TORONTO – Friday night's 3-1 win over Real Salt Lake was just what the doctor ordered for Toronto FC as they brace for the opening match of their Concacaf Champions League semifinal against Club America on Tuesday (8 pm ET; UDN, go90.com).
TFC dispatched the visitors, with Jozy Altidore netting two goals and Tosaint Ricketts adding the third late. With losses in their first two league matches, the win was a welcome momentum builder ahead of Tuesday's showdown at BMO Field.
“We've been kind of stuttering the first couple games,” said Altidore post-match. “To finally get some points on the board is positive. We're not in the cellar anymore, looking up at everybody else. It gives us some confidence for Tuesday night.”
He scored his first goal of 2018 in the first leg against Tigres UANL in the Champions League quarterfinals, pulling Toronto back into the contest after conceding first. His form will be crucial for TFC going forward.
“Jozy has been excellent, one of the best players in the league in my opinion,” said TFC head coach Greg Vanney. “He constantly brings us this presence up top. Outside of Jozy, we're not the biggest team in attack. He brings us a guy we can target, play into. He's also done a nice job of stretching teams out, looking for moments to get in behind, which keeps the back-line honest.”
“And getting the two goals,” continued Vanney. “Stepping up and burying the second [penalty kick] was bold; we needed it. [Nick] Rimando is notoriously the best goalkeeper dealing with PKs. I was hoping Jozy wasn't going to go up the middle, I had the sense Rimando wasn't going to dive on the second one; he was going to wait and see. Jozy very wisely smashed it into the side.”
Sebastian Giovinco was denied from the spot by Rimando seven minutes before Altidore opened the scoring, just as he was at the start of last season. Having been a perfect four for four in the 2016 regular season, Giovinco has converted just one of his last four attempts over the past two seasons.
Still Vanney is very hands off when it comes to a designated taker: “Whoever steps up with the appropriate amount of confidence and buries it.”
“I don't think it's up for the coach to decide,” added Vanney. “It's in the moment; somebody wants it or somebody doesn't want it. Players ultimately can make that decision, especially when you have as many guys as we have who are capable.”
The possibility of a shootout at the conclusion of the two legs against Club America does exist, but Toronto will be looking to ensure that it doesn't come to that. Friday night will have helped in that regard.
“The performance was important because as you go into Champions League semifinals you want to have things clicking, especially coming off a break,” said Vanney. “At the same time, the win is critical. There is a confidence that builds with that, when you go into the next game with a win, there is a better feeling than if you go in with a loss. Both are very important.”
“We needed tonight because it was an aggressive performance, both on the defending and attacking sides,” added Vanney. “That's going to be important in the next series.”