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Toronto FC: MLS Cup Glory and Greg Vanney’s tactical victory in the final

The big dream in the region of Ontario province in Canada finally came alive when Toronto FC landed their first MLS Cup win. After failing to win in the previous edition, Toronto FC sought redemption against Seattle Sounders against whom they had lost the finals in December 2016. Touted as the team who always had the potential to become champions, the Canadian team finally reached the finals of the MLS Cup after overcoming tough barriers.

MLS Cup Loss in 2016

Having finished third in the Eastern Conference league, Toronto FC qualified to the 2016 MLS Cup knock outs – MLF Cup playoffs. The club reached its first ever Eastern Conference final as they stunned New York City 7-0 on aggregate in the semi finals of the Eastern Conference. In the finals, they met their long time Canadian rivals Montreal Impact which was contested over two legs. Toronto FC created new attendance records as they played their first ever Eastern Conference finals. Winning 7-5 on aggregate over two games against local rivals Montreal Impact, Toronto became the first Canadian club to reach the MLS Cup Final.

Toronto hosted the one legged MLS Cup final in their home ground, the BMO Field. The match was welcomed with great reception as the crown once again filled in with another record breaking attendance. The Seattle Sounders came in as the winners from the Western Conference and they were up against the home side who were two places above them in the overall table. After both the teams failing to score on the night, the game was decided on penalties after added extra time and it was heartbreak for the home fans as they witnessed Toronto FC lose 5-4 on penalties.

The loss was a huge heart break for the team as it was their first appearance in the competition’s most important game. And a dream of ten years which came as close as possible had shattered.

The 2017 season and the historical landmark for Toronto FC

The 2017 MLS Season started on a low for Toronto FC as they accumulated just 7 points from a possible number of 18 points. They started off the season with two draws against Real Salt Lake and Philadelphia Union and it suggested the toll they had taken from their cup defeat in the last gasp. There were signs that they didn’t recuperate well as they drew twice again after their first win of the season which came in the third game week.

Toronto drew blank for the second time in the season in just the first four games before drawing again against Atalanta United. With just two points in the first two home games, their misery extended as they lost against Columbus Crew SC.

Having just won a single game in the first 6 games, Toronto needed a run of good results in their favor and they achieved exactly what they needed. The win against Chicago Fire in front of the home fans kick started their campaign. They put on a very impressive run as they claimed 22 points in the next eight games, winning seven and drawing one.

The home turf became the fortress in the amazing title run as they won 13 games, drew three and lost just one in the 17 games played in the BMO field. They also had a massive lead at the top with 12 points more than second placed New York City FC in the Eastern Conference as well as overall table. With such a great lead, Toronto won the Supporter’s Shield for topping the league, a feat they have never achieved since their inception.

The MLS Cup journey started against the New York Red Bulls at the Red Bull Arena, who came sixth in the Eastern Conference league. They qualified directly to the Semi Finals courtesy of topping the table. After winning the first leg courtesy of two away goals, Toronto FC reached the two legged finals of the Eastern Conference though they lost 1-0 in the semi-final second leg. In the two legged finals, it was Columbus Crew SC who came to the finals to face last season’s Eastern Conference finals winners.

With an aggregate win of 1-0 in over the course of two legs, Toronto FC reached the finals of the MLS Cup for the second time consecutively. Once again it was Seattle Sounders who came in as the winners from the Western Conference. This was not something that the MLS Fans and fans who follows the MLS expected – the rematch for the previous final. It was however the much needed redemption time for the men from Canada.

Having lost the previous final, the 2016 MLS Cup runners up got the chance to prove that they are capable of lifting the most coveted football trophy in the North America. And it was all about redemption and avenge their defeat. And this time, they did it in style as they won the final thanks to goals from Jozy Altidore and Victor Vazquez.

It was a historic feat as they won both the Supporters Shield and the MLS Cup in a single season, a record created and held by them. Also in the middle of the season, they won the Canadian Championship which was the first title of the season. By winning the MLS Cup in the end of the season, they became the first team to win the domestic treble.

Tactical snippets from the final – Greg Vanney gets it right:

Greg Vanney’s bold move to tweak his formation just for the final proved to be a masterstroke as Toronto were able to control the match excellently with the packed midfield that took the field on the day. It was an intelligent move in hindsight as Toronto were always going to be on the front foot and hog more of the possession than their counterparts in Seattle. This meant that they could rely on their fullbacks to provide width and passing options in possession.

Toronto FC | 1

Made using TacticalPad

The presence of Marco Delgado and Jonathan Osorio with Michael Bradley at the base of midfield gave the much needed stability for Vanney’s team in the center as they could often overcrowd the likes of Svennson and Roldan in the centre of the pitch.

Another interesting aspect was how Toronto could manipulate Seattle when they were in possession as the likes of Clint Dempsey are not the most equipped when it comes to defending and positioning off the ball.

The use of Victor Vazquez in the hole behind Giovinco and Altidore meant that Seattle had to spend their resources in seeing off the Toronto #7 so that he could not continuously feed balls to the forwards up front. Svennson in particular had his plate full in shielding his back four and the fact that there was a narrow 4-4-2 diamond played by Toronto meant that Seattle found it tough to play through them when they recovered possession.

Vazquez often roamed wide and ensured that Toronto enjoyed numerical superiority in the flanks with one of the 8’s joining the #10 and the full back to outnumber Seattle and manipulate their structure. Any subsequent alteration in the structure could be exploited by the presence of two forwards in the lineup, with the likes of Giovinco more than capable of dropping deep and enforcing things.

Conclusion:

All in all, it was a deserved victory for Toronto FC, who under Greg Vanney played some very good football and consequently went on to win the MLS Cup. The team were qualitatively superior to all the times in the league, arguably, but it should not take the limelight away from Vanney, who played it precisely in terms of tactics and setup as Giovinco and co capped off a memorable campaign with a victory in the final, avenging their defeat the previous season.

 

Saiguhan Elancheran

Saiguhan Elancheran

Co-Founder and Manager here. An ardent Manchester City fan. Loves Pep Guardiola as well as Mourinho, with an affinity towards defensively brilliant teams. Idolizes Julian Nagelsmann.
Saiguhan Elancheran
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