Toronto FC tightens grip on Supporters Shield

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Michael Bradley, left, has been one of the leaders for Toronto FC this season.

By Ivan Yeo

How times have quickly changed for Toronto FC and the Los Angeles Galaxy.

Not too long ago, the Galaxy were regarded as the standard bearers in MLS, winning MLS Cups, Supporters Shields, making runs in CONCACAF Champions League and were regarded as the signature club in the league. Toronto on the other hand were stumbling along, trying just about everything they could to reward its passionate and loyal fanbase, but always seemed to be making the wrong moves.

Fast forward to 2017, and the tables have turned for Toronto and Los Angeles. Toronto, thanks to some shrewd decision making over the last three seasons are now the team everyone is looking up to in MLS, while the Galaxy are now the team looking to reinvent themselves. Toronto rammed that point home further on Saturday night at the StubHub Center, as league-leading TFC handed the Galaxy a humbling loss, defeating them 4-0.

“Yea I thought we played well, I thought the mentality was good,” Michael Bradley said. “It wasn’t going to be an easy game. They have not had a great year but there’s still a lot of quality in that team. They’ve shown some signs of life the last few weeks and any time you come here you know that it is going to be a difficult game.”

Toronto, despite not suiting up Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco, increased its unbeaten streak to 14 matches and its point total in MLS to 62 points, 11 points clear of New York City FC, making the Supporters Shield an apparent formality for the Reds.

“It’s nice to hear, but we don’t let it get to our heads,” Ricketts said on being the best team in MLS. “We just take it one game at a time.”

Toronto opened the scoring in the 24th minute. Both teams were positioning themselves for a Toronto free kick from about 23 yards out. Victor Vazquez however saw the Galaxy players taking a little more time trying to get themselves organized and Vazquez thus caught LA off guard when he sent the set piece right at goal. The shot hit off the crossbar, but stayed in the box and Drew Moor charged in and headed in the rebound attempt to get TFC going. 13 minutes later, Toronto got goal number two when Nicolas Hesler chased down a ball on the right side, cut inside towards the top of the penalty area, played Tosaint Ricketts into the box, Ricketts immediately took a shot despite coverage from Michael Ciani and the shot got past Kempin far post. Toronto salted the match away with two second half goals, the first from Ricketts, giving him the brace on the night and Vazquez took advantage of a miscue from Ciani and scored to wrap up matters on the night for the visitors.

“I feel good about the group we have no matter who plays,” Ricketts said. “On any given day we feel like we have a group that’s going to compete to win in a real way. Tonight was another example.”

It’s been quite the year for Toronto FC, which until recently must have been wondering year after year what must they do to get things rights. Toronto FC came in as an expansion team in 2007, and right away, the franchise got rave reviews for its fan support and home atmosphere, which mirrored that of various European clubs. TFC fans gained a reputation for throwing streamers at opposing teams as they lined up for corner kicks. While the atmosphere at BMO field was electric, the play on the field certainly left a lot to be desired. Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment did everything they could to reward its fanbase, bringing in players such as Dwayne DeRosario, Tortsen Frings, Danny Kovermans and Mista. Those moves however failed to bring any on-field success for the franchise. A lot of that had to do with an unstable coaching situation, as TFC went through a total of eight head coaches in eight seasons, and a lot of changes occurred in-season.

Things however soon started working in Toronto’s favor starting in 2014. It started prior to the start of that season, when TFC signed U.S. star Michael Bradley along with England striker Jermain DeFoe. While DeFoe joined the list of players that were unable to contribute on the field, Bradley emerged as a stable force in the Toronto midfield. Midway through the 2014 season, Greg Vanney took over as head coach after Ryan Nelsen was fired after yet another round of poor results.

In 2015, Toronto added another U.S. International, striker Jozy Altidore, but it was another signing that changed everything for Toronto. On January 19, Toronto signed Sebastian Giovinco to a designated player contract for five years at a salary of $7 million per season. Giovinco’s impact was huge, he scored 22 goals, assisted 16 other goals, was named MLS MVP and newcomer of the year, made the best XI, and he helped Toronto to finally make the MLS playoffs. Giovinco’s number were a little down in 2016, but he was still a major influence on the club. Toronto upset New York FC in the first round of the playoffs, then outlasted archrival Montreal Impact in the Eastern Conference finals. A team that did not make the playoffs in its first eight seasons in MLS was now just one win away from claiming MLS Cup, and better yet, they would get to host the final, at BMO field, with the atmosphere as raucous when the franchise first started, and the weather favoring the home team.

None of that however could stop the momentum of the Seattle Sounders, whose mid-season acquisition of Nicolas Lodeiro transformed them from a ninth-place team to the hottest team in MLS in the second half. Seattle kept Toronto’s attack in check, forcing the match into a shootout, and Seattle ended up winning the MLS Cup. Toronto however has used the defeat as motivation this season. Following its win over the Galaxy, Toronto is 18-3-8 and has scored 63 goals this season.

“It’s good,” Toronto FC head coach Greg Vanney said. “We have a solid team, a lot of guys who can do some things. We move the ball well. We were able to create some spaces for each other and make use of those spaces. We keep going–if we miss a guy, then someone else needs to step, which is what we did today.”

So another playoff run is in sight for Toronto FC. Things however have changed for the franchise, as its no longer good enough to make the playoffs. Having gotten a taste of competing for a championship last year, Toronto looks to be even hungrier to lift the MLS Cup this season. Bradley, having played across Europe, certainly knows drive needed for success at the highest level.

“Just keep going, it comes naturally to this group,” Bradley said. “We enjoy each moment along the way. We use it to add to the confidence, add to the spirit but we understand that we have not done anything yet. We have to keep going. Our foot has got to stay on the gas until the end. Like I said, we remind ourselves of that.”

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