Sports

Toronto FC ready to roll out the big guns with Altidore, Giovinco both back

TORONTO — It's been three weeks since Toronto FC star striker Sebastian Giovinco last saw playoff action.

"(Feels) like a year," the Italian said Sunday. "Because everybody wants to play this kind of game ... Now finally we play."

Blame Major League Soccer's prolonged playoff schedule and Giovinco's volcanic emotions for the long layoff.

Like fellow striker Jozy Altidore, disciplinary issues prevented him from taking part in the scoreless Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final in Columbus.

Altidore was red-carded Nov. 5 for his part in a halftime tunnel melee in Game 2 of the conference semifinal with the New York Red Bulls. Giovinco, who had been cautioned for time-wasting in Game 1 against the Red Bulls, was suspended after picking up a yellow for dissent late in the second game.

But both will be back for Wednesday's rematch at BMO Field.

"Now is our turn," said Giovinco.

Because of injury and suspension, the Italian has played in just four of Toronto's last nine games since mid-September. Altidore took part in five of those nine.

Giovinco (16 goals) and Altidore (15) accounted for 31 of Toronto's league-leading 74 goals (42 per cent) this season. And they present opposition with a widely different set of problems.

The diminutive Giovinco is fast and shifty, able to torment defenders one-on-one and capable of scoring with both feet from any distance. The burly Altidore is a bull in a china shop, albeit one with surprisingly delicate feet.

Reserve striker Tosaint Ricketts plowed a lone furrow up front in Columbus, where Toronto failed to put a shot on net. That should change in Toronto. Giovinco was third in the league with 51 shots on target this season while Altidore managed 30. 

While Toronto gets its strike force back, Columbus has lost Brazilian midfielder Artur to suspension. Ghanaian international Mohammed Abu is his likely replacement.

Toronto coach Greg Vanney had hoped for an away goal to give his team an edge coming home. But he will take the current scenario.

"I said the same thing to the guys, if we started pre-season and said we have one game to win at home to get to the final for another shot, then we'd all sign for that chance. So here we are."

Toronto got past New York City FC and the Montreal Impact in last year's playoffs before losing the MLS Cup final to the visiting Seattle Sounders on a penalty shootout after it finished in a 0-0 tie after extra time.

Toronto led the league this season with an .853 winning percentage at home, where the team was 13-1-3 during the regular season. But including the Game 2 playoff loss to the Red Bulls — Toronto advanced on the always goal rule after the series finished 2-2 on aggregate — TFC has lost two of its last four at BMO Field.

Not to mention that the league's most potent offence has not scored in 198 minutes. Or that it has managed just four shots on target in its three playoff games.

Vanney is unfazed, attributing the spotty numbers of late to "lack of continuity" in the lineup. Plus the nature of the playoffs, with its two-game series, render 90-minute numbers meaningless.

"We knew what we needed to do to get the result and that was what the priority is, because it's about advancing," he said.

And given the number of training days recently, the continuity is returning, he said.

"The goals will come," Vanney said. "We understand what the objective is."

Fifth-seeded Columbus finished 15 points below Toronto but has been one of the form teams of late, losing just once in its last 14 outings (8-1-5) dating back to early August. With team ownership threatening to move the team to Austin, Texas, after the 2018 season, the Crew players have done their talking on the field.

___

Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter 

More on Metronews.ca