A little Giovinco magic
Striker’s free kick puts Toronto a goal up coming home for second leg
HARRISON, N.J.— The brotherhood of goalkeepers was on display Monday night as Alex Bono went over to commiserate with Luis Robles, his New York Red Bulls counterpart, after Toronto FC’s 2-1 playoff win.
Robles had become the latest victim of a Sebastian Giovinco free kick.
“I said ‘Listen, I’ve been there after training when he’s set up a wall of mannequins and he’s done that to me. I know exactly how you feel,’ ” said Bono.
Asked if he ever stopped a Giovinco special, Bono smiled and said: “Once in a while.”
Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinal turned in the 72nd minute when, with the score tied 1-1, Brazilian midfielder Felipe took Giovinco down outside the box. The Italian promptly made the Red Bulls pay, curling the ball over the wall and out of the reach of Robles.
Toronto had been on its heels in the second half until Giovinco restored its lead.
“We were definitely up against it,” Bono said.
It was Giovinco’s seventh goal from a direct free kick this season. His six during the regular-season are a league record as are the 13 he has scored over his three MLS seasons (the most of any player in the league’s history since 2003, when the stat was first kept).
“He’s amazing,” Toronto coach Greg Vanney said.
“We talk about it all the time but the knack to step up in the moment and make a play is what star players do.”
League-leading Toronto defended well and asked questions on the counterattack in a first half that finished 1-1. But it needed its Italian ace to steady the ship midway through a rocky second half as sixthseeded New York came out with far more purpose.
Toronto, surviving a close call from Bradley Wright-Phillips in the 62nd minute and a Gonzalo Veron blast minutes later, weathered the storm. And then Giovinco worked his magic.
Victor Vazquez scored in the eighth minute for Toronto, piling the pressure on the home team.
Daniel Royer scored from the penalty spot for the Red Bulls in first-half stoppage time.
The two teams meet again Sunday in the return leg of the Eastern Conference semifinal at BMO Field, where Toronto led the league with a .853 home winning percentage (131-3) this season. The Red Bulls tied for sixth in road success (.353, 510-2).
It could be a chippy affair given the bad blood that was bubbling Monday night. It should also be entertaining with the Red Bulls needing to answer Toronto’s two away goals.
Toronto captain Michael Bradley relished the physical contest.
“If you want to be the team holding the trophy in the end, then you’ve got to deal with these kinds of nights,” he said. “They can’t faze you. You have to have a group that accepts the challenge, that embraces it, that goes for it, that finds ways to win.
“They’re not the prettiest games always but, to get to the biggest games, you’ve got to know how to navigate these ones.”
The series winner will face either second-seeded New York City FC or fifth-seeded Columbus Crew SC in the conference final.
“It’s a great result but it’s only halfway done,” Bradley said. “And we’re not celebrating anything yet.”
There were danger signs early Monday for Toronto as the Red Bulls pressed on a cool New Jersey eve- ning at Red Bull Arena. But it was Toronto that went ahead in the eighth minute.
Despite all the talk about New York’s high press, it was the visitors who forced a turnover, winning the ball back after a New York throw-in. After taking a pass from Vazquez and leaving Damien Perrinelle in his wake with a nifty move, Jozy Altidore raked in a cross that a diving Robles pushed away — but only as far as Vazquez who controlled the ball and then hammered it home.
TFC players celebrate the first goal by Victor Vazquez, who scored off a Jozy Altidore rebound. The Reds’ second goal came via Sebastian Giovinco.
Red Bulls keeper Luis Robles can’t get to the curling free kick of Toronto’s Sebastian Giovinco. The Reds scored two valuable away goals.