Victor Vazquez

Mark Blinch/The Canadian Press via AP

Champions! TFC crowned MLS Cup champs for first time

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The game in 100 words (or less more): For the first time in franchise history, Toronto FC are champions of Major League Soccer. The best team in the regular season, the last team standing in the postseason. For more than an hour, Saturday’s 2-0 victory over Seattle, the side that broke TFC hearts a year ago, looked painfully familiar for Reds fans, as Stefan Frei, MVP of the 2016 final, turned in another man-of-the-match performance and appeared altogether unbeatable. The Swiss-turned-American goalkeeper made 10 saves before Altidore broke through for TFC, courtesy of some gorgeous build-up play flowing through fellow superstars Michael Bradley and Sebastian Giovinco. TFC thoroughly dominated from start to finish — again, just like last year’s final — to the tune of 22 shots to 7 (11-2 on target). If not for Frei’s early-game heroics, the score would have been 3-0 by halftime. The postseason title puts a tidy bow on top of an already historic season for TFC, who set a new regular-season points record — in a much tougher Eastern Conference, to boot — and leaves little to no doubt over which team was truly the best of 2017.

[ BRADLEY: “Dream became obsession” in pursuit of MLS Cup ]

Three Four Five Six moments that mattered

11′ — Frei rushes out to deny Giovinco — Frei and Sebastian Giovinco will get the majority of the attention here (for the save and blown chance, respectively), but the 50-yard through ball from Victor Vazquez is the real story here. It almost doesn’t look real.

41′ — Frei denies Vazquez at full-stretch — Frei’s made six saves in the first half — none of which were individually spectacular in difficulty,

60′ — Bradley fires from distance, Frei saves again — Michael Bradley, who was neck-and-neck with Frei for best player on the field, made solid contact on a volley from 25 yards out, but Frei was able to get his body behind the bouncing ball and record save no. 8.

64′ — Frei gets to Giovinco’s shot through traffic — Frei couldn’t have seen this ball through a sea of bodies more than a quarter-second before reacting and diving to his left-hand post.

67′ – Finally, at long last, Frei is beaten — For the first time in 714 minutes of playoff soccer, Seattle are beaten. From back to front in five passes and 11 seconds, finished by Altidore, lifted over Frei and into the back of the net.

90+4′ — Vazquez slams home a rebound for 2-0 — Armando Cooper slammed the initial shot off the post, but Vazquez cleaned up the mess to send BMO Field into bedlam.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Michael Bradley

Goalscorers: Altidore (67′), Vazquez (90+4′)

MVP favorites Valeri, Villa headline 2017 MLS Best XI

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All five Major League Soccer MVP finalists — Diego Valeri, David Villa, Nemanja Nikolic, Sebastian Giovinco and Miguel Almiron — have been named to the 2017 Best XI squad.

[ MORE: F.O.M.O., and a USMNT-less 2018 World Cup draw ]

The attacking talent doesn’t stop there, as the above quintet is joined by Toronto FC midfielder Victor Vazquez and Atlanta United forward Josef Martinez.

Tim Melia and Ike Opara, who were previously named Goalkeeper of the Year and Defender of the Year, respectively, for their parts in leading Sporting Kansas City to the best defensive record in 2017, were chosen alongside Kendall Waston and Justin Morrow of the Vancouver Whitecaps and Toronto FC, respectively.

Yes, that is indeed a rarely-seen 3-3-4 formation which very closely borders on being a 3-0-7. My personal ballot, which features a defensive midfield-type and was submitted on Oct. 22, reads as follows:

Goalkeeper: Tim Melia

Defenders: Ike Opara, Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, Kendall Waston

Midfielders: Diego Valeri, Ignacio Piatti, Victor Vazquez, Cristian Roldan

Forwards: David Villa, Nemanja Nikolic, Josef Martinez

Reserves (not on ballot): Alex Bono, Chris Mavinga, Sacha Kljestan, C.J. Sapong

Toronto FC heading back to MLS Cup Final

Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP
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The game in (a bit more than) 100 words: Toronto FC is going to host the MLS Cup for the second-straight season, and this time could become the first team in league history to claim a domestic treble (TFC won the Canadian Championship and the Supporters’ Shield). Victor Vazquez saw his first half penalty saved by Zack Steffen, but the ex-Barca man had the primary assist on Jozy Altidore‘s goal to put the hosts in front after an hour of play. Altidore, by the way, had been limping around on a bum wheel for a good 7-10 minutes for his best Willis Reed impression.

Columbus had three glorious chances, and Ola Kamara couldn’t find an 88th minute loose ball through traffic with nothing but goal in front of him. Justin Meram had the other two. In the first half, he was foiled by Michael Bradley. In the second, he scooped over the bar.

Three moments that mattered

22′ — TFC’s captain catches up to the Crew — Bradley was a little lax in his tracking, and that allowed Columbus a 2v1 chance. Ola Kamara slid the ball across to Justin Meram, but Bradley timed his sliding intervention well and broke up the play.

