Armchair Analyst: Matt Doyle

Armchair Analyst: TFC make fans wait & sweat through first playoff win

You're not supposed to make your fans wait 10 years for a home playoff game in a league that's always sent at least 50% of the field to the postseason, but that's what Toronto FC did.

And then when you take the lead in that game you're not supposed to lose momentum midway through the second half, cough up a sloppy set-piece goal and generally lose control of the game, but that's also what TFC did.

Happily for our northern neighbors, the Reds did not make their fans sweat for anything more than about 20 minutes after Alejandro Bedoya had pulled the Union back to within striking distance at 2-1 down, as Jozy Altidore capitalized on some sloppy defense to restore a two-goal lead just before full time en route to a stop-and-start 3-1 win for TFC in the opening game of the Audi 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs.

Here are three takeaways from the first ever postseason game at BMO Field:

Seba Was Up For It

When the games matter most you need your best players to be your best players. Often that's conceived of as a goals-and-assists kind of thing, and to state the completely obvious: We're not talking about this as a happy night in Toronto if Sebastian Giovinco doesn't log both a goal and an assist.

But he set the tone in other ways, and his energy level -- his leadership by example -- was reflected particularly well in the first-half Opta stats:

I try to avoid cliches like "hustle" and "grit" and "up for it" in this column, but those things are probably real even if they're not exactly always measurable or definable. I'd argue tonight, in Giovinco's case, those things were even visible after a tentative first 10 minutes from the host.

Their best player was going to be their best player in more categories than are on the scoreboard. That goes a long, long way during this time of the year.

The Creative Platform

TFC's other attacking star, Altidore, didn't have his cleanest night with his first touch, and his hold-up play came and went. But like Giovinco he was determined working off the ball -- on both sides of the ball, which led to that game-clinching goal -- and that put Philly under pressure for the game's final 80 minutes.

When a forward gets into good spots and keeps working, those touches don't always need to be super-clean to be productive, and that's what Altidore showed on Wednesday. He was able to create four chances (his previous high this year was two) on the evening, which led both teams:

Three of those chances he created, including the one above, were passes beginning and ending in the box.

"Big, strong, fast, good feet" is a nice combo without any other qualifiers, but add "relentless" to the mix and you have a formula that leads to wins even when elegant play isn't on the menu.

Philly Had Their Blueprint 

The Union had a good moment early, when Chris Pontius's attempt was blocked in the box. Then they didn't have much of anything until the hour mark when Ilsinho came on and started torching the entire left side of TFC's defense.

Ilsinho's presence had a profound effect on how much of the ball the Union got. Possession stats don't mean much on their own, but in tonight's case the following dovetailed nicely with Philly getting back into the game, getting TFC onto the back foot, and getting real chances that eventually led to a set-piece goal:

What was a fairly even split became decidedly one-sided with the Brazilian's insertion. The problem tonight, and all year, is that Ilsinho is really only good in 30-minute blasts -- he lacks the fitness required to track for a full 90 minutes, or even 60 if we want to be entirely accurate. He's a huge, game-changing weapon, but only for a half-hour at a time.

In this case it nearly worked. His inventiveness out wide forced TFC into a shell (Jack Harrison and NYCFC will surely take note) and repeatedly pried open the Reds defense.

Not enough for the win, though. Toronto made their fans wait, and then made them sweat, but now, after 10 years, they get to celebrate a little. The longest playoff drought in league history is finally over.