No joke: Sebastian Giovinco is a very talented player.
The Italian forward was a class above the competition as his constant attacking presence led Toronto FC to a convincing 3-1 win over the San Jose Earthquakes at BMO Field.
Giovinco assisted on the game's first goal, an acrobatic header by former Earthquake Justin Morrow in the 22nd minute, and the game clinching goal, Luke Moore's simple finish inside the six yard box in the 71st minute. Warren Creavalle's 33rd minute goal, following a defensive gaffe by Sanna Nyassi, proved to the be game-winner for the Reds.
Chris Wondolowski scored the Earthquakes only goal of the evening, a penalty kick in the 24th minute that neutralized Morrow's strike, but the was all San Jose was able to muster up, as the team had only one other shot on target the entire game. Wondolowski's goal, his eighth of the season and fifth in six games, marked the 101st of his MLS career. He joins former New England Revolution marksman Taylor Twellman at number seven on the MLS all-time goal scoring chart.
"When we were going down, trying to chase the game, spread them out, we have to do a better job of keeping the ball," said Wondolowski. "Just being more dangerous in the final third."
The game was delayed for nearly half an hour as a massive thunderstorm moved through the Toronto metro area in the hour before the schedule 5:00 p.m. local time kickoff. Fans had to vacate the grandstands of the newly renovated BMO Field, but no one in attendance complained about the wait after their team played one of its best matches of the season.
The Earthquakes, in sixth place in the Western Conference with 18 points at the start of the day's MLS action, saw their five game unbeaten streak snapped with the loss, and with it, their tenuous position above the red line in the table that signifies postseason qualification. The loss also evened the Quakes record against Toronto FC to 4-4-4 all-time in a series that stretches back to 2008 when San Jose rejoined MLS.
Because of a lingering groin injury to Matias Perez Garcia and the international call-up of Fatai Alashe to the U-23 U.S. men's national team for the prestigious Toulon Tournament in France, head coach Dominic Kinnear was forced to make two changes in his starting eleven, breaking the two-game run the previous group had enjoyed. Unfortunately for Kinnear, both changes came in the core of his midfield, disrupting the chemistry the back four and attacking corps had developed over the last two games, as Khari Stephenson replaced Alashe and JJ Koval stepped in for Perez Garcia.
"I always try to talk about the guys who are here and not about the guys who aren't," said Kinnaer. "I think it's a little bit unfair if you concentrate on the guys who didn't play. It was unfortunate the guys weren't here, we were hoping Matias would have been ready, still has a bit of a groin problem, and Fatai is with the U-23's so what can you do?"
Toronto's first goal came as Stephenson, who was tasked with shadowing Giovinco ahead of the Earthquakes defensive line, gave the designated player a step at the top of the area on an entry pass. Giovinco turned to the byline before delivering a pinpoint cross through the area that found Morrow for an impressive header. The goal had to be in part sweet revenge for Morrow, as the former Quake beat Jordan Stewart, the man who dislodged him from San Jose's starting left back position back in 2013, to reach Giovinco's cross first.
A handball in the box by Toronto defender Ashtone Morgan less than a minute later gifted the Earthquakes the opportunity to equalize, and Wondolowski was up to the challenge, slamming a low shot under the diving Chris Konopka, who had guessed correctly, for his eighth goal of the 2015 season. It was the first of only two shots on target that San Jose would manage all evening.
"Toronto defended well, they sat deep, and they let us play around them but not really play through them," Kinnear said. "I thought with our service we had an opportunity to cross a few balls in today and they defended well putting pressure on the ball, but I thought we were a bit off on that today. Service from out wide and second balls are something that we feed on, but that wasn't the case today."
TFC regained the lead in the 33rd minute after a defensive miscue by Nyassi that was precipitated by a pass out of the back by Clarence Goodson. The Earthquakes center back, eschewing the chance to clear the ball from danger, elected instead to send a loose ball directly to Nyassi outside the area. The midfielder, who reversed direction in an effort to create space, mishandled the ball and turned it over to Toronto. It was the break in the Quakes defense that the home side needed to take a 2-1 lead via a blistering shot from Creavalle.
The Earthquakes made a substitution at halftime, bringing in Paulo Renato for an injured Goodson. Kinnear told reporters after the game that Goodson had felt an issue with his hamstring, necessitating the change. The match would also see the season debut of forward Mark Sherrod, who replaced Koval in the 75th minute, four minutes after Toronto had secured all three points on the night through Moore's clinching goal.
The second half was played primarily in the home side's half, as San Jose pushed forward again and again. However, the Earthquakes never really tested Konopka, and the Reds finished out a game that in years past would likely have seen a different result. And even with their domination in possession percentage for the last 45 minutes, the Quakes forced Konopka into a single save, such was the difficulty of breaking down a resolute Toronto defense.
"I thought our team had a lot of possession," Kinnear said following the game, "but we weren't doing a whole lot with it and Toronto were catching us on the break."
The Earthquakes head home for an encounter with FC Dallas at Avaya Stadium next Saturday, June 6. Following that match the Quakes Academy U-18 team will take the field to face Juventus FC's U-18 squad in the last Northwest Division game of the season. A win would guarantee the Quakes a league title.