Giovinco free kick puts boots to Red Bulls as TFC takes 1st leg

The brotherhood of goalkeepers was on display Monday night as Alex Bono went over to commiserate with Luis Robles, his New York Red Bulls counterpart, after Toronto FC’s 2-1 playoff win.

Robles had become the latest victim of a Sebastian Giovinco free kick.

“I said ‘Listen, I’ve been there after training when he’s set up a wall of mannequins and he’s done that to me. I know exactly how you feel,”‘ said Bono.

Asked if he ever stopped a Giovinco special, Bono smiled and said: “Once in a while.”

Match Wrap: Giovinco the hero with free kick goal in 72nd minute; Reds defeat Bulls 2-11:54

Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinal turned in the 72nd minute when, with the score tied 1-1, Brazilian midfielder Felipe took Giovinco down outside the box. The Italian promptly made the Red Bulls pay, curling the ball over the wall and out of the reach of Robles.

Robles marvelled at Giovinco’s skill in skimming the ball over the wall.

“It doesn’t go up too high and doesn’t clear the wall by much,” he said. “It’s ridiculous.”

Giovinco works his magic

Toronto had been on its heels in the second half until Giovinco, against the run of play, restored its lead.

“We were definitely up against it,” Bono said.

It was Giovinco’s seventh goal from a direct free kick this season. His six during the regular-season are a league record as are his 13 over his three MLS seasons (the most of any player in the league’s history since 2003 when the stat was first kept).

“He’s amazing,” said Toronto coach Greg Vanney. “We talk about it all the time but the knack to step up in the moment and make a play is what star players do.”

League-leading Toronto defended well in a first half that finished 1-1. But it needed its Italian ace to steady the ship midway through a rocky second half as sixth-seeded New York came out with far more purpose.

Toronto, surviving a close call from Bradley Wright-Phillips in the 62nd minute and a Gonzalo Veron blast minutes later, weathered the storm. And then Giovinco worked his magic.

MLS Toronto Red Bulls Soccer

Toronto’s Jozy Altidore attempts a pass Monday during this team’s 2-1 win in New York. (Bill Kostroun/ Associated Press)

Victor Vazquez scored in the eighth minute for Toronto, piling the pressure on the home team.

‘Not a good performance’

Daniel Royer scored from the penalty spot for the Red Bulls in first-half stoppage time.

“Not a good performance from us, and disappointing in such a big match, but that being said, it’s halftime,” said New York coach Jesse Marsch. “There’s still some left to this game, as crappy as it feels right now. We still have a lot to play for.”

The two teams meet again Sunday in the return leg of the Eastern Conference semifinal at BMO Field, where Toronto led the league with a .853 home winning percentage (13-1-3) this season. The Red Bulls tied for sixth in road success (.353, 5-10-2).

Physical contest

It could be a chippy affair given the bad blood that was bubbling Monday night. It should also be entertaining with the Red Bulls needing to answer Toronto’s two away goals.

Toronto captain Michael Bradley relished the physical contest.

“If you want to be the team holding the trophy in the end, then you’ve got to deal with these kinds of nights,” he said. “They can’t faze you. You have to have a group that accepts the challenge, that embraces it, that goes for it, that finds ways to win.

“They’re not the prettiest games always but to get to the biggest games, you’ve got to know how to navigate these ones.”

The series winner will face either second-seeded New York City FC or fifth-seeded Columbus Crew SC in the conference final.

Vazquez came off in 65th minute, labouring after taking a hip to the groin in a collision.

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