26′ — Steffen saves TFC PK — Josh Williams hauled down Drew Moor on a corner kick, and Vazquez strode to the spot. His quick run-up attempt was foiled when Steffen flew to his right to parry Vazquez’s attempt. It remained scoreless.

60′ — Giovinco to Jozy to Vazquez to Jozy — Sebastian Giovinco sucked two defenders to him a few yards outside the 18, the backheeled to Altidore for a 1-2 with Vazquez that ended up inside far post’s side netting (Kisses thumb and pointer finger like I made a nice sauce).

87′ — Kamara can’t find equalizer (literally) — Ola Kamara has scored a lot of goals, so it’s going to drive him nuts that this one eluded his vision.

Goals: Altidore (60′)

Man of the Match: Justin Morrow

A(nother) Giovinco free kick helps TFC to 1st leg (video)

AP Photo/Bill Kostroun
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The match in 100 words (or less): New York Red Bulls have the steel and experience to trouble most teams in MLS, and weren’t rattled when Victor Vazquez helped the visiting Reds to a 1-0 lead. An unfortunate but very legit penalty against Drew Moor sent the defender to the sidelines injured and RBNY to halftime level. The Red Bulls very much had the run of play until Felipe fouled Sebastian Giovinco about 25 yards away from goal. At this point, we can just leave that sentence there and know you know the score went to 2-1. The Supporters’ Shield winners now have two away goals heading back to Toronto for the second leg.

The moments that mattered

8′ — Vazquez gets the favorites an away goal — Clumsy defending from the Red Bulls allowed Jozy Altidore to the right flank, and the American striker walked around Damien Perrinelle before crossing into the six. Red Bulls backstop Luis Robles parried it back into the 18, and Victor Vazquez had ages to line up his shot. He did not mess up.

Sacha Kljestan had a chance at the other end, but Toronto resumed control. Marky Delgado headed a shot off the cross bar in the 36th minute.

45+1′ — BWP goes down under Moor challenge — Wright-Phillips took the ball off Delgado on the edge of the 18, and then hit the deck when he caught Drew Moor off guard with a short touch. Daniel Royer stepped up and cruised his effort down the middle.

All game long’ — Bono stands up to the task at hand — The penalty, halftime break, and injuries to Drew Moor and Victor Vazquez, seemed to shake up TFC. Fortunately for the Reds, goalkeeper Alex Bono was up for the call.

74′ – Giovinco free kick — Some time this summer, our own Andy Edwards and I had a discussion about how Giovinco free kicks from a certain area are either free throws or penalty kicks. Either way, boom.

Man of the Match: Plenty had arguments, including Vazquez, Giovinco, Wright-Phillips, and Bono. We’ll go with the free kick man, and let this stat be our tiebreaker.

MLS Snapshot: TFC outlast RBNY, claim first Supporters’ Shield

Photo credit: Toronto FC / @torontofc
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The game in 100 words (or less): At long last — after eight years without ever qualifying for the playoffs, and 10 without a major MLS trophy to show for all their heartache — Toronto FC are 2017 Supporters’ Shield winners.

Greg Vanney’s side limped to the finish line this week and last, but they got there in the end, with two games to spare. The Reds completed one of the best regular seasons in league history on Saturday, narrowly outlasting the New York Red Bulls, 3-2, to win — and lift — the Shield in front of their home fans. They did so without the service of Sebastian Giovinco, who’s now missed four straight games with what the club has called “lower-body tightness.” Justin Morrow wound up the unlikeliest scorer of a hat trick to clinch a trophy, bagging goals five minutes apart not long before halftime, setting up MLS assist king (16) Victor Vazquez to score the game- and Shield-winning goal from the penalty spot just 10 minutes before full-time.

[ MORE: SKC, VAN face off for West supremacy; HOU still chasing playoffs ]

Three Four Five moments that mattered

32′ — Morrow cleans up a mess in front of goal for 1-0 — Victor Vazquez played the long diagonal to Jozy Altidore, who headed the ball back across the face of goal and into the danger zone. No one in blue dealt with it, and Morrow was the quickest to react.

37′ — Morrow pokes another one home, and it’s 2-0 — Michael Bradley’s shot was blocked and deflected t0 — you guessed it — Morrow, with nothing in between him and goalkeeper Luis Robles. Decent composure in front of goal for a full back.

39′ — Veron hits right back, brings RBNY to 2-1 — slots past Bono after Tyler Adams’ inch-perfect ball plays him behind the backline.

77′ — Royer converts from the spot after Veron gets taken down — Drew Moor slid clear through Veron inside the penalty area to give away a largely needless penalty. Royer sent Bono one way and dinked the ball the other.

80′ — Vazquez converts one of his own after Altidore goes down — Aaron Long was all over Jozy Altidore who, big as he might be, had to go down under that much contact — penalty rightly given. Vazquez made it look easy.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Justin Morrow

Goalscorers: Morrow (32′, 37′, 90+1′), Veron (39′), Royer (77′ – PK), Vazquez (80′ – PK)