Toronto FC, Sebastian Giovinco

How Toronto FC’s defense stole the spotlight from Giovinco

If felt like Toronto FC had been preparing all season for this one match. Sitting in the middle of the conference looking up at their Canadian brethren, Toronto was yet again struggling to put it all together as they have in so many other years. But against their dreaded, first place (formerly, I should say) rivals, the Montreal Impact, Toronto seemed to come of age instantly.

Don’t look now, but Toronto is tied for the league lead in goals surrendered. This defense has become a remarkable force, although they had flown under the radar up until they shut down Didier Drogba’s Impact.

As s team that is supposed to dominate the attack with Giovinco and Altidore and boss the midfield with Michael Bradley, you could be forgiven for not paying as much attention to the defense as they deserve. But what they did against Montreal was a defensive masterclass where roles were defined, the plan was solidified and everything worked out – for lack of a better word – perfectly.

As must be the case, we start with the midfield, where Michael Bradley and Will Johnson were tasked with breaking up the play around one of the most creative minds in MLS, Ignacio Piatti, while also minding the wings with Harry Shipp and Dominic Oduro. As a former defender, it makes me a bit nervous to be reciting this offense’s weapons.

Bradley and Johnson absolutely suffocated Piatti, as he fired zero shots and created zero chances. He did, however, lose possession seven times. But it wasn’t just Piatti that couldn’t find room to breathe. That trio of midfield attackers I listed only managed to fire one shot and create two chances. The three combined to lose possession 17 times. Meanwhile, Bradley and Johnson combined to complete nine tackles and eight interceptions.

Game set match already.

But the Toronto defense doesn’t stop in the midfield. Move further back and we see what the plan of the day was in terms of the back line. The four defenders combined to intercept 25 passes and clear the ball 16 times. It was no nonsense defending of the highest degree. Drogba lost possession six times and only managed to fire one of his six shots on target.

Have I mentioned that this was a defensive masterclass?

Toronto shut down all the cogs of the Montreal offense, an offense that I (in somewhat poor timing) praised just yesterday. Piatti looked helpless, Shipp was hardly seen and Drogba was frustrated all match.

Toronto is not a team known for their defense. They gave up 58 goals last year, the worst in MLS. But they had an offense that could keep pace. This year they have only surrendered five goals in seven matches and they managed to shut down an Impact attack that is missing quite literally nothing.

Watch out, Eastern Conference. Toronto may have a defense that can match their offense.