On a torrid summer day against one of the top teams in Major League Soccer, Toronto FC showed off its ruthless side.
Sebastian Giovinco scored two spectacular goals and Jozy Altidore and Raheem Edwards struck late as Toronto FC blanked New York City FC 4-0 on Sunday afternoon, increasing its lead atop the league to five points.
In the past, TFC has seized a lead and then missed chances to extend it — at times struggling to hang on to the three points at stake. On Sunday, it went ahead and then piled on.
"I think we could have won by even more today," said defender Drew Moor, who became the 10th outfield player in MLS history to play 350 regular-season games. "We put them away extremely well but we're not satisfied."
"We're not satisfied with anything yet. We've got to keep pushing," echoed captain Michael Bradley, who led all players with 93 touches on the day.
"There's still big room for improvement," he added. "When we're at our best, when we compete at our hardest, when we're focused on 90 minutes at a time and nothing more, we feel like there isn't a team in the league that we can't beat — whether it's home or away."
It was 1-0 at the half. But as the game wore, Toronto (12-3-7) turned the screw on NYCFC (11-7-4) in a performance that will send shivers down the spine of rivals.
For Toronto coach Greg Vanney, slamming the door on NYCFC was a welcome sign that his team is buying into an oft-discussed message.
"Really it's about a mentality ... not settling when you're up but actually pushing to try to finish a team off," he said.
It came as a cost as Toronto's Oyvind Alseth limped off in the 12th minute with a lacerated foot. Fellow wingback Justin Morrow had to leave in the 64th minute with cramps on a hot 29 Celsius afternoon before a loud sellout crowd of 29,203.
With second-place Chicago losing to Sporting Kansas City on Saturday, first place in the East was on the line Sunday. And it felt like a top-of-the table clash — a fast, entertaining game that saw both teams stringing passes together as they built up attacks.
Giovinco flashed the first of his magic in the 32nd minute, after raising his hands in the air to call for the ball some 10 yards outside the penalty box. Marky Delgado obliged and Giovinco got the ball in space, sidestepping the approaching Andrea Pirlo as if the 38-year-old Italian icon was painted orange before curling a left-footed shot high into the goal past a diving Sean Johnson.
It was clear Giovinco felt on his game Sunday. He had five shots on goal, two more than the entire NYCFC team.
Giovinco made it 2-0 in the 67th minute with one of his trademark-deadly free kicks that again left Johnson lunging — and missing — in mid-air. It marked the Atomic Ant's 10th goal directly from a free kick, the most of any player in MLS since 2003.
It was Giovinco's 11th goal of the season and his 50th in MLS regular-season play, not to mention his sixth in seven career regular-season games against NYCFC.
"A great player, maybe the best that's ever played in this league," said Vanney. "I would say yes ... the best ever."
Altidore converted a 75th-minute penalty kick for his ninth goal of the season after going down in the box trying to corral a pass from the Italian on what seemed a soft call. There was some to-and-fro on who was to take the penalty with Altidore ultimately winning out, but nobody seemed to mind as the U.S. international buried the ball high in the net.
Giovinco was the provider in the 82nd minute, chipping a ball over the defence for Edwards to knock in for his first career goal.
Argentine attacker Maximiliano Moralez skyed a penalty kick over the crossbar deep in stoppage time after Delgado handled the ball.
"It's a missed opportunity for us," said New York manager Patrick Vieira. "We came here with ambitions but we couldn't perform. They were too good for us."
Toronto, which last lost at home in regular-season play on Oct. 1, 2016, notched its fourth shutout in its last five home games.
A suspension to Venezuelan midfielder Yangel Herrera opened the door for a 10th start of the season for Pirlo.
Bradley and Pirlo were both influential on attack, spraying the ball around. And Moralez, who at five foot three is one inch shorter than Giovinco, was always around the ball when NYCFC had it.
Villa, with 14 goals and seven assists, came into the game on a four-match scoring streak. But he was clearly frustrated at times Sunday, not getting the ball when he wanted.
The Spanish star was busier in the second half, forcing a 60th-minute save off Alex Bono. Seconds later, Toronto defender Chris Mavinga made a fine tackle in the penalty box to deny Moralez.
"A game-saving moment," is how Vanney described it.
While Toronto humiliated NYCFC 7-0 on aggregate in last season's Eastern Conference semifinal, Sunday marked TFC's first ever regular-season win over the New Yorkers (1-2-4).