Giovinco magic proves to be the difference as Toronto beats Red Bulls
Here are three quick thoughts from Toronto FC's 2-1 win over the New York Red Bulls in their Eastern Conference semifinal first leg on Monday at Red Bull Arena.
1. Concentration errors make the difference
Concentration might have been the big difference-maker in this first leg. Yet again, the Red Bulls found themselves conceding the opening goal in a playoff game in entirely preventable fashion. The team had spent the opening minutes easing into what looked like some promising bypassing of Toronto's midfield when an attempt to play out of the back caused the first of the evening's costly turnovers. Suddenly the Red Bulls were on their heels, and when Jozy Altidore's cross was only parried as far as Victor Vazquez, the outcome was inevitable.
In the 36th minute, in trying to counter a quickly taken Michael Bradley free kick, Tyler Adams rushed his move forward. Another turnover, and seconds later Marky Delgado's header was crashing back off the bar.
At the other end, Toronto mostly held firm in keeping Bradley Wright-Phillips away from shooting chances, but they too were culpable in conceding free kicks in dangerous areas. Soft as the decision looked on first viewing, it was no surprise when Wright-Phillips earned a penalty after all the turns he made in and around the box.
It didn't help Toronto when Drew Moor had to go out with an injury sustained in conceding the penalty; his experience and calm are made for the chess battle aspect of two-legged ties. Toronto was certainly stretched a little more without him, as the Red Bulls tried to push the game in the second half. But in general, its defense and self-belief held firm, and the Red Bulls were left to regret the moments when touch and thought let them down.
This was always going to be a series that Toronto needed to manage and the Red Bulls needed to uniformly excel in. In the first leg, Toronto did its job, and New York worked hard, but its stress points proved decisive.
2. How do you solve a problem like Giovinco?
It wasn't one of his busier nights. He was quiet, even. The Red Bulls could have been forgiven for thinking they had nullified the threat of Sebastian Giovinco.
Then, in the 72nd minute, Altidore got the better of Damien Perrinelle again and floated the ball across the field to where Giovinco was waiting. From there, there was an inevitability to what unfolded. Giovinco earned the foul, picked up the ball and duly floated his free kick up and over the wall past the diving Luis Robles.
It was from almost the same spot that Giovinco had popped up to do the same to Atlanta on Decision Day, reminding us of just what a special talent he is right at the moments we might take him for granted.
Again, the Red Bulls might consider that incident a matter of a lapse in concentration, but in truth, there's only so much that can be done to mitigate the threat of Giovinco, and most of that occurs farther up the field. It isn't just a matter of doubling up on him and Altidore. Vazquez and even the underrated Delgado showed how their secondary runs can hurt defenses who fail to consider all angles of attack.
By the time Giovinco has the ball on the edge of the box, it's often too late.
3. Former Jersey Boys outlast a rough welcome home
The last time Altidore and Bradley set foot at Red Bull Arena, they endured a conspicuously rough night with the U.S. against Costa Rica. If they thought that their old MetroStars connections might see the home crowd let that infamous night for the national team slide, the boos that greeted their every touch soon let them know otherwise.
But if those fans in turn hoped to put the pair off their game, that proved to be an equally forlorn hope. Altidore in particular was key to the shape of the game, operating largely in that area on the right of attack where the Red Bulls, and Perrinelle in particular, can be susceptible to pace. Altidore did plenty to occupy Perrinelle and keep Kemar Lawrence from straying too far up the left flank, and he set up the crucial opening goal for Toronto, while those taunting him were still warming up their voices. Then he got the better of Perrinelle again in the move that led to Giovinco's free kick.
Bradley too was assured if not spectacular, and that, after all, was all Toronto needed all-around. He showed his game management sense at moments, too. With the Red Bulls pressing around the hour mark, he used his experience to put his foot on the ball a few times and ease off the home team's momentum as it was starting to build. The young Red Bulls players perhaps hoping to follow in his and Altidore's footsteps in their own careers had no such moments to control the game.
It wasn't the sweetest homecoming for the pair, but there were no signs of a World Cup hangover, either.
Graham Parker writes for ESPN FC, FourFourTwo and Howler. He covers MLS and the U.S. national teams. Follow him on Twitter @grahamparkerfc.