Home MLS Toronto FC The Trouble With Tribbett: TFC gets first-ever playoff win

The Trouble With Tribbett: TFC gets first-ever playoff win

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On April 7, 2007, Toronto FC played the first regular-season match in club history, a loss on the road to Chivas USA. Ken Tribbett was 14 years old when that happened.

Fast forward nine and a half years, and Toronto FC finally scored its first-ever MLS playoff goal. The Reds then went on to get their first-ever playoff victory, a 3-1 triumph over the Philadelphia Union at BMO Field.

Unfortunately for Tribbett, now 24 and playing in the centre of the Union’s defence, he was a massive factor in both the first TFC goal and the win as a whole.

It was Tribbett’s hash of a clearance attempt, a ball he looped back towards his own goal rather than simply smash out of danger, that began the comedy of errors which gifted Sebastian Giovinco the game’s opening goal. Tribbett’s error was compounded by goalkeeper, Andre Blake, who was way too indecisive in dealing with the situation. He was slow to come off his line, was beaten to the ball by Jozy Altidore, and could only watch as Giovinco pushed the ball into an empty goal.

TFC doubled the lead early in the second half when Canadian Jonathan Osorio smashed a ball into the roof of the net after Nick Hagglund got a piece of the corner kick and ended up flicking the ball perfectly to his teammate. It’s hard to say that Hagglund knew anything about it, but it worked out well for the Reds.

But it wouldn’t be TFC if it was too comfortable, right? With less than 20 minutes to go, the Reds struggled to clear a ball out of their own penalty area, and Alejandro Bedoya scrambled the ball home to make it 2-1.

With the weight of history on TFC’s shoulders, with so many demons of blown leads to exorcise, the Union had momentum.

Then Tribbett struck again. TFC came at the Union on the break, but the visitors were able to get numbers back. The ball came to Tribbett, but his heavy touch presented the ball to Alitdore. Tribbett tried to dive in the way of the shot, but couldn’t prevent it from going in.

Yes, it’s cruel to shine the spotlight on one man. But that’s what happens in pro sport. Especially in the playoffs, where mistakes are magnified.

But, to be clear, this shouldn’t take away from TFC’s effort. The Reds deserved the victory; and the 3-5-2 employed by coach Greg Vanney gave the home side width that the Union simply could not deal with. Throughout the game, TFC had wide-open runners on the wings.

Michael Bradley, who picked up a yellow card early, was smart with his distribution, and the Union, despite trying to play compact, offered holes for him to exploit. Giovinco was, well, Giovinco, and Altidore won more than his share of battles with the Union’s overmatched centre backs.

“Michael, I thought, was fantastic in patrolling that space in front of the back three, doubling balls when guys were receiving it, he was quick to get over there and work with other players to pick off balls, jump on the second ball and I thought it was one of his best games of the year in terms of breaking up plays,” said Vanney. “I think it was one of those games because there wasn’t a ton of possession, you didn’t see Michael orchestrating a lot of plays but he did the other side of it, doing the dogged work of cleaning up things in midfield and keeping the ball moving to the next guy.”

“Literally at the 15 we have a mis-clear where it goes up in the air, there’s a scramble a Giovinco gets on the end of one,” said Union coach Jim Curtin. “The corner kick goal to start the second half, two guys collide, fall down and Keegan (Rosenberry) loses Osorio. Difficult, moments you learn from but those are key critical moments. The third one again the opportunity to clear, kind of a mis-touch and when Jozy looks at something he’s going to kill it.”

Now the Reds will have to play NYCFC, and that second leg at Yankee Stadium poses a problem. On that small pitch, a 3-5-2 is problematic. It’s hard to put together a formation that emphasizes width when the confines are cramped. Vanney will need to come up with new solutions for that road leg.

But, hey, the Reds are actually playing in the Eastern Conference semifinals. And that’s a thing.

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