Toronto FC has been winning a lot this season, but victory seems to taste a little better when it’s against the Montreal Impact.
TFC, the runaway leaders in Major League Soccer this season, got a pair of goals from Sebastian Giovinco and another from Jozy Altidore as they downed the Impact 3-1 before a full house of 20,801 at Saputo Stadium on Sunday.
Toronto (16-3-8) stretched its unbeaten run to nine games, set a team record with 56 points in a season with seven games still to play, and stayed on course to produce the best regular season record in MLS history.
“You get to this time of the year and points are important, and the intensity, the tempo and the importance of every game gets cranked up a few notches,” said TFC captain Michael Bradley. “We’re giving everything to try to win the Supporters Shield [regular season championship] and do it as quickly and as dominantly as possible.
“But obviously, games against Montreal always carry a little bit of extra weight.”
Another prize was stopping Montreal’s four-game winning streak and making life complicated for the Impact (10-9-6), who are in a battle just to make the playoffs. The teams meet twice more this season on Sept. 20 and Oct. 15 in Toronto.
The rivalry between Canada’s two biggest cities hit an all-time high last November when TFC came out on top of a wild Eastern Conference final, scoring twice in overtime of the second leg of the two-game series to win 7-5 on aggregate. Toronto won again by a 3-2 aggregate when they met in Canadian cup play in June.
“It’s exciting for the league, it’s exciting for football in North America and Canada, because some of the games and the spectacles people have been treated to have been incredible,” said Bradley. “We’ve got two more in this next stretch and who knows, maybe a few more in November.”
Impact fans were ready for another intense encounter. Some lifted a banner before the game teasing Giovinco through a series of emojis.
The diminutive Italian answered them in the 41st minute.
The crowd booed when Altidore sold a heavy fall to the ground to referee Robert Sibiga when he felt Blerim Dzemaili’s hand on his back, giving Toronto a free kick from about 22 yards in front of the Montreal goal.
Giovinco, the league’s most dangerous dead ball kicker, left goalkeeper Evan Bush no chance as he curled it over the wall and inside the near post. The Italian mimicked an emoji by pretending to wipe tears away as part of his celebration.
“It’s impossible to read,” Bush said of Giovinco’s free kicks. “Last week he hit it to the goalkeeper’s side against Philadelphia and this week he goes over the wall, so you can’t cheat either way.
“You just can’t give up fouls in those areas because it’s like a layup for him.”
Impact hope to rebound
With Montreal pressing on attack to start the second half, Victor Vazquez caught Montreal napping with a long throw-in down the right side for Marky Delgado. The midfielder sent a cross into the middle for Altidore to redirect past Bush in the 52nd minute for his 11th goal.
That prompted the cluster of about 200 Toronto fans in the east grandstand to pull out a banner that read ‘Say hello to the league leaders.’
Ignacio Piatti got his 15th goal for Montreal in added time on a pass from Dzemaili off a free kick, only to see Giovinco get it back a moment later with a smooth left-foot volley for his 15th of the campaign.
The Impact end a four-game homestand Saturday against Chicago, when they hope to get back on track.
“We have games in hand on the teams we’re chasing and if we take care of business the way we need to, we’ll be in the playoffs,” said Bush. “We can’t look ahead to playing these guys again. We have to concentrate on the next game.”
TFC, which swept a string of three games in an eight-day period, including two away from home, improved its league-best road record to 6-3-5.
Montreal had an early chance when Nicolas Hasler was called for a hand ball just outside the Toronto penalty area. Alex Bono made a diving save as Dzemaili blasted it through the wall and Matteo Mancosu couldn’t handle the rebound.
TFC is off until a Sept. 9 home match against San Jose.