TORONTO – What Happened? Quiet now. Quiet now. Now Quiet....
It wouldn’t be Toronto FC versus the Montreal Impact without a little bit of added drama.
TFC staked their claim at a place in the Canadian Championship Final with a 2-1 win over the Impact on Wednesday night at Stade Saputo.
Pablo Piatti opened the scoring in 32nd minute, tapping in a cut-back from Richie Laryea after a devastating run up the left-side, only for Victor Wanyama to pull the hosts back level in the 53rd minute, somewhat controversially as his back-post header was initial ruled offside only for video review to award the goal.
Given it was Toronto’s final match in the series, while Montreal is Vancouver-bound for their final two, points were at a premium. Cue Jozy.
Nick DeLeon collected a poor free-kick from an Impact defender and promptly played a ball over the top for Jozy Altidore to end it with his right boot in the 89th minute, silencing the small, but vociferous, crowd.
“Obviously a huge goal on the night to help us get the win. Hopefully it's a huge goal in our ability to get ourselves to this final,” said Greg Vanney post-match. “It's good for him to get on the board. He had one or two looks in the game – plus we missed him on a couple chances where we should have played him and he probably would have had a tap in, so it's just nice.”
“He put in a shift today, put in a good day's work and it's good for him to get a goal; good for us for him to get a goal,” he continued. “He's been working for it and our team needs him to be that goal-scorer that he is. Sometimes you’ve just got to get the first one.”
Altidore, who has struggled with a foot injury, had not scored since last November’s MLS Cup Final. But when it comes to needing a timely goal, especially against the Impact, he relishes those situations. It was Altidore’s 12th goal in 18 appearances (all competitions) against Montreal.
“The mentality that he has going into big games is he's very focused on getting the goal,” explained Vanney. “He wants to make the difference and these big games, more times than not, he's been able to put one on the board or two on the board, something that can make the difference.”
“And tonight, similar to the [MLS Cup] Final 2017,” recalled the coach. “It didn't happen right away, it took a lot of work, it took a lot of runs, it took some missed chances by all of us as a group, and finally one, at the end, came to him and he was able to bury it.”
It was another player returning from injury, Laryea, that put Toronto ahead before another set-piece concession made for a nervy ending.
Having missed the last three matches, the jack-of-all-trades returned to the XI in an unfamiliar position, left-wing.
His battle with national teammate Zachary Brault-Guillard was engaging all night, but it was a moment half-an-hour in that Laryea stole the moment.
He received the ball on the touch-line from Quentin Westberg, spun past one opponent, sidestepped another, before driving past a third to work into the Montreal box. His cut-back took a slight deflection, which harshly robbed him of an assist, but still found its way to Piatti at the back-post.
Laryea was understated in his description of the play: “[Westberg] came out, took a good touch and I saw that I was pretty open, so I opened up wide to try to receive the ball. He played me a good pass, I was able to turn, face forward and start the attack that led to a goal.”
All according to plan.
“The intent of using him tonight was a little bit like a joker. He was kind of our winger,” began Vanney. “The way they play is they like to get their right-back out into the attack a lot, so we wanted to put Richie in that left midfield position where in transition you could get out and go and be in one-on-one situations, ideally against the centre-back, when they rotate into their three.”
“So slippery, [he’s] probably our best player in one-on-one situations and so we tried to use him a little bit higher and exploit some of the open space that we thought we might have on the night,” he continued. “His assist is an incredible individual effort that only Richie can pull off for us. He spins away from one guy, sidesteps another guy, the third centre-back comes and he just pushes it and runs by him, puts it into a track meet and the guy can't keep up with him and he slides the ball across the goal.”
“Credit to Pablo for staying with it because he had to book it too to keep up with the play. But that's what Richie can do,” Vanney added. “He’s so elusive and slippery. And he was able to give us what we were looking for on the night.”
The win snaps a two-game losing skid, exacts some revenge from the disappointing 1-0 defeat at BMO Field last week, and sees Toronto end the all-Canadian portion of the schedule with 12 points and a plus-four goal differential.
“It's a good feeling to get a win that we deserved,” said Laryea. “If you look back, they beat us at home, the chances we had we deserved to win that as well, so to get a win in this one feels good. We left it all out there and we see what happens moving forward.”
Montreal, with six points and plus-one, now go to Vancouver for the final two matches against the already eliminated Whitecaps.
Now the wait.
“Our intention was to come here and win the game,” levelled Vanney. “If we drew tonight [Montreal] would still have to go on the road and get a win and a draw, but we wanted that extra cushion.”
“At the end we put on another forward and really pushed to try to get the win. We felt like that was important, so we did it,” he continued. “That was probably not something you would do in a regular season game if you're on the road, but because of the Canadian Championship implications we did differently, which is strange because we're playing a tournament inside of the league play, but we did it.”
“It paid off for us tonight to get the three points and that's going to make it more difficult for them to go to Vancouver and have to overcome us, but it's not over,” Vanney reminded. “Our job is done, now it's the next two games for the other two teams. We're going to rest and recover, get a few training sessions in, work on some things like defending set-pieces and keep building to move forward.”
Montreal and Vancouver will meet on Sunday and Wednesday.
In a season and a year of such uncertainty, what’s a little bit more.
“It's going to be a little bit anxious, just knowing that we have to wait a week or whatever to find out the results,” said Laryea. “We'd obviously like to get going and keep the ball rolling, but for now we have to halt and see what happens in the next two games.”