The real Toronto FC stood up Saturday, blanking the Chicago Fire 3-0 in a game that brought back memories of its 2017 championship season.
After a poor first half, Toronto hit high gear and began to play with some of the trademark swagger that has gone missing in an injury-ravaged stretch since the CONCACAF Champions League run early in the season.
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“It was a joy for me to watch,” said Toronto goalkeeper Alex Bono. “I definitely enjoyed being on the field today. That’s not something a lot of us can say for most of the year thus far.”
Second-half goals by Jozy Altidore, Jonathan Osorio and Sebastian Giovinco gave Toronto (6-11-4) the much-needed win to the delight of the sellout crowd of 29,190 at BMO Field.
“I thought how we performed today was good. Still a bit rusty but I think the chemistry’s there,” said Altidore. “You saw some beautiful soccer, which is what we’ve become known for.”
Back-to-back league victories over slumping Chicago and a pair of wins over second-tier Ottawa in the Canadian Championship are hardly conquering Everest. But it’s something to build on.
It’s a measure of Toronto’s bumpy league road that it had to wait 21 games to register back-to-back wins — and post its first home win in league play since May 18. TFC remains in 10th spot in the Eastern Conference, but it is now just six points back of sixth-place New England and the last playoff berth.
Prior to the game, coach Greg Vanney said his team likely had to win nine of its 14 remaining games to make the playoffs. Of the 13 games left, eight are against East opposition.
Just qualifying for the post-season will be an achievement, given Toronto’s poor early run. But should TFC make the playoffs, the team could do some damage.
Toronto will get a more severe test next weekend when it visits league-leading Atlanta.
Eighth-place Chicago (6-12-5) has now lost five straight — with just one win in its last nine games (1-5-3).
Chicago coach Veljko Paunovic, whose team managed just four shots on target, called it a tough loss.
“We still have options and we depend on ourselves, so we face a big, big hill and we have to fix our team and I’m confident we still have the season to play and we still have the (U.S.) Open Cup, which is very important for our club.”
Vanney switched formations to kick-start his team in the second half, replacing fullback Ashtone Morgan with midfielder Marky Delgado in a bid to go forward rather than backward.
The strategy change worked. Toronto, which managed just three shots in the first half (none on target), produced 17 in the second half (eight on target) and dominated play.
“I thought the performance, especially in the second half, started to feel like us again.” said Vanney.
Toronto pinged the ball around and Giovinco, who hit the woodwork twice, gave defenders fits.
“I think he hit every single bar there was today. Hopefully he doesn’t hit too many tonight,” quipped Vanney. “I thought he played great.”
Altidore’s 52nd-minute goal came after a wild scramble. Giovinco fed Osorio and the Canadian midfielder’s cross caused mayhem in the box. Goalkeeper Richard Sanchez blocked Delgado’s low header but could not corral the ball, with Victor Vazquez and Justin Morrow unable to knock the ball in.
Altidore, however, made no mistake from close range for his third of the season.
The burly U.S. international, who has played just five games in a season interrupted by foot surgery, celebrated by taking off his orange boot and pretending to use it as a phone — presumably to spread the news of his first goal since March 30.
“I was answering the call, man,” he explained later. “Sometimes when your city calls, you’ve got to pick up the phone.
“I love being here. I love playing for this team, for this city. This is my home and any chance I get, I want to express that.”