TORONTO — Italian star Sebastian Giovinco scored one goal and helped set up the other two to lead Toronto FC to its first ever playoff win Wednesday night, a 3-1 decision 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 Toronto ended a playoff drought that stretched back to its inception in 2007. It took 324 regular-season matches and nine managers to get there.
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, aided by the muscular Altidore. 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 look 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." The game ended with fireworks and confetti.
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.
Toronto came close to adding to its lead on a Giovinco corner in the 21st minute but Blake somehow got a hand through traffic to Drew Moor's header. Giovinco hit the side netting with a free kick in the 27th minute.
Altidore was a physical presence throughout a first half that saw each side get two yellow cards.
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.
Philadelphia (11-14-9) limped into the playoffs, losing three straight and winless in seven (0-5-2) since Aug. 27. Jim Curtin's team had not scored in 215 minutes. Forward C.J. Sapong's last goal came Aug. 13. Leading scorer Chris Pontius had just two goals in the team's last 10 matches.
The Union went 5-11-4 in league play since mid-June.
Toronto (14-9-11) finished the regular season with just one win in its last six outings (1-1-4). Still, it had lost just two of its last 15 matches (8-2-5) dating back to mid-July. Greg Vanney's team dropped some points at home in the stretch run but still tied for second-best defence in the league, conceding 39 goals in 34 games.
"We have nothing to lose," Philadelphia midfielder Brian Carroll said prior to the game.
Toronto lost its playoff debut 3-0 in Montreal last season. Philadelphia, in its seventh year, went 0-2 in the post-season in 2011.
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