Toronto FC made a statement on Saturday night.
“Our team can go anywhere, in any stadium, in this league and get a result,” said Greg Vanney post-match. “That’s what tonight was about: us preparing for the playoffs, us preparing for the big matches, proving to ourselves and showing this is what it takes to get results this time of year. And that was a fantastic effort by our group.”
In a thoroughly engrossing match, TFC dominated league-leading LAFC in the opening frame taking the lead through Tsubasa Endoh after 19 minutes and held firm under heavy onslaught through the second half, only for a stoppage-time penalty kick to result in a 1-1 draw.
“In the first half we played very well,” said Michael Bradley. “Against a good team, how sharp we were, how quick the ball moved, the intensity, the reactions, it was probably our best half of the year. And in the second half, it’s normal, they’re going to respond. We handled things in a good way.”
“Probably for how good we are in the first half – and even with some of the advantages in the second – we should be up more than 1-0,” continued Bradley. “And when you can’t get the second goal, then you always leave it open for a play like that.”
Carlos Vela slotted home the penalty kick in the 95th minute after Chris Mavinga misread a dropping ball and took down Latif Blessing in the area. Initially not awarded, a VAR review saw the referee point to the spot.
“It’s unfortunate because we played great in the first half. We absolutely dominated. Maybe a couple more goals there for us wouldn’t have even been a stretch,” said Vanney. “Once the game continued to progress we had to block up a little bit defensively, but we still had some opportunities in the transition, by and large we protected our goal really well and it came down to one play and VAR again.”
“It’s frustrating,” added the coach. “For me there was a foul that should have been the other way higher up the field that led to the whole attack, but then we’ve got to deal with that ball a little bit better. That’s to take nothing away from the effort.”
Endoh, patrolling the left-side of the TFC attack, was central to a lot of the chances through the opening half. His goal came when Marky Delgado forced a turnover in the LAFC box and Jozy Altidore found his teammate in space on the left for Endoh to place a left-footer across the keeper to the far-post from a tight angle.
“We executed the game-plan we talked about,” said Endoh of the display. “As you could see, we dominated. We could have had a couple more goals and that could have been a game-changer. Collectively, we played well, so we’re happy about that.”
The point and results elsewhere saw TFC clinch a 2019 MLS Cup Playoff berth.
“We are extremely happy to have clinched,” said defender Omar Gonzalez. “But over the past several weeks we’ve been so close to getting three points – against New England, against NYCFC, tonight – where we played so well and we just can’t seem to close out games. Having said that, I’m happy.”
“We’ve been on a good run since the loss to New York Red Bulls and we’ve just got to keep on moving forward, keep on getting better,” he continued. “Tonight we showed well. We came to a place that’s not easy to play at and we dominated the first half, absorbed in the second, and, to be honest, I thought we were going to end up winning 1-0, but fluke plays and they end up scoring. All around on the night, happy.”
Unbeaten in eight league matches, five of which were on the road, has the side full of “confidence.”
“We feel like we have a good team, like things are coming together at the right time, and we’ve got to keep going,” urged Bradley. “We’ve got to keep working, we’ve got to keep improving, but if we do that, we have a team that can have a lot to say down the stretch as the most important games of the year come around.”
Added Endoh: “The momentum is in our hand. We’ve just got to keep playing the way we did and the results will come.”
Spot secured, Toronto has two more league games – away to the Chicago Fire and back home against Columbus Crew SC – before the post-season gets underway. Until then, the jockeying for table position and a home playoff date will continue.
But first the action continues on Wednesday back at BMO Field with the second leg of the 2019 Canadian Championship, where the Montreal Impact hold a 1-0 advantage in the quest to lift the Voyageurs Cup.
“This game was important,” said Vanney. “Not all of our guys have played in MLS playoff games before, this is what it feels like. You’ve got to have those dry runs before you get to it. We knew that tonight, that’s why we came here, put our horses on the field and went for the game.”
“The objective is to get the cup on Wednesday, that’s the next one for us,” added the coach. “If we come with anything like this same performance at home on Wednesday we’re going to put ourselves with a good chance.”
The second leg will be TFC’s sixth match of the month, not that that fixture congestion will be an issue.
“It’s never hard getting ready for the second leg of a final against Montreal,” smiled Bradley. “We’ll be ready.”