NYCFC Falls to Toronto FC in Eastern Conference Semifinals
Sebastian Giovinco scored a hat trick, David Villa was ineffective, and NYCFC’s first trip to the MLS Cup Playoffs did not go as planned, as they fell 5-0 to Toronto FC on Sunday in the second leg of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. After losing the first leg, 2-0, in Toronto last week, New York City needed a strong performance in order to advance, but two early goals from Sebastian Giovinco killed any chance of a City comeback, as they went on to lose the series by an aggregate score of 7-0.
In front of a raucous crowd at Yankee Stadium, NYCFC head coach Patrick Vieira opted for experience in his starting eleven, inserting Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo back into the midfield after they began the first leg on the bench. Needing at least three goals to win, City came out attacking, but the visitors had different ideas, scoring early and often as they exploited a struggling NYC backline.
Despite some early possession for the hosts, sloppiness at the back allowed Toronto to take the lead in just the 6th minute, as TFC's Jozy Altidore picked off a wayward back pass from Jack Harrison, and then found teammate Sebastian Giovinco at the top of the box. Giovinco took two touches before powering the ball past City keeper Erik Johansen at the near post for the opening goal.
And it wouldn’t stay 1-0 for long, as just 14 minutes later, Giovinco was brought down in the box by New York center back Frederic Brillant and referee Kevin Stott signaled to the spot. Giovinco confidently scored the ensuing penalty, driving the ball low and hard to Johansen’s right and giving Toronto a 2-0 lead.
Things got worse for NYCFC in the 30th minute, when Toronto’s Eriq Zavaleta lofted a ball into New York's box from midfield and, after letting it take bounce, Jozy Altidore outmuscled City defender Maxime Chanot and smashed the ball into the back of the net off the volley for a 3-0 Toronto lead.
That was the score at half time, as New York City went into the break with a majority of possession but nothing to show for it. Despite a 5-0 deficit in aggregate, Vieira tried to get his team back into the game by replacing RJ Allen with a more attack-minded option in Khiry Shelton to start the second half.
But Toronto came out of the locker room hot and made it 4-0 in the 50th minute when Giovinco intercepted a loose pass from Shelton and slotted the ball into the box for Will Johnson, who then laid it off to an open Jonathan Osorio. Osorio drove it past Johansen from about 12 yards, killing the already slim chance of an NYCFC comeback.
The score would stay that way until the 91st minute, when Giovinco shot past Johansen for his third goal of the day and a 5-0 Toronto FC lead. The Italian international’s hat trick is just the fourth in MLS Playoff history.
NYCFC's offense struggled throughout, as they managed to get only four of 16 shots on target, and despite holding 64% of the possession, David Villa was neutralized by Toronto's defense, stalling a normally potent attack. Tony Taylor came the closest to scoring for City, as his 85th minute shot from the top of the box had Toronto keeper Clint Irwin beat, but the ball skimmed just wide of the near post.
Toronto now moves on to the Eastern Conference Finals, where they will face the Montreal Impact, who just knocked off New York’s other team, the Red Bulls.
As for NYCFC, they go into the offseason needing to bolster their defense, although Vieira refused to confirm whether the team would look for help at the back, saying that they still have to take stock of the full season before they make any decisions regarding offseason moves.
"I think we still have to work really hard to build up a strong team, because we have a gap between Toronto and ourselves." said Vieira. He also praised Toronto FC's play, saying that, "the best team won, and [Toronto] fully deserve to go to the next round, because over the two legs they were the better team."
Despite the loss, Vieira made sure to praise his team for the year they had. "I'm...really proud of the players because I strongly believe, all the season, they've been working really hard." he said. "They've been giving me everything, and the game tonight doesn't really reflect the way the players conduct themselves all the season."
In the end, NYCFC will be disappointed by the result, but the 2016 season should be viewed as an overall success, especially considering the disaster that was 2015. This team has a lot of attacking talent, they led the MLS with 62 goals during the regular season, but they also allowed 57 goals, good for third most in the league. If they can find a way to shore up their defense at the back, expect to see a real contender for the MLS Cup playing at Yankee Stadium in 2017.