Ayo Akinola’s hat-trick carried Toronto to a 4-3 victory over Montreal on Thursday that pushed Thierry Henry’s Impact to the brink of elimination in the MLS is Back tournament.
The Impact are last in Group C having lost their first two matches in Major League Soccer’s World Cup-style tournament in Orlando, Florida, which marks the return of top flight football in the United States after the league’s coronavirus shutdown.
Toronto lead the group with four points, followed by the New England Revolution with three and DC United with one.
Toronto have been without Jozy Altidore in both of their matches so far, but Akinola ably picked up the slack on Thursday.
The teams combined for five goals in the first 37 minutes, Montreal equalizing twice before Akinola notched his second and third goals.
Richie Laryea put Toronto ahead in the eighth minute, collecting a through ball from Alejandro Pozuelo and racing into the penalty area and firing home a shot.
Six minutes later Romell Quioto pulled Montreal level, but Toronto regained the lead in the 25th as Pozuelo’s cross found Akinola in front of goal for an easy finish.
Saphir Taider converted a penalty in the 37th to pull Montreal back again after Chris Mavinga’s clumsy challenge on Quioto in the area.
Seconds later Akinola’s second goal — off another pass from Pozuelo — gave Montreal a 3-2 lead that stood at halftime.
Akinola grabbed his third in the 83rd minute, racing free on the right side for a cushion that made Taider’s stoppage time penalty conversion irrelevant.
America’s Akinola now leads all players in the tournament — which is being played in a “bubble” environment without fans at the ESPN Sports Complex at Walt Disney World — with five goals.
“A player like Ayo on a team like us, he’s always going to get chances to score — and he’s putting them away,” said Toronto manager Greg Vanney.
Montreal now face a must-win game against DC United on Tuesday to have a chance of advancing to the knockout rounds.
“Unlike our first game, we fought hard today, we had the ball, we had chances to score,” Henry said. “But you can’t concede four goals and expect to win the game.”
The Columbus Crew punched their ticket to the round of 16 with a 2-0 victory over the New York Red Bulls.
Goals from Gyasi Zardes in the 22nd minute and Lucas Zelarayan in the 47th gave the Crew their second win of the tournament, pushing them to the top of Group E on six points, with New York and FC Cincinnati both on three.
Cincinnati notched their first win of the tournament in the day’s early match, a goal from Frankie Amaya in the 76th minute delivering a 1-0 victory over Atlanta.
Atlanta played more than 65 minutes with 10 men after Jake Mulraney was sent off. They finished with nine when substitute JJ Williams received a red card before the final whistle.