A raw red patch on forward Tosaint Ricketts’ left leg served as an ugly reminder of the subpar Olympic Stadium artificial turf. Goalkeeper Clint Irwin was still moving a tad gingerly.
Still Toronto FC was glad to be home after dodging a bullet Tuesday night in Game 1 of the MLS Eastern Conference final against the Montreal Impact. Toronto lost 3-2 but two late, valuable away goals mean it can advance to the MLS Cup final with the slimmest of wins in the return leg Wednesday at BMO Field.
“We feel fortunate, but we also feel good about the fact that we kept grinding and we kept working at it,” Toronto coach Greg Vanney said Thursday. “We knew that one goal at a time could get ourselves back into it. And we were able to come up with those plays.
“But we also feel like we didn’t play well and (in) that instance, yes, we dodged a bullet because we definitely put ourselves up against the wall at being down 3-0.”
But unlike the 3-0 first-round playoff loss in Montreal last year, Toronto knew it had time to come back in the two-legged series.
“That helped,” Vanney said. “And I think we just have different character on our team this year than in years past.”
While both teams had to deal with the turf — and the botched penalty box lines that had to be redone, delaying kickoff by 40 minutes — Toronto was clearly still aggrieved at the game conditions.
Vanney called the artificial turf under the dome “the worst surface that I’ve seen in MLS by far over the course of the year.” And he said the conditions frustrated his players, “Sebastian in particular,” from the get-go.
“He sees that it’s a dangerous surface,” Vanney said of Giovinco, who played on pristine pitches in Europe.
Vanney questioned the switch to Olympic from Saputo Stadium “for no particular reason other than to get a few more people into the stands.”
“We shouldn’t be changing venues two weeks before a game,” he said. “It shouldn’t happen. And then to have the field not be the proper size before the game, again it shouldn’t happen. We should be well beyond that now in this league. But it did and it’s behind us. That’s another bullet I think we dodged in the grand scheme of things.”
The 40-minute delay caused by the repainting of the lines threw some of his players off, he said.
“We have a few guys who are very much routine-oriented in preparing for games, important guys for them. And routines get incredibly thrown off when things like that happen.”
“It was a bit of a disaster,” added striker Jozy Altidore.
The effects of playing on the hard surface were plain to see.
Irwin had a nasty welt on his back and was moving slowly after the game. Just putting on a sock seemed to take forever. Vanney said many of his players had to ice their feet after coming off the hard surface.
The Impact did apologize for the problems, Vanney said. “And we appreciate that.”
Conditions aside, Vanney had a shopping list of mistakes by his team, starting with failing to take care of the ball.
“We haven’t played many games that poorly, in my opinion,” he said. “In my mind, it might be a chance lost for them to really put us away, because we were not great on the night. We will definitely be better on the next one.”
That includes making better choices when Montreal got the ball and started to counter-attack.
The Toronto coach has some questions to ponder. The introduction of Will Johnson and Ricketts at the 57-minute mark helped turn the tide, with Johnson stabilizing the midfield and Ricketts energizing the offence.
With Altidore and Giovinco leading the attack, Ricketts may be best served as a different look off the bench. But the experience and bite of Johnson in the midfield could be a worthwhile option over the offensive flair of Armando Cooper at this juncture.
The Impact can advance to the championship game with a victory or tie. Toronto needs to win, though 1-0 or 2-1 would do it.
“There’s everything to play for now ... It’s 90 minutes now,” said Altidore. “We take care of business and we’re in the final.”Report Typo/Error