TORONTO, ON (November 30, 2016) – Toronto FC are headed to the MLS Cup Final! They defeated the Montreal Impact 5-2 (7-5 on aggregate) in the second leg of the Eastern Conference Finals. They did so coming back from a 5-3 aggregate deficite. The match went to extra time, and a Benoit Cheyrou goal was the difference. Let’s talk about it.
Toronto FC Advance To MLS Cup Final 7-5 On Aggregate With Benoit Cheyrou Goal
Mauro Biello‘s side made no changes from the first leg starting lineup. He brought Montreal out in their 4-3-3 formation. Matteo Mancosu, Ignacio Piatti, and Dominic Oduro start up top. Patrice Bernier highlighted the midfield. Lauren Ciman anchored the back four with Evan Bush in goal.
Toronto Head Coach Greg Vanney made just one change from the first leg: veteran Will Johnson started in the five man midfield. Drew Moor lead the back three. Michael Bradley and Armando Cooper started in central midfield. Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore started up top.
TFC came out flying to start the match, outshooting Montreal 6-2. Giovinco and Altidore were regularly dropping back into the midfield to help with the build up play. Steven Beitashour and Justin Morrow got into the attack early and often.
In the 7th minute Altidore nearly had a scoring chance, but Marco Donadel made an excellent defensive play in the box. After that, the match got very physical. On several occasions, players collided in the air going up for the ball. In the 13th minute, Altidore collided with Hernán Bernardello. Both players were down for several minutes before returning to the field. On several other occasions, Impact medical staff had to attend to players on the field due to contact during play.
Toronto continued to have the better scoring chances, but the Impact would strike first. Montreal got a counter going in the 24th minute after Morrow nearly scored on the other end of play. Mancosu got the ball at the top of the box, and sent a cutting through pass to Oduro. The winger split the last two defenders, went in on goal, and slotted the ball far corner past Clint Irwin.
The Impact were up 4-2 on aggregate.
The Reds appeared flustered, but kept throwing numbers forward. They would find a hero in the 36th minute. Altidore earned a corner and Giovinco sent a ball straight over the 6 yard line. Nick Hagglund got his head to the ball. It was cleared off the line, but not out. Cooper was right on the door step of the goal and kicked it in.
BMO Field erupted at the sight of the goal. Toronto became invigorated after that. Montreal’s back line began to look nervy, making several simple mistakes. Ambroise Oyongo nearly committed a hand ball in the box with no attackers in the box. Bush gave up a simple corner just minutes later.
The home side would capitalize on these errors. Just before half time, Giovinco took a corner near post. Altidore lost his mark, ran into it, and headed it in far post past Bush. Toronto FC had the aggregate lead on a way goals 4-4 (2-1).
The half ended 2-1 with Ciman on a yellow card.
Montreal began the second half much more composed. They possessed the ball more and sent long balls into the Toronto final third with wingers pushing up. The Impact found pay dirt off a broken play in the 53rd minute.
Substitute Johan Venegas won a ball just outside the box and passed it to Piatti. Piatti ran through several defenders and toe poked the ball towards goal. The play wrong-footed Irwin and the ball slipped past him into the net rather anticlimactically. Montreal were up 5-4 on aggregate.
Montreal continued to apply pressure. Toronto manager Vanney looked to change things up, bringing on Tosaint Ricketts, who helped Toronto turn it around in the past in the playoffs. Venegas nearly scored a back breaker for the Impact 65 minutes in on a counter, but Irwin made a sprawling arm save.
The home side would find another golden chance off a set piece. Toronto took a short corner in the 68th minute. Hagglund and Moor backed out of the box during it, then Morrow chipped it into the box. Hagglund ran onto the ball, beating everyone to the ball with a running start, and sent a thumping header into the back of the net. That made it 3-2, and tied 5-5 on aggregate.
Biello looked to get the back breaking goal, subbing on DP forward Didier Drogba for Mancosu. Both teams traded blows in the final minutes as the match got stretched. Altidore and Ricketts had quality back-to-back chances in the 85th minute, but Ciman and Bush made excellent players. Ciman in particular, was clinical in the closing minutes defending Giovinco and others in the box.
Both teams continued to push, but the 90 minutes ended 5-5 on aggregate. Hassoun Camara and Ciman were the only players on yellow cards. Both teams had one sub remaining.
The Impact started extra time on a positive note. Piatti and Venegas created several chances, but could not get the ball to Drogba. The Reds had a scare five minutes into the period with Giovinco going down after a shot attempt. He got up moments later, but appeared bothered by a cramp.
Vanney chose to take on chances. Their MVP was subbed out just moments later for Benoit Cheyrou.
Then the unthinkable happened. Toronto had a nice build up with Altidore finding Beitashour out wide. The wing back sent a cross into the middle of the box. Cheyrou, who hadn’t played a minute all playoffs, rose up and delivered a thumping header into the back of the net. BMO Field exploded eight minutes into extra time.
Montreal pushed forward needing a goal, leaving only a few players on the back. An exhausted Altidore ran onto a long ball clearance in the 100th minute. He ran forward along the touch line as Ricketts ran towards the front of the net. Altidore sent a through pass in front of goal, and Rickets beat the center backs to it. The ball slipped under Bush’s shoulder and it was 7-5 on aggregate.
The Reds parked the bus in the second half of extra time, with only Altidore and Rickets going very far forward. The Impact threw numbers forward, but Piatti and Drogba had a tough time getting space to create.
Oduro nearly found Drogba in the 110th minute with a cross, but Irwin beat him to it. Minutes later Jonathan Osorio almost delivered the final blow, but his shot near post was well wide. Drogba had an excellent free kick opportunity, but his ball was sent right on top of Irwin. The visitors continued to push, but couldn’t get anything on frame past Irwin.
The full time whistle blew with the aggregate score 7-5.
This might be the best MLS Cup playoff game I’ve ever seen. Both teams were excellent, but Toronto at home with younger legs and more bench options was the different. Altidore was an absolute beast in the match. Every key player showed up at different times. Montreal’s age and poor marking on set pieces (Toronto scored 3 of their 5 goals off corners) did them in.
Montreal’s off-season will have a lot of questions. Drogba will not be returning, but they’ve got an exciting attack up front. There’s still the question of what to do with Harrison Shipp, as he hasn’t worked out for the club. Their midfield also needs some youth and width. Still, they’ve got a lot to work with. They’ll be competitive in 2017.
Greg Vanney’s side has all the star power and home field advantage they’ll need for hosting MLS Cup against the Seattle Sounders. Giovinco’s legs will have over a week to get ready. There couldn’t be a more improved a star studded team to host MLS Cup in the Eastern Conference.
It’s going to be an exciting MLS Cup Final in Toronto on December 10th.