Montreal Impact completely outclass Toronto FC in MLS battle for Canada
MONTREAL -- The Montreal Impact rode first-half goals from Patrice Bernier, Ignacio Piatti and Didier Drogba to defeat rival Toronto FC 3-0 in the first playoff meeting between Canadian teams in Major League Soccer history. The result eliminated TFC after its first-ever postseason game, while Montreal advances to face the Columbus Crew in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Here are three quick thoughts following the match.
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1. Drogba wins the DP battle
The back-to-back games in Montreal were rightfully billed as high-stakes, high-profile meetings between the best two players in the league. As otherworldly as Sebastian Giovinco was over the course of the year, however, the pint-sized Italian was outdone by Drogba handily when the pressure was on. Giovinco had just a single assist in the two games, while Drogba also scored the Impact's equalizer and game-winner last weekend.
For Giovinco, it's a shame the greatest season by any player in MLS history had to end with a whimper. But what can you say about Drogba? With 12 goals in 12 appearances since he was introduced in July, it's not crazy to think that the Chelsea legend could have put up even gaudier numbers than Giovinco (22 strikes in 33 games) did had he played a full season. The 37-year-old has also shown to be remarkably durable despite taking a few hard fouls, even if he may have milked a couple of them. Which also makes you wonder.
2. Same old Toronto FC
Toronto FC made the playoffs for the first time in nine seasons in 2015 and posted franchise records for wins and points. While this team is better than it was three years ago, the Reds weren't good enough -- not nearly close to good enough -- this year despite spending lavishly to lure MLS Golden Boot winner Giovinco and U.S. national team striker Jozy Altidore to play alongside fellow designated player Michael Bradley.
The stars weren't the problem. As bad as TFC's back line was in Sunday's 2-1, regular-season-ending loss against the Impact, they were even worse on this night. Right-back Jackson was being eaten alive by Piatti even before the Argentine set up Bernier's opener. A slip by center-back Josh Williams gifted the hosts their second, and Drogba was left criminally unmarked at the back post on the strike that sealed the victory for Montreal in the first half.
After Sunday's loss, Vanney told reporters that the Reds should be judged not by their finish in the league standings -- sixth, which wouldn't have been good enough to qualify for the postseason in any previous year -- but in the playoffs. But Toronto's total capitulation in this match guarantees that loyal, long suffering TFC supporters won't see their team play a home playoff game until next year at the earliest, and the Reds' brass -- including Vanney and GM Tim Bezbatchenko -- deserves plenty of scrutiny for ignoring their team's glaring defensive deficiencies for a second consecutive season. On this evidence, fans have little reason to believe things will get better in 2016.
3. How far can the Impact go?
At this point, saying the Impact can reach MLS Cup, if not win it outright, wouldn't be going out on a limb. No team was better than Montreal over the final 10 games of the regular season. And although they'll face the No. 2-seed Columbus Crew in the Eastern Conference semis, starting on Sunday in Montreal, history has proven that the teams that fared better during the regular season have no advantage whatsoever in the four two-leg, total-goals series that determine who goes to December's grand finale.
The Impact have enjoyed smashing recent success in that format, having won two home-and-homes to advance to the CONCACAF Champions League Final last spring. And that's not including the hard-fought tie they earned against eventual champ Club America in Mexico City's imposing Azteca Stadium in the first match of the finale.
With Drogba dominating almost at will and no shortage of balance, depth, leadership and experience among his supporting cast, the sky is the limit for this squad over the next five weeks.
Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @DougMacESPN.