It didn’t take long for last season to go from dream start to a nightmarish finish, but it all started with ecstasy in Cascadia. This season would be no different. To kick off opening weekend, the schedule makers decided to pit two Canadian rivals against each other in a battle of ideologies. The young, lower budget, South American heavy Vancouver Whitecaps got their opportunity to take on veteran, big spending, and star studded Toronto FC. When it was all said and done, the Reds carried the day in a big way.
The game didn’t get off to a very good start for the Reds as the quick Whitecaps pressured and exploited the wide areas, more specifically, the right side. Time after time, the Toronto back line was caught sleeping as the Whitecaps consistently floated ball after ball over the top and were able to out run TFC’s defenders. In the opening minutes of the game however, disaster nearly struck, and it would have if it wasn’t for what will most likely be the miss of the season by Van City’s new DP striker Octavio Rivero. If you haven’t seen the replay, it was pretty ugly.
Shortly after though, some complacent defending from TFC allowed Rivero to redeem himself and give the Whitecaps a much deserved early 1-0 lead. Based on the pace of the early parts of the first half and the sloppy defending and ball movement from TFC, fans had the right to say to themselves “uh oh! Here we go!”
Then, as was sure to be the case as the rust came off, the Reds started clicking. Beautiful long balls and some quick passing was the proof. Every attack moving forward had the potential to create a goal scoring opportunity. Whether it was Sebastian Giovinco running at Vancouver defenders or Benoit Cheyrou dancing around his opponents in the midfield, the stars began to shine.
The 32nd minute spelled disaster for Vancouver and TFC never really looked back, despite the end to end action the viewers were treated to. A fantastic through ball through traffic from a streaking Giovinco found the foot of Jozy Altidore who effortlessly rounded the keeper and equalized for Toronto.
It was pretty obvious that coach Greg Vanney had some inspirational words for his men at half time because the team that came out on to the field to start the second half completely flipped the script on the Whitecaps. No substitutions were made, it was all mental. I would imagine he told his players to calm it down and play the match at their pace, because that’s exactly what they did.
Just before the hour mark, Robbie Findley was able to get on the end of a low cross from Justin Morrow, giving TFC the lead and silencing the Whitecaps supporters.
As the game wore on, it became more and more obvious that Vancouver was running out of attacking ideas. The introductions of Darren Mattocks and Gershon Koffie did nothing for the Whitecaps going forward. Damien Perquis and a reinvigorated Steven Caldwell were more than up to the task to shut down every attack.
Added time proved to seal the deal as some excellent ball control from Altidore was rewarded with a penalty kick right in the face of Vancouver’s Southsiders. A cheeky panenka goal for Jozy iced it for Toronto, and the Reds were deserving victors on the day.
The moral of the story is, money CAN buy you happiness… but how long will it last? Let’s draw some parallels between first kick last season and this season, shall we?
2014: Big spending TFC roles into Cascadia for a statement game to kick off their season. Marquee signings play a massive role in upsetting the home team. Marquee striker scores 2 goals and is named player of the week as TFC picks up 3 points in a 2-1 victory.
2015: Big spending TFC roles into Canadian rivals home in Cascadia for a statement game to kick off their season. Marquee signings play a massive role in upsetting the home team. Marquee striker brought in to replace last years’ marquee striker equals his predecessor’s goal total for the game and is named player of the week as TFC picks up 3 points in a 3-1 victory.
Weirdly similar, huh?
As similar as both victories seem on the surface, there are some glaring differences that speak to how much this Toronto FC team improved over the off-season.
The most obvious of differences was the confidence level, both on and off the ball. As the game went on and a lead was established, TFC was able to stay composed and hold their shape. For a team that notoriously gives up late leads and loses points in the worst possible way, the way this one finished was very un-TFC-like.
Also of note was just how impactful the presence of a true number 10 was in the form of Sebastian Giovinco. Although at times he seemed to want to do it all by himself, his ability to spot an opportunity to switch the play or to send in a cutting pass was remarkable. If he’s able to keep this up, there’s no telling what could be.
A solid, all-around team victory and a perfect start is exactly the way this team needed to start the season. It’s wins like this that build confidence and chemistry; two important characteristics that separate the leaders from the rest of the pack. Heading into Columbus, if TFC can build on what they showed their fans in Vancouver, good things are sure to come.
(image courtesy of Toronto FC)