Giovinco propels TFC to all-Canadian Eastern final
Toronto tops NYC FC 7-0 on aggregate, will face Impact next
A special night by Toronto FC has set up at least two more, as Greg Vanney's team renews playoff acquaintances with the rival Montreal Impact in an all-Canadian Eastern Conference final that will send the winner to the MLS Cup.
Sebastian Giovinco scored a hat trick and Jozy Altidore and Jonathan Osorio each added a goal for a lopsided 5-0 win Sunday before 28,355 mostly stunned fans at Yankee Stadium as Toronto completed a 7-0 aggregate semifinal victory over New York City FC that must stand as one of the franchise's finest moments.
Montreal did its part earlier in the day by dispatching the other New York team, completing a 3-1 aggregate upset of the conference-leading Red Bulls with a 2-1 win on the road.
"I think it sets up in an amazing way, for soccer in Canada, for everybody in those two cities," said Toronto captain Michael Bradley. "We're enjoying this for the moment but already in the back of our minds, we can't wait for that because I think it's going to be two unbelievable games, two games in incredible atmospheres.
"The history, the rivalry, the dislike between the two clubs, the two cities — yeah, for me you couldn't write it up any better."
Toronto sets league playoff record
The conference final does not start until Nov. 22 at Olympic Stadium because of a break for international games. The second leg is Nov. 30 at BMO Field, three days after the Grey Cup.
The championship game goes Dec. 10 against the Western Conference playoff winner.
In addition to their fierce regular-season rivalry, the two Canadian teams have some playoff history. Montreal spoiled Toronto's post-season debut last year in a lopsided 3-0 win at Saputo Stadium.
It was a historic day all round Sunday as Toronto set a league playoff record for margin of victory in a two-legged series while posting its first ever post-season win on the road. Montreal won a two-legged series for the first time.
Toronto dominated a high-scoring New York team that finished one point ahead of it in the regular-season standings. The two-game series may have been tied 0-0 for the first 84 minutes but TFC scored seven unanswered goals in the remaining 96 minutes to thump NYCFC.
Armed with a 2-0 lead from the first leg, Toronto scored in the sixth, 20th and 30th minutes to remove any drama from the tie. New York went into the dressing room at halftime needing six goals to win after a first half that saw Toronto roll like a runaway train.
Giovinco added a goal in stoppage time to complete the rout as travelling Toronto fans chanted "MVP, MVP."
TFC joins the Toronto Raptors, Blue Jays and Marlies in making their conference finals in 2016. All three of those teams foundered there, however.
GM Tim Bezbatchenko savoured the city-wide sports success.
City finding success
"It's good to kind of recognize the rise of a city," he said. "I think that there's been a lot of pain over the years, obviously in TFC but across all the sports."
Passed over this week when the three finalists for MVP were named, Giovinco — the reigning MVP — was sublime on the night repeatedly carving open the New York defence.
While Giovinco diplomatically begged to differ, Vanney said the MVP snub had motivated the Italian "a lot."
"His priority is winning a [championship] trophy but I think last year he took a lot of pride in the fact that he was the MVP," Vanney said. "And he was every bit the same player through the course of the season and it was unfortunate that he had a little bit of an injury down the tail stretch there."
How dominant has Giovinco been since joining MLS last season? He has five hat tricks — including two against NYFC. Over the same period, the rest of the league has only 13, according to Opta Sports.
On Sunday, the New Yorkers were caught between a rock and a hard place. They needed to score goals but could not defend against Toronto.
"It's a special night," said defender Drew Moor. "I wasn't expecting it. I knew we were ready for it, I knew we were up for it. ... Everything went right for us.
"Everybody turned in a compete performance for us tonight," he added.