alike in this year's playoffs.