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.

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