And on Saturday they waltzed into CenturyLink Field and took three points away from the Seattle Sounders by winning 1-0, exhibiting both the depth of their squad and the depth of their pragmatism. The Reds played something close to classic catenaccio, trotting out a 5-4-1, eschewing backline build-ups, and pushing numbers forward opportunistically rather than continually.
Toronto FC took Giovinco out of their lineup and became deeply Italian. Really makes you think.— Charles Boehm (@cboehm) May 6, 2017
They played without so many regulars because doing so on short rest against an cross-conference opponent during a particularly busy stretch (eight games this month, with the next being Wednesday's trip to Columbus) didn't make long-term strategic sense. Squad rotation has become the norm for the better MLS teams, and TFC are without question one of the better MLS teams.
They played without their high press because the high press is largely built around the idea of "hey it's smart to get Giovinco as many high-leverage moments as possible in the attacking third." Different personnel meant a different tactical game plan.
One thing that didn't change about the game plan, though, was their ability to generate legitimate chances and danger out of central midfield. In the first two months of the season that's been Vazquez's domain, but on Saturday that part of the pitch belonged to Jay Chapman (volume up for analysis):
Armchair Analyst: Jay Chapman had himself a day for Toronto FC in their 1-0 win over Seattle pic.twitter.com/rSdMicamkm— Matthew Doyle (@MattDoyle76) May 6, 2017
I've been banging the drum for the TFC Homegrown since late last spring, and he ended 2016 behind only New York's Sacha Kljestan in terms of open play chances generated per 90 minutes. He'd barely featured in 2017 until Saturday, but after that performance there's every reason to suspect he'll be getting regular minutes going forward.
"You have to be patient, wait for your time to come," Chapman told the press afterward. "Successful teams' young guys are able to come in and do their jobs.
To tie it to a larger, overall point: Toronto have been one of the most forward-thinking and free-spending teams when it comes to developing local players via their academy and their USL affiliate, TFC II. That's meant Raheem Edwards was ready to give difference-making minutes when Moor was sidelined, and that Chapman was ready to do a 65-minute Vazquez impression when they needed him to.
They got three points on Saturday because of it. They'll collect much more than that in the future if they stay on this path for the long haul.