What we learned from Toronto FC's big win over the Vancouver Whitecaps

It was vintage Toronto FC in their first game back for the season restart. They got into a rhythm, Vancouver couldn't stop it and the Reds never looked back en route to a handy 3-0 win.

Vancouver manager Marc Dos Santos has three days to figure out a fresh lineup, formation and tactical plan to prevent a rerun on Friday night (8 p.m. ET on ESPN+, TSN).

Here's what we learned on Tuesday:

Piatti played like a DP

Remember Alejandro Pozuelo's home debut for Toronto against NYCFC last year? This game felt a lot like that, except with Pablo Piatti claiming the limelight for himself with two goals. The Argentine came up with the kind of game-changing plays that will make his Designated Player contract well worth the investment in the face of all the skeptics who wondered about his recent injury history. 

Not every player can spot the opening that Piatti took on the 30-yard blast for his first goal (or at least not many players can see it as quickly as he did). And he showed the same quickfire reaction when the ball fell to him in the box for the second. Toronto manager Greg Vanney summed it up best postgame: "He knows what he's doing."

That Piatti was the Man of the Match over Pozuelo is saying something, too, because the Spaniard was also feeling it on the night (check out his backheel assist on the third goal). When Jozy reaches his top form, Toronto may once again have their unstoppable star trio of difference-makers on par with the Giovinco-Vazquez-Altidore attacking triumvirate from their MLS Cup-winning season.

“I’m happy with the two goals, but the most important thing is the sensation that the team gave,” Piatti said postgame, praising the team's chemistry. “We were a strong team with very clear ideas. This is the path forward. This has to be the foundation to continue to grow."

The 'Caps missed their DP

Marc Dos Santos shouting instructions to his side at BMO Field | Kevin Sousa, USA Today Sports Images

Toronto were good and they showed off their interchanging, quick combinations and crisp passing through the lines that defines their playing style. But Vancouver, at times seemingly hypnotized by Toronto's movements, didn't exactly make it easy on themselves.

The Whitecaps just couldn't keep possession for any meaningful stretches (only 24.8 percent possession for the game) and it wore them down and ultimately backed them up into their own penalty area for most of the game. And the possession wounds were often self-inflicted. When the 'Caps did win the ball, they coughed it back up by looking for the low-percentage hero pass to the forwards instead of keeping it, playing simple and catching their breath.

“That’s the major problem, tonight," Dos Santos said. "The major problem is every time we had the ball, we gave it away so easily so we weren’t able to connect. We didn’t look dynamic and we didn’t [show] the energy that we usually do or [that we] saw throughout the week."

Clean, simple passing and possession used to be the calling card of Inbeom Hwang, the Vancouver Designated Player who was transferred to Russian club Rubin Kazan just a few days ago. The center mid may not have been the difference-maker in attack that fans were hoping for, but his quality often helped provide some calm and composure to Vancouver's play. 

“We know Inbeom was a great player. He’s very skillful and very calm on the ball, but that’s not something we need to dwell on," said 'Caps right back Jake Nerwinski. "We have this mentality where he’s gone now and we wish him the best of luck and we hope he does well. He’s a great guy. But we have the next man up now and we have to figure out how to play without him in the midfield and that’s kind of where we’re at right now. We just need to figure out what kind of team we are and how we to possess the ball better."

With Inbeom's departure, the Whitecaps are in the market for a special talent and Dos Santos is clear on the profile of player they're eyeing. It just might take some time.

Toronto defense passes the test ... for now

Vancouver's Lucas Cavallini takes on the Toronto defense on his own | Kevin Sousa, USA Today Sports Images

Greg Vanney felt like the cooler conditions in Toronto, where temperatures on Tuesday dipped into the 60s, contributed to a more concentrated and attentive Toronto team, especially when it came to defensive decision making and reactions, which were definitely not their strong suit in Orlando during the MLS is Back Tournament.

In fact, entering Tuesday's match, TSN analyst Steven Caldwell elaborately detailed why Toronto's team defense was their vulnerability, but Vancouver frankly did little to expose it. 

Vanney even admitted that there were a couple of Vancouver transitions that were "mismanaged" by his team, and on a quiet night for the Whitecaps attack, hulking forward Lucas Cavallini still managed to create a couple of solo chances of his own.

All to say that Toronto's team defense bears watching again come Friday.

Where do Vancouver go from here?

You can figure there will be changes ahead of that rematch, especially in the Vancouver camp given how their 4-4-2 set-up was picked apart by Toronto.

For starters, Yordy Reyna couldn't impact the game as a second forward, Cristian Dajome never got a head of steam, Cristian Gutierrez was invisible at left midfield and attack-minded left back Ali Adnan rarely ever pushed forward. Whitecaps veteran Andy Rose even pointed out how "playing just the two in [central] midfield was a big job for Leo [Owusu] and Rusty [Teibert]," who were chasing shadows with multiple Toronto players crisscrossing between the lines.  

Rookie Ryan Raposo was a bright spot off the bench and he might see a larger role on Friday along with other fellow subs Tosaint Ricketts, Theo Bair or David Milinkovic. A reminder that Fredy Montero didn't make the trip to Toronto due to a technical decision.

One change that may not yet be warranted is at goalkeeper. Although he gave up three goals on the night, 21-year-old third-string goalkeeper Thomas Hasal, who emerged after a star showing at the MLS is Back Tournament, continued to look the part.  

“If you look at the goals we conceded, you can’t blame him for any of them to be honest," Nerwinski said. "He made huge saves in the first half and commanded the box pretty well in the second half … We’re excited about him, we know what he can bring and we know he’s a strong player."

Backup goalkeeper Bryan Meredith, who departed the MLS is Back Tournament after the sudden passing of his mother, would be next in line if Dos Santos opts for a switch.

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