Toronto FC's Greg Vanney: No one outside the club thought shorthanded squad could make MLS Cup

ATLANTA — To be the best, you have to beat the best, and in Wednesday night’s Eastern Conference Final in the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs, Toronto FC dismantled MLS’s reigning champions.

It wasn’t easy for Greg Vanney’s side, but it hasn’t been all season. Toronto was without two of their key players in striker Jozy Altidore and defender Omar Gonzalez, and if the injuries weren’t bad enough, Toronto found themselves in a hole just four minutes into the match.

Vanney described the 90-minute performance as “a microcosm” of his team’s arc over the course of an up-and-down season.

“Early in the year we battled, we went through the midseason and kept our head above water, got our team back together and have been on a run,” said Vanney, who guided his team to its 13th consecutive game unbeaten. “Tonight was similar. We were missing a couple of guys, but the group of guys that were out there, nobody outside of our club thought could maybe get it done except maybe our fans and us.”

Certainly no one in Mercedes-Benz Stadium believed Toronto would be going home with a result and a ticket punched to MLS Cup, particularly after Pity Martinez drew a penalty in the 10th minute sending one of the league’s most prolific goal scorers, Josef Martinez, to the spot.

But Toronto goalkeeper Quentin Westberg came up with a stop that turned the momentum in the Reds’ direction.

“[The team] went and like true champions found a way tonight to get it done,” Vanney said. “Played with heart, played with grit, played with real character, resilience, made plays. Went down one really fast, had to come up with an incredible save by Q on the PK to keep us in it and then scored two incredible goals.”

Those goals left Toronto players jubilant in the visitor’s locker room after match, audibly heard celebrating through the walls as Atlanta United manager Frank de Boer gave his post-game press conference.

“Honestly, without Nick [DeLeon]’s goal and Nico [Benezet]’s goal we would be down 1-0 and it would be done for us,” said Westberg. “Great stories, great guys, great group. Fun to share. It is not about one individual. It is not about one or two guys; it is about a group. Different guys stepping up, that is the beauty of it. It is a club’s victory; it is everyone along the way and that is the best feeling to be honest.”

If there was one resonating message coming out of the joyous visitor’s locker room, it was that of oneness. Togetherness.

“There’s a lot of veteran leadership and guys who have been in this kind of moment before. It was a group effort. It definitely wasn’t the prettiest in the second half, but we stuck together, we fought it out and we got the result.”