TORONTO — Captain Michael Bradley had a slice of pizza and a slug of Gatorade. Coach Greg Vanney treated himself to a tall boy.
As far as locker-room celebrations go, it was decidedly muted. Especially when it came after removing a giant monkey off the back of Toronto FC with the franchise's first ever playoff win in 10 seasons.
Vanney's team rose to the occasion Wednesday in ending the post-season drought in convincing fashion. Sebastian Giovinco scored one goal and helped set up the other two to lead Toronto to a 3-1 win over the Philadelphia Union in an MLS first-round knockout game.
Toronto, which finished third in the Eastern Conference, will now host second-place New York City FC on Sunday in the opening game of the two-legged Eastern semifinal.
Jonathan Osorio and Jozy Altidore also scored as TFC emerged from a playoff wasteland that stretched back to its inception in 2007. It took 324 regular-season matches and nine managers to get there. Toronto lost its only other playoff appearance 3-0 in Montreal last season.
While there weren't any champagne corks popping in the dressing room, the team celebrated the win on the field with its fans. After confetti and fireworks at the final whistle, the players headed over to the south stand to lead the fans in Iceland-style slow clapping.
"We're very very very excited, very very proud in every way," said Bradley, promising more celebrations to come.
It was a special moment for a franchise that has not had too many of them.
"Most of the guys are icing wounds and cleaning up scrapes," Vanney said of the locker-room. "The celebration is really for the fans. It's to celebrate our relationship with the fans and the support they give us during the game ... I thought it was fantastic. I thought it was a great symbol of the unity between us and the fans. I think it was good for the guys too.
"One thing Jozy whispered in my ear is 'That's only one of the first of six (possible playoff games) so let's not celebrate now, let's get ready for the next one.' And I said 'I'm with you. Let's get it done.'"
Vanney called the contest more of a street fight than a soccer game,
Referee Baldomero Toledo handed out five yellow cards, cautioning both Bradley and Altidore which leaves them one yellow away from a suspension in the post-season. Bradley, for one, thought the referee mishandled the start of the game.
Toronto got good performances from all quarters but its biggest names — Bradley, Giovinco and Altidore — had especially big performances.
Giovinco was lively and dangerous all night. Bradley covered a lot of ground, a destroyer in front of the backline. And Altidore, muscling opponents out of his way, was a one-man wrecking crew.
"Jozy was just huge. He played big, he played physical," said Vanney. "At times he just looked possessed, tracking down the ball and taking it away from people."
Alejandro Bedoya scored for the Union in the 73rd minute to cut the lead to 2-1. But Giovinco, after drawing three defenders, found Altidore in the 85th minute and the U.S. international, after a fortuitous bounce off a defender, sent a low shot home.
Altidore and several teammates jumped the advertising hoardings at the south end and disappeared briefly into the stands to celebrate.
Sixth-place Philadelphia started well, taking the game to Toronto. But the home side struck first in the 15th minute with Altidore muscling his way into Philadelphia territory. Defender Ken Tribbett hooked the ball away awkwardly towards his own penalty box and goalkeeper Andre Blake tried to meet it. Altidore beat him to it, flicking the ball over to Giovinco, who got a leg to it to send the ball high into the net.
The goal was 10 years in the making and Giovinco celebrated in style, heading to the northwest corner with his teammates in his wake.
It was also the Italian's fifth goal in five games against Philadelphia. But then again he scores against everyone. Including the regular season and playoffs, Giovinco has scored or assisted on 72 of Toronto's 112 goals (64 per cent) in his two seasons in MLS.
Giovinco was lively all night. Unable to stop the little Italian, the Union hacked Giovinco down on several occasions including one in the second half when he beat two defenders with a slick drag-back dribble.
While Toronto became more defensive with its second-half substitutions, Philadelphia looked for more offence with Brazilian Ilsinho and Roland Alberg.
Bedoya made things interesting with his second-half goal. Three different Philadelphia players headed the ball before it landed at the feet of the U.S. international, who lashed it home.
Normal service soon resumed with Giovinco and Altidore before a crowd of 21,759 on a chilly five-degree Celsius night at BMO Field.
That set the crowd chanting "This is our house."
Toronto's first ever home playoff game was up against the Toronto Raptors' season opener and Game 2 of the World Series. The club also only had limited time to sell tickets given the matchup and date were only confirmed Sunday.
Osorio made it 2-0 three minutes into the second half off a Giovinco corner. Altidore and Toronto defender Nick Hagglund collided and the ball bounced off Hagglund's chest to Osorio, who belted it home.
Neither team came into the game in particularly good form, with just one win in their combined last 12 games.
But Philadelphia (11-14-9) came to play, with ex-TFC midfielder Warren Creavalle gritting out the game despite playing with three broken ribs.
"He's as tough a kid as I've seen," said coach Jim Curtin.
"Our season ends now. It's difficult," he added. "I won't reflect on all the positives that came from it but somewhere deep down in there I do feel like Philadelphia Union fans, the players, can walk a little taller with their chests out because we're a franchise that's moving in the right direction. I believe that."
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