Jul 28, 2018; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto FC forward Jozy Altidore (17) celebrates scoring a goal with Chris Mavinga (23) and midfielder Jonathan Osorio (21) during the second half against the Chicago Fire at BMO Field. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
TORONTO — Sebastian Giovinco was closer to getting a red card than he was to scoring in the first half of Toronto FC’s match against the Chicago Fire on Saturday.
Giovinco had to be pushed toward the tunnel by teammate Jozy Altidore as he protested a non-call after taking an arm to the back of his head. He had already been booked for kicking the ball away in frustration.
He was not the only one whose patience was wearing thin. Toronto had carved out a couple of half-chances through 45 minutes, but the half had ended badly. Something was not right: the jigsaw was not quite fitting together, and Reds coach Greg Vanney knew it.
So he wasted no time in making a change. Vanney brought off wingback Ashtone Morgan — stressing that “it wasn’t anything Ash was or wasn’t doing” — and introduced midfielder Marky Delgado, pushing Gregory van der Wiel to right back to change a 3-5-2 formation to a 4-4-2 diamond.
The effect was dramatic. Having mustered just three shots in the first half, none of which hit the target, TFC fired 17 in the second, zipping the ball around a Chicago team that ended the match with less than 40 per cent of the possession.
Five of those 17 shots tested goalkeeper Richard Sánchez and, most importantly, three more beat him.
“Because they were man-marking us, the extra midfielder threw off their numbers and their ability to man-mark us,” Vanney explained. “So as long as we moved the ball and found the extra player in midfield, it would throw off their ability to kind of track us around the field.
“It was a useful tool for us today. It obviously helped us really tilt the game in our favour and create a lot of chances. It would’ve been nice to get a couple more. I know Seba was… I think he hit every single bar today that there was. Hopefully he doesn’t hit too many tonight.”
Giovinco, who was responsible for 10 of Toronto’s 20 shots, was eventually rewarded for his persistence. His left-footed effort from 20 yards hit a defender and looped beyond Sánchez after Altidore and Jonathan Osorio had put the Reds in front.
“Seba scored, Oso continues to score, Jozy scores, so all of our big goalscorers, I guess, found the back of the net,” Vanney added. “I thought the way the ball moved and circulated was really important.
“It was good for the group to perform and to create opportunity after opportunity and to get a convincing win. I think this group, over the last couple of years, has been used to having those moments throughout the course of the season where you have a convincing win that sort of establishes that you can be a dominant team if you do things the right way and you play together. So that was an important statement for us.”
Altidore, who played his second MLS game after returning from foot surgery, agreed that it felt as if the MLS Cup-winning TFC of 2017 returned in the second half.
“Free flowing,” he offered in describing the performance. “Relentless, in terms of wave after wave after wave. This is what we talked about before the game and this is what we have to get back to.”
“The last couple of months, we missed a lot of players,” defender Gregory van der Wiel added. “Now everybody is back and it feels much better and as you can see on the pitch, we play much better too. I’m very happy with that.”
As much as he enjoyed the goals, Vanney was equally relieved to see his team keep just its third clean sheet of the season. Toronto had conceded more than two goals per game coming into this match, leading to the coach to challenge his players to be the best defensive team in MLS through the rest of the campaign.
“When our possessions were so good, and we were finishing our possessions so deep in their half of the field and they were having to commit so many numbers to the defending portion of the game, it was very difficult for them to get out of their half of the field,” Vanney said. “When they did, we did a nice job of recovering and protecting our box. Alex [Bono] didn’t have much to do, which feels right for us. It’s good that we didn’t have to rely on Alex for a big night to get a result.”