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Toronto FC victory sets up all Canadian Eastern Conference final

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press | posted Monday, Nov 7th, 2016

Toronto FC Sebastian Giovinco (10), right, celebrates his goal during a MLS second leg eastern semifinals soccer match against New York City FC in New York, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Andres Kudacki)

Toronto FC set up an all-Canadian MLS Eastern Conference final against the Montreal Impact by putting New York City FC to the sword in dramatic fashion Sunday night.

Sebastian Giovinco scored a hat trick and Jozy Altidore and Jonathan Osorio each added a goal for a lopsided 5-0 win before 28,355 at Yankee Stadium as Toronto completed a 7-0 aggregate semifinal victory that must stand as one of the franchise’s finest moments.

It was total domination over a high-scoring New York team that finished one point ahead of Toronto in the regular-season standings. The two-game series may have been tied 0-0 for the first 84 minutes but TFC scored seven unanswered goals in the remaining 96 minutes to thump NYCFC.

Armed with a 2-0 lead from the first leg, Toronto scored in the sixth, 20th and 30th minutes to remove any drama from the tie. New York went into the dressing room at halftime needing six goals to win after a first half that saw Toronto roll like a runaway train.

Another Toronto goal in the 50th minute meant the New Yorkers needed a touchdown to win. But the home side had no answers on the night – with TFC goalkeeper Clint Irwin up to a handful of challenges – as Toronto recorded its first ever post-season win on the road.

Giovinco added a goal in stoppage time to compete the rout as travelling Toronto fans chanted “MVP, MVP.”

Sunday’s results mean a Canadian team will contest the MLS Cup for the first time ever.

Montreal completed its 3-1 aggregate upset of the conference-leading New York Red Bulls earlier Sunday with a 2-1 win on the road.

The conference final does not start until Nov. 22 at Olympic Stadium because of a break for international games. The second leg is Nov. 30 at BMO Field, three days after the Grey Cup.

In addition to their fierce regular-season rivalry, the two Canadian teams have some playoff history. Montreal spoiled Toronto’s post-season debut last year in a lopsided 3-0 win at Saputo Stadium.

TFC joins the Toronto Raptors, Blue Jays and Marlies in making their conference finals in 2016. All three of those teams foundered there, however.

Passed over this week when the three finalists for MVP were named, Giovinco – the reigning MVP – was sublime on the night repeatedly carving open the New York defence.

Giovinco has seven goals and three assists in six career games against NYCFC.

The New Yorkers were caught between a rock and a hard place. They needed to score goals but could not defend against Toronto.

There was a buzz at kickoff with a section of red-clad Toronto fans singing at one end and New York supporters answering at the other. Toronto came out hunting for a goal to drive another nail in the New York coffin, pressing from the get-go. And the breakthrough wasn’t long coming.

Giovinco opened the scoring with a marvellous goal in the sixth minute. Taking a pass from Altidore after Osorio forced a Jack Harrison giveaway, Giovinco used a sumptuous first touch to befuddle defender Maxime Chanot and create space to slide a shot past Eirik Johansen. The joyful Italian celebrated the goal in front of the New York City fans.

The dream start continued when Frederic Brillant took Giovinco down as the little forward cut inside the penalty box. Giovinco cooly converted the ensuing penalty in the 20th minute, silencing the home fans while the travelling Toronto fans sang their hearts out.

Ten minutes later, defender Eriq Zavaleta sent a hopeful high ball towards the New York penalty box. Altidore, celebrating his 27th birthday, muscled out Chanot and sent a looping shot over Johansen.

A swerving shot by Frank Lampard from distance forced a diving save from Irwin in the 38th minute. The former Chelsea star sent another rocket just wide as the half wound down.

Toronto kept the scoreboard ticking early in the second half after a horrific giveaway by substitute Khiry Shelton went straight to Giovinco. He sent the ball to Will Johnson who found Osorio alone to his right and the Canadian midfielder made no mistake with his right foot.

Osorio, who had two goals in 30 games during the regular season, has scored twice in three playoff games.

An acrobatic Irwin also stopped David Villa midway through the second half.

Late goals by Altidore and Tosaint Ricketts – in the 84th and 92nd minute, respectively – in the opening leg in the friendly confines of BMO Field had given Toronto a two-goal edge.

“We still believe,” NYCFC coach Patrick Vieira, whose team conceded 57 goals this season, said prior to the game.

Toronto was unchanged from Game 1. Designated players Andrea Pirlo and Lampard came into the NYCFC starting 11, as did Tommy McNamara. Pirlo missed out on the opener with a calf injury while Lampard came on in the second half.

Vieira stuck with Johansen in goal. It was the third straight game for the six-foot-seven Norwegian after Josh Saunders got the first 33 starts. New York could have used both ‘keepers in goal on the night.

Prior to the first leg, Toronto had been winless in the five previous meetings with New York City including a loss and pair of ties at Yankee Stadium. The three previous games in New York produced a total of 14 goals including a wild 4-4 tie in July 2015 that saw Giovinco score a hat trick in nine minutes, Villa pot a pair and four penalties awarded, only two of which were converted.

Despite trailing on aggregate, NYFC had some reason to feel confident going into the game. Vieira’s team had won its last eight games (7-0-1) at home with its last loss there coming June 2. The New Yorkers also boasted the league’s most potent offence this season with 62 goals, including 35 at Yankee Stadium.

But of the 14 previous teams to trail by two or more goals after the first leg of an MLS playoff contest, only two rebounded to win the series.

The San Jose Earthquakes did it in 2003, rallying from a 2-0 deficit to defeat the Los Angeles Galaxy 5-4 on aggregate after extra time. The 2004 Kansas City Wizards beat San Jose 3-0 in the second leg after losing the first 2-0.

Toronto’s Michael Bradley, Altidore and Armando Cooper came into the game on a yellow card. Cooper was subbed to open the second half and Altidore exited in the 74th minute, likely to avoid picking up another card and subsequent suspension.

There were six yellow cards handed out in the first leg but none in the second leg.

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