TORONTO – Toronto FC’s dynamic duo was at it again on Saturday.
Jermain Defoe netted the lone goal off a setup from fellow designated player Michael Bradley, guiding TFC to a 1-0 win over D.C. United in the Reds’ home opener before 22,591 fans.
So far Toronto’s new DPs are living up to the “Bloody Big Deal” hype and their huge pay packets. Defoe bagged both goals in TFC’s 2-1 win over the Seattle Sounders a week ago, a contest highlighted by Bradley’s man-of-the-match performance.
TFC have never won their first two games of the Major League Soccer season, and are historically slow starters. Remember 2012 when they began the campaign with nine straight losses? That seems like ages ago, and their perfect start this year owes a lot to the inspired play of Bradley and Defoe. They’ve transformed a laughing-stock of a side coming off seven losing seasons into the club to watch in MLS this year.
“We’re not a top team right now. We’re very good and we’re well organized. But I don’t think you’ve seen the best of us,” coach Ryan Nelsen stated.
Indeed, the Reds’ future only looks brighter with their third new DP Gilberto now in the mix. The Brazilian forward was impressive in his TFC debut—he missed last week’s game and most of the pre-season through injury—linking up well with Defoe up front and showing off his great speed. Nelsen said the duo still needs to iron small things out, but overall he liked what he saw from his new strike partnership.
“I enjoyed playing with (Defoe). We have a lot of similar characteristics when we play together, so it’s easy to communicate on the field. We’re a lot alike in terms of our style” Gilberto said through a translator.
Defoe credited D.C. for making it hard for TFC to break them down on the day.
“It was a difficult game. They made it difficult. The conditions weren’t the best,” Defoe said.
BMO Field’s grass pitch was in terrible condition after a long, cold Toronto winter. Streaks of worn patches blotted the field that looked as though it had been chewed up by a CFL game. The bumpy pitch made it difficult for players to complete accurate passes and maintain their footing. That millions of dollars worth of talent was forced to play on a potato patch of a field should be a source of embarrassment for both TFC and the league. Players were put at risk on this dangerous surface, and it’s lucky that no one was injured.
“The field wasn’t great. But that’s no fault of the grounds men—I blame God for that for the winter he’s given us,” Nelsen quipped.
D.C. coach Ben Olsen was in less of a joking mood, saying: “(The field) was pretty poor. It was as bad as I’ve ever seen in MLS. But both teams had to deal with it and I thought that we actually dealt with it very well.”
Nelsen made one lineup change from last week’s season-opening win in Seattle, swapping in Gilberto for Canadian Dwayne De Rosario. Like in Seattle, Bradley was a bulwark for TFC, living up to his nickname, “The General.” So committed to the cause was the American that he bundled over referee Silviu Petrescu to the ground as he chased down a loose ball near the centre-circle.
Bradley clashed heads with D.C. midfielder Davy Arnaud in the second half, opening up a bloody and long gash. Bradley returned with his head bandaged, and after the game his bald scalp sported a cut closed by 13 stitches.
TFC’s defence was also in fine form, anchored by the strong duo of Doneil Henry and Steven Caldwell. Toronto goalkeeper Julio Cesar was never really tested thanks to the strong play of the back line that negated D.C. forwards Eddie Johnson and Fabian Espindola.
The shoddy pitch didn’t slow Defoe down one bit. The Englishman could have had a hat trick by halftime, but was twice denied by D.C. goalkeeper Bill Hamid after being played into the box by Alavaro Rey and Gilberto. His third attempt, off another pass from Gilberto, hit the post late in the half.
The breakthrough finally came for TFC in the 60th minute. Bradley played a lovely chipped pass over D.C.’s defence that Gilberto ran onto. Hamid stopped the Brazilian’s shot, but the rebound deflected off a D.C. defender to Defoe who calmly slotted it home.
“The ball from Bradley and the run by Gilberto for the goal was gorgeous,” Nelsen opined.
Shortly after the goal, De Rosario came on for Gilberto as a substitute and should have made it 2-0 in the 76th minute after being sent clean on goal by Defoe. De Rosario tried to get too cute, and Hamid did well to swat away his attempt.
Though TFC is off to its best ever start, Nelsen maintained his players must keep their feet on the ground, a sentiment echoed by Bradley.
“It’s still early. It’s still only two games. But better (to have) two wins than two losses,” Bradley offered.
NOTES: D.C. still leads the all-time series against Toronto with 10 wins and three draws in 19 games. TFC is 3-0-1 in its last four meetings with D.C… Saturday’s contest drew international media attention, with reporters from Sports Illustrated, ESPN, and England’s Daily Mail newspaper in the press box… Toronto returns to action on March 29 on the road versus Real Salt Lake… TFC plays D.C. two more times this season: July 5 in Toronto and July 30 in Washington.