The Montreal Impact will head to Toronto with a lead in the MLS Western Conference finals, but not as big of one as they should have. They got off to a hot start on Tuesday night, but conceded two late goals to Toronto FC in a 3-2 victory.
Kickoff was delayed for 40 minutes because of a field issue you probably haven't seen before. The 18-yard boxes were the wrong size, and no one noticed until the referee did his prematch inspection right before players were set to come out for the national anthem. It took nearly an hour to correct the problem.
Once the match got going, TFC didn't look ready. The Impact got off to a brilliant start with a 10th-minute goal by Dominic Oduro, but the real highlight was the assist by Patrice Bernier.
And things got even worse for Toronto just two minutes later. Their left flank got blown up on the first goal, but it was their right-sided players who fell asleep on the second. Toronto defender Steven Beitashour gave the ball away with a poor header, then didn't see Ignacio Piatti slip in behind him. Oduro found the Argentine, who squared for Matteo Mancosu to score his fourth goal of the playoffs.
TFC didn't come out with a better game plan or focus to start the second half either. By the 53rd minute, Montreal took a 3-0 lead — and in truly embarrassing fashion for the visitors. Everyone in Toronto's midfield simply let Ambroise Oyongo run to the edge of the penalty area unopposed, Drew Moor kept backing off him, and Clint Irwin failed to make a routine save. Goals really don't get any softer than this.
But the game turned around quickly after Toronto coach Greg Vanney made two subs. Will Johnson and Tosaint Ricketts came on to replace Armando Cooper and Jonathan Osorio, which dropped 2015 league MVP Sebastian Giovinco from a striker role deeper into an attacking midfield spot. And as Toronto stormed back into the match, Giovinco had an influence on the build-up play before both goals, touching the ball in a deeper position and opening up space for his teammates.
Jozy Altidore scored Toronto's first, heading in a cross by Giovinco in the 68th minute. Five minutes later, Michael Bradley found the back of the net after a touch in the box by Altidore to Ricketts, who laid the ball back to Bradley, and TFC's captain finished from 15 yards.
Instantly, a Montreal blowout was flipped to a decent result for Toronto. The Reds lost, and they won't be happy with their performance in the first hour, but they're heading home in a decent spot. With two away goals, they'll expect to win at home and progress to the MLS Cup Final.
Montreal Impact: Bush; Oyongo, Ciman, Cabrera, Camara (Toia 81'), Bernardello, Donadel, Bernier (Venegas 87'), Piatti, Mancosu (Drogba 71'), Oduro
Goals: Oduro (10'), Mancosu (12'), Oyongo (53')
Toronto FC: Irwin; Hagglund, Moor, Zavaleta, Morrow, Osorio (Ricketts 57'), Bradley, Cooper (Johnson 57'), Beitashour (Bloom 90'), Giovinco, Altidore
Goals: Altidore (68'), Bradley (73')
Montreal had TFC's back three well scouted.
If a team playing with a three-man defense isn't well disciplined and aware of their teammates' positioning, they can get roasted down the wings. That's exactly what happened to Toronto in the first 12 minutes of this game. On both of Montreal's first two goals, the TFC wingbacks got caught either napping or pushing up too high, and the outside centerbacks weren't able to cover for them. It looked like something the Impact thought they could target.
Vanney's big risk worked.
With a half-hour left in the game, Toronto's manager decided to put an extra player up top and take a player out of his midfield. On multiple occasions, that looked like a bad idea — Bradley was isolated against mutliple men during dangerous Impact counterattacks. But TFC figured out how to avoid conceding after making the move, and their extra forward helped them score two goals.
It feels like Montreal lost.
They didn't, obviously. They won by one goal, meaning a draw in Toronto sends them through to the MLS Cup final. But going from a dominant, insurmountable lead to a decent but not great result in the blink of an eye felt like several gut punches. This tie should have been extremely over. Now Toronto feels as though it's 50-50.