Time and games are running out. But Toronto FC is still alive and kicking.
“It’s been that kind of year. Nothing’s come easy. But we are not dead, that’s for damn sure,” Toronto captain Michael Bradley said after a 3-1 win Saturday night over the rival Montreal Impact. “Along the way there’s been a few people in some different places that have been ready to count us out.
“We’ve been able to just keep ourselves going and find ways to fight and scrap and claw. We’re going to have to do that for nine more games. We’ve got to do everything we can take this down to the wire and get ourselves in the playoffs.”
Sebastian Giovinco scored twice to help TFC keep its slim post-season hopes alive. Toronto (7-12-6) remains in ninth place in the East but cut the gap with Montreal (10-14-3), which occupies the sixth and last playoff spot, to six points.
Toronto has two games in hand on Montreal. The two teams play again Oct. 21.
Giovinco sparked the Toronto attack, with Jonathan Osorio adding a third goal to give the reigning MLS champions a 3-0 lead after 29 minutes.
“You give up three goals in the first 30 minutes, there’s no way to come back from that,” said Impact goalkeeper Evan Bush. “You try to rally and keep a positive mentality but the reality is unless they give you the game, you’re not coming back from that.”
But the Impact did their best. Alejandro Silva scored in the 30th minute and the visitors had two more goals ruled offside later in the half. Toronto looked to batten down the hatches in the second half, avoiding a repeat of the first-half shootout.
Toronto travels to Portland next for a midweek game before returning home to host Los Angeles FC on Saturday. Montreal visits the New York Red Bulls next Saturday.
Of the nine remaining Toronto games, five are at home.
“For now I think all the home games are must-win games,” said TFC head coach Greg Vanney, whose team is 2-7-4 on the road this season.
“We need to win six more games now,” he added.
For Montreal, the job of defending its nose above the playoff line got a little more difficult. Chasing New England, D.C. United and Toronto all have games in hand.
“We were not committed enough in terms of spirit and in terms of tactics,” said Montreal coach Remi Garde. “We gave too much space to our opponent. They have good players. We were in trouble.”
It was a wide-open, entertaining game before 27,294 at BMO Field with lots of offence and precious little defence in the first 45 minutes when Toronto outshot Montreal 11-7 (5-3 in shots on target) in the first half. The tables turned in the second half when Montreal outshot Toronto 8-1 (3-0 on target)
Giovinco has now scored or registered an assist in nine straight league games (seven goals, four assists). And he has seven goals in 10 career regular-season games against Montreal.
Osorio’s goal was his ninth in league play and 16th in all competitions this year.
Toronto went ahead against the run of play when Giovinco scored in the seventh minute. Justin Morrow’s through ball put the Italian in behind the defence and the he dinked the ball past Bush for his ninth goal of the season.
Giovinco made it 2-0 in the 22nd after taking a pass from Osorio, stationed at the byline. He evaded a defender to make room for a shot and cooly beat Bush for his 10th of the season — and the franchise’s 500th goal in regular-season play.
Osorio made it 3-0 in the 29th minute on a nice feed from newcomer Lucas Janson, chipping the goalkeeper. But Montreal answered a minute later, taking advantage of a Toronto giveaway before Silva blasted a howitzer of a shot past Alex Bono.
Giovinco exited to a standing ovation in the 72nd minute, with Toronto closing out the match in a 5-4-1 formation. He seemed to be favouring a leg and complained after the match about having to share the stadium turf with the CFL Argos.
Toronto was without injured defender Chris Mavinga and suspended striker Jozy Altidore. But veteran defender Drew Moor, who has missed most of the season with a quad injury, returned to the starting lineup along with playmaker Victor Vazquez.
Toronto has lost just once in its last 10 matches in all competitions (6-1-3) and that was against New York City FC when it played 79 minutes down a man after Altidore’s ejection. But in league play prior to Saturday it has not beat a team other than Chicago since June 8 (2-5-4).
The game was the first since TFC closed its door to the Inebriatti supporters group in the wake of a fiery display at a Canadian Championship game in Ottawa July 18.
The derby match saw just two Canadians in the starting lineups: Osorio for Toronto and Samuel Piette for Montreal.