It looked like Montreal Impact were going to cruise to a 3-0 first leg lead in the Eastern Conference Final in front of their sold out crowd of over 61,000. Toronto FC had other ideas after the hour mark. Two second half goals from the visitors set up what should be a fantastic second leg at BMO Field next week.
Montreal Impact vs. Toronto FC: Impact Hold Onto 3-2 Win Despite Late Reds Rally
This match didn’t get off to the hottest start. In one of the more embarrassing moments of the MLS season, the start of the game was delayed for nearly a half hour as both of the penalty areas needed to be redrawn thanks to incorrect dimensions on the original marking.
Roaring Start for Impact, Defensive Lapses for Reds
Once the match finally kicked off, the Impact came out to a flying start in front of their ruckus Olympic Stadium crowd. The opening quarter hour could be described as nothing short of an ambush as they launched out to a 2-0 lead before Toronto could settle themselves. First, a defensive miscue and pinpoint passing put Dominic Oduro through on goal in the tenth minute. His calm finish sent the crowd into a frenzy. The energy would only increase two minutes later as Matteo Mancosu finished off an Ignacio Piatti cross after a poor clearance from Steven Beitashour for the second goal.
The rest of the first half saw the Impact back down and concentrate on keeping a clean sheet. Other than a 43rd minute Sebastian Giovinco free kick, Toronto hardly threatened at all.
It really was a defensive breakdown that led to Montreal’s early goals. On the first, it was poor communication and bad decision making from Nick Hagglund that allowed Oduro the space along the right flank. On the second goal, Beitashour needs to be more responsible with the ball to prevent a turnover from allowing Oduro, Piatti, and Mancosu to hurt them like that.
Toronto’s Second Half Comeback
In the second half, the Impact took to scoring against the run of play. Ambroise Oyongo created a turnover in midfield, dribbled 35 or so yards down the center of the pitch without intervention, and bumbled a low shot past a diving Clint Irwin. It was really a shot that Irwin would love to have back. It was along the ground with very little pace to it. A better reaction from the Toronto keeper would have kept it out for sure.
Montreal decided to sit back and defend their way to a 3-0 lead after the first leg. However, they found themselves playing too defensively and the strategy backfired. First, a mad scramble in the penalty area ended with a Jozy Altidore header to give the Reds some life heading into the second leg in the 68th minute. Four minutes later, another defensive breakdown in the penalty area allowed Michael Bradley to grab a second away goal from the edge of the box. Toronto kept attacking after that and almost got an equalizer after a turnaround shot from Altidore blasted into the side netting.
The match settled down at that point and the Impact were able to stabilize their lead in the final 18 minutes. They had a couple half chances at a fourth goal, but nothing went through.
Poor Toronto Attack
Toronto FC makes its money through its three attacking stars. Giovinco, Altidore, and Bradley were all mostly absent throughout this match. None of them were allowed to have any tangible effect on the match for the first hour. It wasn’t until Montreal backed down into a defensive shell after the third goal that they were allowed to take part.
Altidore had very few touches in the first half. Giovinco couldn’t take credit for much more. Bradley was a rather poor passer on the night. He only completed 76% of his feeds with only one key pass. If it hadn’t been for that five minute stretch in the second half where the Impact defense fell asleep, this could be a very different tie.
The second leg next week in Toronto should be a thriller. While the crowd will be a little smaller, the weather at BMO Field is sure to play it’s part. With Toronto needing only a single goal without conceding to grab an unexpected win, expect them to come out firing while Montreal tries to hold off the initial storm and attack on the counter.
The second leg kicks off at 7pm next Tuesday night.