SEATTLE – Jermain Defoe and Michael Bradley have officially put the rest of Major League Soccer on notice: You won’t have Toronto FC to kick around anymore.
Both members of the dynamic duo put in man-of-the match performances Saturday—Defoe bagged two goals, Bradley was a whirlwind of action in midfield—to lead TFC to a 2-1 win over the Seattle Sounders in their season opener.
“To score two goals on your debut, it’s a dream,” Defoe said.
It’s far too premature to suggest that what the 38,441 spectators at CenturyLink Field witnessed was the beginning of a new winning era for TFC. The Reds did well to jump out to a 2-0 lead, but had to hold on for dear life for most of the second half as Seattle surged.
“I thought the guys were magnificent in the first half when it came to their football and magnificent in the second half when it came to their desire and character,” TFC coach Ryan Nelsen said.
“We have so much to improve,” he later cautioned.
Indeed, this wasn’t a complete performance. Far from it. The early signs are certainly encouraging from a Toronto perspective, though.
Defoe only joined the team on Monday, but hardly looked rusty or out of place. In fact, he looked exactly like a top-class forward with sublime finishing ability who is capable of scoring 20 goals this season. Bradley’s work rate was top drawer, dictating terms in the middle of the pitch at both ends of the field—breaking up Seattle scoring chances, intercepting passes, and launching attacks with his great distribution.
Alvaro Rey and Jackson were lively on the wings, providing dangerous width to the Reds’ attack. Jackson also routinely tracked back and lent support to the back line. In the centre of defence, young Canadian Doneil Henry was poised and confident, and played a mistake-free game, something he’s not noted for doing.
All this in one match after a less-than-ideal pre-season that was blighted by injuries and new players still trying to get to know each other—to say nothing of the fact that Seattle isn’t the easiest place in the league for visiting teams to win.
Bradley felt the team’s mental strength on the day was the deciding factor, and that it didn’t buckle after being pressured early on by Seattle.
“Finding ways on tough days when conditions are difficult to come away with points ... When you have a team full of warriors, that’s what it’s all about,” Bradley offered.
Seattle dominated the earlier proceedings, pinning TFC inside their half for long stretches. Clint Dempsey and Nigerian striker Obafemi Martins combined well as the home side controlled the game, and it looked as though it would be only a matter of time before the Sounders opened the scoring.
But it was Toronto who broke the deadlock, effectively soaking up the pressure and then scoring against the run of play in the 17th minute. Canadian midfielder Jonathan Osorio fed a perfectly-weighted through ball for Defoe, who ran onto it after gliding between two Seattle defenders and calmly slotted it inside the far post.
Defoe was at it again seven minutes later. Bradley pressured Seattle midfielder Marco Pappa into making a horrendous back pass deep inside his half. Defoe quickly seized on the mistake and ran in on goal, sidestepping one Sounders defender, and fired past goalkeeper Stefan Frei.
“The service was good. The boys were looking for me,” Defoe said of the quality of passes he received from his teammates.
The Sounders came out strong at the start of the second half. Seattle’s Lamar Neagle had a penalty claim rebuffed after he was brought down inside the box by defender Mark Bloom. Moments later Julio Cesar made a great kick save to deny Martins from in close.
But Seattle would not be denied, and in the 68th minute it breached the Toronto defence with a flowing, attacking move. Martins went on a probing run down the right side and took advantage of some slack defending from Bloom, delivering a pass into the box for an unmarked Dempsey to hammer past Cesar.
Seattle continued to press for the equalizer and continually swarmed TFC, only to see captain Steven Caldwell and the rest of the defence effectively deal with the danger each time and hold on for the win.
“When you’re playing against a team the calibre of Seattle ... it’s going to happen. You’re going to have times where you have to soak up pressure. We soaked up a lot of it but we handled it very well,” Nelsen offered.
NOTES: Toronto FC is now 2-6 in season openers. Its previous season-opening win was in 2009 when it defeated Sporting Kansas City… The Sounders lead the all-time series against TFC, with six wins and a draw in nine games. Saturday marked Toronto’s first win in Seattle in five matches…. MLSE boss Tim Leiweke was in attendance to watch the game… Toronto hosts D.C. United in its home opener on March 22 at BMO Field…