By Jerry Mancini.
Toronto FC triumphed 4-3 over rivals Montreal Impact on Thursday in a 401 Derby which didn’t disappoint.
Each team had already endured disappointing opening matches to start the tournament. The Impact put in a poor effort against the New England Revolution, losing 1-0, while TFC blew a two-goal lead against DC United to settle for a draw.
TFC continued where they left off with their scoring prowess as Ayo Akinola continued to impress Greg Vanney and fill the void left by Jozy Altidore. The forward scored a hat-trick — the first this derby has seen in MLS play — to help TFC win out over their rivals and take another step toward securing a spot in the next round.
Montreal’s struggles continue as they have lost their first two MLS is Back matches. Thierry Henry must regroup and have his side ready for their next game against DC United if they are to have any chance of advancing past the group stage.
So, what did we learn from this match?
1. Richie Layrea First League Start Goes The Right Way
Richie Laryea recently signed a new contract with TFC and his performance in Thursday’s match reminded us why the club values him highly.
In his first league start for Toronto FC this season, Laryea started off the way his manager would have liked. The hometown boy opened the scoring within the first ten minutes of the game. He made a strong run down the left flank as Alejandro Pozuelo advanced the ball forward with a long pass. He received the pass in his stride and made his run into the box to swiftly beat Shamit Shome before clinically finishing beyond Clement Diop.
Strong start for @TorontoFC. 💪
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) July 17, 2020
Although not as lauded as the likes of Pozuelo and Altidore, Layrea has been a standout performer for TFC since he arrived from Orlando City. In his match against Montreal, he showed great awareness, made quick decisive runs and a real physical presence. He finished the match with two interceptions and one clearance.
“Richie has been terrific since he joined us,” said GM Ali Curtis upon Layrea signing his new deal. “He played a valuable role, both for TFC, and the Canadian Men’s National Team last year. Off the field, Richie’s character and personality is tremendous. He earned this new contract in many ways, and we are excited for he, his family, and what he will bring to TFC moving forward.”
Curtis’ comments couldn’t have been more accurate after Layrea’s strong performance. The local lad definitely loves playing for his team and will be pivotal in future games to come.
2. Montreal Impact In Danger Of Exiting The Tournament
The Impact’s poor start to the tournament has their group stage progression in serious jeopardy. Henry’s side have struggled in their first two games and taking no points so far makes their next game against DC United a must-win. After a lacklustre performance against New England Revolution, they followed up with a better performance against Toronto FC yet it was not enough to ensure a win.
The Impact struggled on the defensive side of the game as TFC advanced into the final third with ease. The backline were too high at times, caught off their line, out of position and were out-foxed for the ball. TFC’s defensive struggles were noticeable as well but the Reds were fortunate to score an insurance goal late into the match.
Vanney’s side inch one step closer to advancing to the next round. As for Henry, his team has shown the ability to score, but will need to defend much better if they want to advance further in this tournament.
3. Ayo Akinola Making A Strong Case For Greg Vanney
At the start of the tournament, Altidore wasn’t available as the striker was not yet fit to play. This left an opportunity for Akinola as Vanney elected to start the American. The forward has not disappointed and impressed his manager with five goals in TFC’s first two games of the tournament.
Akinola has stepped in superbly for Altidore and proven that he is a capable starter in the number nine position. The striker finished the match with a hat-trick with his third goal standing as the game-winner. It is the ninth hat trick in Toronto FC’s club history and he became the second TFC player alongside Tosaint Ricketts to score two or more goals in consecutive MLS matches.
— OptaJack⚽️ (@OptaJack) July 17, 2020
Throughout the game, he was decisive, aggressive and clinical in the final third. On his fourth goal, he showed his physical presence as he shrugged off Jukka Raitala in a 50-50. He further advanced towards the box to chip the ball over the onrushing Diop and into the back of the goal, showing incredible composure.
Vanney has a dependable option up-front and this will give Altidore further time to get into game shape. The manager now has a Plan A and a Plan B moving forward which will make TFC much stronger in the attack. Vanney’s decision to give Akinola a chance has paid off and much of where TFC find themselves in MLS is Back is owed to him.