Impact dispatch Toronto FC to earn Eastern Conference semifinal berth
Montreal ran roughshod on a punchless Toronto, built a big first-half lead and easily won their MLS playoff elimination game 3-0 on Thursday at Stade Saputo in Montreal. Goals by Patrice Bernier, Ignacio Piatti and Didier Drogba gave the Impact a big advantage, and a disappointing Toronto never ended up challenging.
Montreal’s victory means the Impact will meet Columbus in the two-game MLS Eastern Conference semifinals, while the top-seeded New York Red Bulls will meet archrival D.C. United. Both first legs will be part of the MLS playoff quadruple-header on Sunday.
Here are my three thoughts on the game:
Toronto’s horrible defending continued
TFC spent millions on Sebastian Giovinco, Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore, but the defense has been mediocre at its best and disastrous at its worst. The Reds were in full disaster mode against Montreal from the moment Jackson’s Olé defense sprung Piatti on the break and led to Montreal’s first goal early through Bernier. It only got worse for Toronto as a rampant Piatti pounced on a Josh Williams slip for Montreal’s second, and then Bernier did terrific work before an unmarked(!) Drogba for a 3-0 lead before halftime. It’s possible to find useful defenders in MLS without spending a lot of money, but Toronto never came close to doing it, and TFC paid the price on Thursday.
Give Montreal plenty of credit, too
Interim coach Mauro Biello surprised many by starting Piatti on the left side of midfield, but that was a masterstroke considering Jackson was playing right back for Toronto. Piatti was terrific, a prototype of what you’d want from a No. 10, and Toronto just didn’t have an answer. Those who thought Bernier was washed up were wrong, too: The Montreal captain had a huge night with a poised finish for his first MLS goal in two years and showed patience finding Drogba for goal No. 3 (Drogba’s 12th in 12 games). Then there was Montreal’s defense, marshaled by the excellent Laurent Ciman, which kept MVP favorite Giovinco, Altidore and Bradley from having an influence on the game. The Impact is a danger team in these playoffs, capable of going very, very deep. Montreal-Columbus will be a barnburner.
What next for Toronto?
Much was made of TFC, with its giant payroll, making the playoffs for the first time in its nine-year history. But let’s be honest: Just making the MLS playoffs shouldn’t be heralded as some fantastic accomplishment when 12 of the league’s 20 teams qualify for the postseason. Toronto ended up finishing sixth in the weak MLS Eastern Conference and wouldn’t have qualified a year ago, before the playoffs were expanded this season. Nor did TFC ever address its defensive deficiencies. Then consecutive losses against its archrival to end the season, including a blowout defeat in an elimination game, made you question Toronto even more. It’s enough to make you wonder if Greg Vanney’s coaching job is safe this off-season.