Five-Alive: Toronto FC keep MLS Cup hopes intact with big home win vs DC in Rooney’s last game

Toronto dispatched DC United at BMO Field on Saturday, riding 4 extra-time goals to a 5-1 victory, after DC did well to tie things up late. 

Under the colourful late evening sky in Toronto, TFC got their playoff campaign off to a strong start, dismantling DC United by a 5-1 scoreline. After Lucas Rodriguez had done well to equalize off a last-minute Wayne Rooney corner kick to send the game to extra time, Toronto quickly put their dreams to rest, scoring 4 goals in the first half of the extra frame to cruise to the finish line. 

It was an exclamation point for Toronto on their return to MLS playoffs, as they missed out last year as defending champions, while for DC it marked a disappointing end to Wayne Rooney’s time in MLS. After finishing the year strong, not conceding a goal since August, DC were just unable to match Toronto’s late-game intensity on Saturday, as TFC served a reminder to MLS that their playoff pedigree will make them a team to be wary of.

“We had to see out one corner kick,” Toronto manager Greg Vanney said after the game. “As it would, they score. Most importantly, our response after we give away a goal late was incredible. We had to reset up the team, because of the sub at the end was just to try to get to the corner kick, to get a little bit bigger, we knew they were sending the goalkeeper, they were sending all the big guys, so we wanted to get a little bit bigger.”

Both teams traded chances from the get-go, with TFC getting the first crack at goal off of a Alejandro Pozuelo chance from in-tight, before DC came close with a Wayne Rooney inswinging corner that just missed a pair of DC heads at the back post.

Soon after Nicolas Benezet was denied by Bill Hamid off a nice shot in the box, Marky Delgado opened the score for Toronto, as he capitalized on a Hamid error to score. Pozuelo sent a dangerous curled shot back post, which Hamid surprisingly was unable to hold on to, parrying the ball right to a wide-open Delgado for the tap-in.

Jonathan Osorio had a nice chance to end the half, slamming a volley from a tough angle that nearly had Hamid second-guessing, but things ended as they stood at 1-0. It was an even start to a tight-contested game, with both sides bringing the intensity expected of a playoff game, fuelled off a strong Toronto crowd. 

The half got off to a roaring start for Toronto, as Tsubaso Endoh was buzzing down the right side of the pitch. He tested Hamid with a pair of strikes, neither of which were able to trouble the DC goalkeeper.

His opposing number, Quentin Westberg, saved TFC on a pair of occasions not long after. DC captain Rooney, playing in what could have been his last MLS game with his impending move to Derby County in England, was unable to beat Westberg with a pair of strong strikes from point-blank range.

“He was positionally excellent,” Vanney said of Westberg. “Was in the right places, reactions were fantastic, was a little more irritated that we leave Rooney in a spot to finish 2 on us, he’s the one guy we really wanted to know where he was at all times, and he got away from us, but Q made a few saves that were critical on the night, there is no two ways to say it.”

Thanks to those saves, Toronto found some life with the crowd boosting them on, as they would find 2 good chances from in close. Benezet and Pozuelo got into space to shoot from just outside the box, and they did well to test Hamid, forcing the American into a pair of solid stops.

As Toronto tried to hold on, Westberg continued his strong performance late into the second half, making a game-saving stop in the 75th minute, as he stood strong to deny first-half substitute Ola Kamara. After keeping a clean sheet on ‘decision day’ against Columbus to help TFC gain this home playoff match, he continued his strong late-season run of form. 

It would all be for naught, however, as DC levelled the score in the 93rd minute of 93. After Toronto had just subbed on defender Drew Moor to tighten up shop, a great corner was whipped in by DC, and it bounced around before falling to Lucas Rodriguez, who made no mistake to tie up the score.

The late goal woke up Toronto for extra time, as they came out flying, looking to avoid a home playoff loss. First, it was Richie Laryea, who opened the scoring by slotting a half-breakaway chance past Hamid, before Osorio added to that not long after with a rebound goal off a TFC corner. Their hot start to the first half of extra time continued soon after, as Osorio added to his tally right before half time, slamming home a volley from a Pozuelo cross to send the home crowd into a frenzy.

They then added a 4th before the break, as former DC United midfielder Nick DeLeon decided that he wanted to get in on the fun. First, he was denied by Hamid on a left-footed curling effort, but he ensured that he would have no chance on his next effort, as he sent a right-footed shot off the bar and in to put Toronto up 5-1.

“I had time and space, and tried to pick out the far corner,” DeLeon said to reporters post-game. “But before that, I mean the guys put in an incredible shift today, and I felt a little motivated in the overtime, especially since it was my man that scored in regulation time, so I was prepared to do what I had to do to help the team in overtime.”

After some good second-half chances from both sides, including a Paul Arriola strike that forced an outstanding one-handed save from Westberg, the ref pulled the curtains on a dominant Toronto victory. Having guaranteed a home-date with a strong performance on the last day of the season, they put up a memorable performance for the over 30 000 in attendance, marking another memorable playoff night at BMO. 

Up next for them now is New York City, with the Eastern Conference winners awaiting them on Wednesday, after earning a bye to the next round. It will be a tough matchup for Toronto, with the game being played at a neutral ground at Citi Field, but Vanney feels they match up well for that one. 

 “We’re looking forward to it,” Vanney said. “We’ve had good matchups against them this year, so obviously we’ll come off of this one and kind of regroup, but I think the mentality is there, I mean we’ve now gone 11 games unbeaten, one of those games at their place (Yankee Stadium), we had a PK late to try to win it, we had a 4-0 win earlier in the year here, so we’re confident the matchup makes sense for us.”

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