• Víctor Vázquez and Sebastian Giovinco powered Toronto to a crucial road victory.
By Luis Miguel Echegaray
October 30, 2017

Toronto FC defeated the New York Red Bulls 2-1 in the first leg of the Conference semifinals at Red Bull Arena on Monday night, thanks to Víctor Vázquez's goal and a wonderful set piece by Sebastian Giovinco.

The game got off to an exhilarating start, and one where Toronto gave New York a taste of its own medicine by pressing the ball, being physical and looking to break out on the counter.

In the seventh minute, the visitors stole the ball in the Red Bulls half, allowing Jozy Altidore to deliver a delicious cross from the right hand side, which could only be pushed away by Luis Robles. The ball then fell to Vázquez, who pounced with a clinical shot to make it 1-0 and secure a precious away goal.

Eight minutes later, Altidore, playing the rare role of winger in the early stages, crossed it once again from the right hand side and found Vázquez, but this time he could not find any space as it was blocked away by Murillo.

The hosts began to take more control after twenty minutes of play as Tyler Adams got more involved by playing a nice one-two with Sacha Kljestan, only to be fouled just outside the box. In the end, it failed to materialize into anything.

New York’s struggles with Toronto’s crossing kept coming as a fantastic delivery from the left-hand side by Vázquez was met by Marco Delgado, whose header hit the crossbar. It should have been 2-0.

In stoppage time, the Red Bulls were awarded a penalty as Bradley Wright-Phillips, while entering Toronto’s box, was clipped from the back by Drew Moor, who was also injured in the process.

Daniel Royer tied it to make it 1-1.The second half started brightly for the hosts, as New York took more control of the ball for the first ten minutes, looking to take the lead as they pushed the tempo.

In the 60th minute, Wright-Phillips made a fantastic run, catching Toronto’s back line off guard, and found himself one on one with Bono, but the keeper made a good stop. The Red Bulls kept pushing for that second goal as Gonzalo Verón, who came on to replace Sean Davis, had his shot blocked by Bono once again.

The game really opened up, going back and forth, and the Red Bulls were doing a good job at keeping Giovinco quiet. Until the 72nd minute, that is, when the Italian, who was fouled just outside the box, scored another majestic free kick that curled to the left hand side. Robles perhaps should have done better in preventing the 14th free-kick goal of Giovinco's illustrious MLS careeer.

The Red Bulls now have a mountain to climb, as the visitor’s two precious road goals means if New York is to go through, it’s going to need to score at least two at BMO Field.    

Here are three thoughts on tonight’s first leg.

Closing down

Something that Jesse Marsch must address for the second leg is how to deal with Toronto’s crossing from the wings. The issue is that if the Red Bulls press, then they leave massive gaps and therefore allow Toronto’s wide players to put the ball in throughout. At Red Bull Arena, this was eventually dealt with, but the second leg might be a different story as any lapse of concentration could be detrimental. 

This could be a major problem once the match hits the hour mark and the game opens up, leaving areas that can be exploited.

Notable injuries

Vázquez and Moor came off injured and only time will tell the severity of the problem, but these are two important players for Greg Vanney who offer cover and creativity.

It’s obvious that no one on this team is more important than Giovinco. He is the playmaker, the goal scorer and the creator of everything that is good for Toronto. But Vázquez is extremely useful because, just like his teammate, he can play anywhere across the frontline. His deliveries are valuable, especially against a team who doesn’t deal with them that well.

Moor is also as important as his experience at the back is a needed asset in the playoffs, but his rolled ankle could be fine by Sunday.

A repeat of Chicago needed

If the Red Bulls are going to come away with at least two goals at BMO Field, then the only answer is to throw caution to the wind and repeat the performance against Chicago.

Granted, Toronto is a better team—the best in the league, actually—but it is not perfect.

Marsch’s biggest strength as a coach is analyzing the strongest asset about the opposition and then finding a way to neutralize it. In this case, aside from Giovinco, Toronto relies heavily on offensive creativity in the final third, especially at BMO Field. So instead of pressing high, Marsch could consider selective pressure to frustrate Toronto’s rhythm.

No matter what happens, the second leg should be a great match as neither team can afford to take its foot off the pedal. 

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