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Toronto FC’s ‘Big 3’ coming up big at right time

Toronto FC’s ‘Big 3’ coming up big at right time

Posted by PanamericanWorld on November 04, 2016

So many positives have stood out from what is turning out to be a very special Toronto FC campaign.

You must admire the team’s defensive record of just 39 goals conceded in the regular season after it coughed up a league-high 58 a year ago.

The resilience that TFC displayed is another major talking point. The Reds battled through a rash of injuries to several key starters to finish third in the Eastern Conference and fifth in Major League Soccer, both new club marks.

But what’s been especially remarkable is the overall balance of the squad. Front to back, from goalkeeper to forward, this has proven to be as solid a side in MLS as you’ll find, with TFC possessing quality and depth in all areas of the pitch.

 

Toronto is more than its three designated players Sebastian Giovinco, Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore—much more, in fact. The high-profile trio only started 11 of 34 regular season games together in 2016, and were only on the field at the same time on 15 occasions. And yet, the Reds not only survived, but they thrived without the trio intact, receiving workmanlike and consistent performances from a strong supporting cast that included defender Drew Moor, Canadian midfielders Jonathan Osorio and Will Johnson, and standout goalkeeper Clint Irwin.

There is no question, however, that when the Giovinco-Bradley-Altidore triumvirate is at its very best that good things happen for TFC. When it’s not, well, disaster usually ensues. You need only look at last year’s horrible capitulation in Montreal during the playoffs for evidence—all three had poor outings, and Toronto was trounced and truly embarrassed 3-0 by the Impact.

TFC’s hot run in the playoffs (can two games be considered a “run”?) owes as much to its roster balance as it does to its big three stars who are coming up big at the exact right time.

Altidore was one of the hottest players in MLS over the course of the second half of the year, bagging 10 goals and adding three assists since late July when he returned from a lengthy injury layoff. He hasn’t slowed down in the playoffs. In the knockout game against Philadelphia, the American scored a goal and set up another in a man-of-the-match showing, and it was his late strike that sealed Toronto’s win against New York.

Giovinco scored and earned two assists over the club’s final two regular season matches and has one goal in the playoffs thus far. More important, the “Atomic Ant” is back to his best form and looks like his old self after sitting out five games from Sept. 10 to Oct. 1 through injury.

As for Bradley, he’s been brilliant down the season stretch and in the Reds’ two playoff games. TFC’s captain does the unglamorous muck work in midfield that often goes unnoticed, such is the nuanced and subtle nature of his game. Nevertheless, Bradley has been as influential as any other TFC players in recent times, with the last six or seven matches marking his best run of play during his tenure in Toronto.

Coach Greg Vanney heaped praise on his captain after Sunday’s 2-0 win over New York, a gritty performance that was not flashy, but very effective.

“In a game like today where the opposition is looking for things in transition and we’ve committed a lot of [players] to pressing, sometimes his role isn’t all about the stuff that happens going forward,” Vanney explained.

Just as important as the way Bradley has been playing has been his attitude. There’s always been a bit of an edge to how he has carried himself. It’s been especially pronounced during this post-season.

“[He] has that look in his eyes right now,” Drew Moor said of Bradley.

Bradley’s defiance came through earlier this week when we found out that Giovinco was overlooked as a finalist for the league’s MVP award.

The Giovinco snub was especially ridiculous. The Italian scored 17 goals and added 15 assists, for a 32-point single-season total that ranks No. 4 all-time in MLS history (he set the record with 38 in 2015).

Moor was at the heart of the league’s second-best defensive record, but didn’t make the final cut in voting for the defender of the year.

A lack of respect for TFC? It would seem so. Regardless, TFC’s captain shot back in typical Michael Bradley fashion.

“If you asked me what I really think about those awards, it's that they mean absolutely nothing and that I don't care about them all,” he said.

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