MONTREAL – All that one can ask of a substitute is that they positively influence the outcome.
Down 3-0 the Montreal Impact by the 53rd minute, a pair of changes made by Greg Vanney in the 57th minute did just that for Toronto FC in the first leg of the Eastern Conference Championship, turning a three-goal deficit into a much more palatable 3-2 loss at Olympic Stadium.
“It was big factor,” Vanney said of the substitutions. “Tosaint gives us incredible pace, to run behind, to force the opposition's back-line to consider the space behind them. He's a fantastic jumper; if we had to put balls in the box he's there to knock things down, to win things. Tosaint's energy was invigorating for the group. Jozy [Altidore] got going a little more, Sebastian [Giovinco] was able to find the ball more once we dropped him deep. We were able put some things together.”
Ricketts did indeed stretch the Montreal backline, setting up Michael Bradley for his 73rd minute goal that cut Montreal’s lead to 3-2. Johnson played a big role, as well, solidifying a middle of the park that had been wobbling from kickoff.
“We put Will in to steady the defensive side, because we were going to go to close to all-out attack with the front three,” explained Vanney. “We were able to keep our balance, protected ourselves well.”
Johnson, who remarked last week that he may test the free agent market following the season, has been a stalwart off the bench this postseason, appearing as a sub in all four of TFC's matches.
Ricketts too has played the essential role of super sub, coming off the bench in each playoff match and scoring a goal in Leg 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinal series against New York City FC and adding an assist on Tuesday. He nearly nabbed the first himself against Montreal, hitting the post moments before Giovinco placed a delicate cross onto the head of Altidore for his 68th minute strike.
“The guys who came on the field helped us in a big way,” said Bradley. “We get 90 minutes [in Leg 2]. I'm not sure the league has ever seen anything like what we're going to get 528250681" tabindex="0">next Wednesday.”
528250682" tabindex="0">Tuesday night was an example of the type of adversity that makes a worthy champion, according to Bradley.
“You don't get to a final, you don't win anything, without having your backs up against a wall at some point. Up until now, we had taken care of things in a convincing way. Tonight, it didn't go perfect. You find out a lot about your group when things go up in smoke.
“The take away is how easy it would have been to pack it in, feel sorry for ourselves. We did last year [in their Knockout Round loss to Montreal]. A year later, on an even bigger stage, when we were put to the test even more, we came through. Would it have been nice to get the third and walk out 3-3? Sure. But I'd rather be in this locker room than that one right now.”