Toronto FC crumbles in playoff debut, outcompeted by Montreal Impact

Toronto FC crumbles in playoff debut, outcompeted by Montreal Impact

MONTREAL — It took Toronto FC nine years to get to the playoffs and just 90 minutes to embarrass themselves once they got there.

Toronto was comprehensively beaten 3-0 Thursday by the Montreal Impact in an MLS knockout-round game that went south quickly and could have been even more lopsided.

Coach Greg Vanney acknowledged the first half could have been the worst soccer his team had played all season.

“It’s possible,” he said. “There were some really bad plays, really bad plays. And I think the really bad plays took their toll on the team and on the game.”

“It’s a little bit of shell-shock and I think that translated into performance all around the field,” he added.

It was the kind of performance that costs people jobs, with heightened expectations given the well-heeled franchise’s playoff drought.

“Nights like this, it’s not easy to find answers,” said Toronto captain Michael Bradley.

Toronto was tentative and outcompeted in the first half, Vanney said, with some of his players feeling the pressure of the moment.

“We made some poor decisions defensively,” he added.

It was 1-0 after 18 minutes thanks to a Patrice Bernier goal after a Bradley backheel deep in Montreal territory misfired and some woeful defending from Brazilian fullback Jackson.

Goal No. 2 was a back-breaker

In the 33rd minute, Toronto ‘keeper Chris Konopka rolled the ball out to Ahmed Kantari who tried to feed it back across goal to Josh Williams. But the centre back slipped before getting it and Ignacio Piatti pounced on the ball before beating Konopka.

“That’s a killer goal, for sure,” said Vanney.

The slip soon turned into a slippery slope.

Six minutes later, Didier Drogba dispossessed Jackson, who will have nightmares after the game. Drogba opened up the Toronto defence with a through ball to Dilly Duka, who found Bernier to the right of the goal.

Fullback Justin Morrow cleared the ensuing shot off the goal-line but the fire drill that was Toronto’s defence still found itself all over the place. The ball bounced back to Bernier, who saw Drogba on the other side of the penalty box waving his arms in the air. The Impact captain shifted feet and crossed the ball to Drogba, who volleyed it home.

Kantari was substituted in favour of Eriq Zavaleta at the break.

A play in the second half told Toronto’s story.

Bradley had the ball in midfield with winger Robbie Findley waving for the pass up on the left. Bradley elected to make a shorter pass to Benoit Cheyrou, who then attempted to connect with Findley over an Impact player. Instead the ball ricocheted off the head of the Montreal man directly to Drogba who headed towards goal, only to fire wide.

With six minutes left and the game in the bag, Drogba was still yelling at his teammates to keep the pressure on.

Barring several free kicks, Toronto star striker Sebastian Giovinco was a bystander.

It marked Toronto’s first appearance in the playoff since joining the league in 2007. Mark it down as a learning experience, albeit a very painful one.

Part of the problem is not having been to the post-season is you don’t know what it’s like until you get there. The atmosphere in Montreal was electric with the stakes clearly ratcheted up several notches. Not that the Impact, with one playoff game under their belt, had much more experience.

“This is a project,” said Vanney. “It’s a process. It takes time, the group has to grow together, they have to trust each other. It’s not supposed to look the way it did tonight but they have to go through these situations.

“No excuses,” he added. “That was not a good enough performance, especially in the first half. But that’s part of becoming a championship team. You’ve got to endure and you’ve got to fight. I can give you countless franchises that don’t win it the first year they go after it. I’m not sure that many do.

“For us it has to be a learning process. We have to grow from this. We have to get better in the off-season.”

Vanney acknowledged his was a team that was hard to gauge — “They’re emotional but internal.”

Toronto, which scored and yielded 58 goals during the regular season, dismissed defensive concerns during the year by pointing to its offence. But that equation doesn’t work in games when you don’t score.

Road woes also cost TFC dearly in the final days of the season.

A 2-1 loss Sunday in Montreal dropped Toronto to sixth spot in the Eastern Conference while moving Montreal to third and earning the Impact home-field advantage in the first round.

Toronto has not won on the road since June 6, losing six straight and going 0-7-2 away from BMO Field since.

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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

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