The Reds make history: will host the MLS Cup Final for the second straight season thanks to heroic effort by Jozy Altidore
Coming off of a scoreless, Giovinco-less, Altidore-less draw, Toronto FC was looking for goals on the night in order to secure its first consecutive MLS Cup Final.
Columbus Crew could not make good on a few chances that TFC conceded them in the first leg and were looking to score a valuable away goal without the services of Brazilian midfielder Artur, who was suspended for the return leg. Gregg Berhalter deployed a 4-2-3-1 formation on the night with Federico Higuain and Ola Kamara looking to pounce on whatever Toronto’s attacking forays would concede in the back.
Greg Vanney’s Reds on the other hand, employed a canonical 3-5-2 formation, with the idea to play Giovinco off of Altidore: pairing the Italian’s finesse and speed, and the American’s size and physical presence.
Columbus Crew began the match with an aggressive approach, showing no reverence to the hosts. Berhalter’s men played a tactically disciplined game right from the start, moving very well across the field as a unit.
It’s no surprise that the first chances to score fell to the visitors. Among these, Afful’s header sailed slightly over the top of Bono’s goal in the opening minutes.
Toronto FC on the other hand, played a more careful game. A “cagey” 3-5-2 formation didn’t produce much in terms of scoring chances, leaving the task to its magic men (Vazquez, Altidore and Giovinco) to invent something. The latter earned a free kick outside the box at the 15th minute but saw his attempt hit off of Steffen’s wall.
The most dangerous plays belonged to Columbus in the first half, with Meram wreaking havoc in TFC’s end. A one-two combination with Higuain put Meram in condition to strike fatally on goal but TFC captain Michael Bradley tempestively intervened to stop his with a textbook slide tackle.
Toronto FC’s biggest chance to score came with a handful of minutes from half, when former TFC defender Williams took down Moor in the box, from behind on a corner kick. Steffen, however, was equal to the task and guessed Vazquez’s placement to his right, parrying the ball away.
The half ended with a wide shot by Merem and a missed connection by Kamara. Something had to change for TFC at half time, and it did.
After the break, Vanney deployed a 4-3-2-1 formation that proved successful, inserting midfielder Marky Delgado in place of defender Eriq Zavaleta.
A handful of minutes in to the second half, a Vazquez free kick caused some panic in the Crew’s box, who got away unscathed.
Altidore felt Abubuakar’s presence all game, and at the 55th minute he suffered an injury that saw him leave the field for treatment twice over the next 10 minutes. The American, however, played through injury.
This otherwise insignificant – and perhaps selfish – act turned to be a psychological trigger for the hosts.
A few minutes after returning form injury, and still limping about, Altidore combined with Giovinco, and Vazquez to slot the ball passed Steffen with a diagonal shot that decided the series. 1-0 TFC.
A few more minutes of suffering after the goal celebration, and the American forward couldn’t stand the pain any longer and finally came off for attacking midfielder Armando Cooper.
TFC was looking for more goals: a dangerous cross sees defender Mavinga miss the ball right in front of goal.
With Altidore out of the game, Crew coach Berhalter subbed off his duelist Abubakar in favour of Manneh, a forward, in the hopes that the resulting attacking forays would produce a goal.
The tactic worked, only partially. Over the next 10 minutes Columbus produced two chances that sent fear in the Reds hearts: first Meram missed the tying goal from 8 yards out, then another dangerous cross by Higuain saw Meram and Manneh miss the the ball that would have certainly drawn the match and sent Columbus to the MLS Cup final.
Alas for Columbus, it wasn’t to be. In the end, TFC along with the over 30,000 present raised their hands aloft to celebrate the Eastern Conference title for the second straight season, and await their opponent from the west at BMO Field, which will host its second MLS Cup Final in a row.
Notable Post Match Quotes
Toronto FC Coach, Greg Vanney:
“It was a nervy game. Altidore? I told him to hang in there for as long as he could. Like Kaiser Sose he went from limping to walking”
“It was important to change tactically. We added a midfielder in order to give players a chance to play off of each other”
Toronto FC Midfielder and captain, Michael Bradley
“The atmosphere, the stadium… The relationship that we have with the fans…You don’t find that in many places. I don’t think people comprehend what a difference they make. They give us this feeling that there is only one team that can win and that’s us”
“I’ve rarely played with a collective that was so cohesive and so committed to winning and to play for one another. We’ll enjoy this a d make sure that in 10 days we’re ready”
Toronto FC: Bono; Beitashour, Moor, Zavaleta, Mavinga, Morrow; Vazquez, Bradley, Osorio; Giovinco, Altidore.
Columbus Crew: Steffen; Afful, Mensah, Williams, Abubuakar; Abu, Trapp; Santos, Higuain, Meram; Kamara.
Weather Conditions at kick-off: 1 C, Clear