VANCOUVER — Toronto FC was guilty of letting opponents reduced to 10 men off the hook far too often last season.
At least for one afternoon, they bucked that trend against a Canadian rival.
Victor Vazquez and Jozy Altidore scored in the second half after Whitecaps midfielder Brek Shea was shown a red card as Toronto beat Vancouver 2-0 on Saturday for its first victory of 2017.
A scrappy match was turned on its head in the 70th minute when Shea was given a yellow for a foul on Nick Hagglund before saying something to referee Ismail Elfath to immediately earn a second booking and a sending off.
"It was a little bit of a stalemate," said Toronto head coach Greg Vanney. "When the red card takes place the game just opens up a tiny bit."
Whitecaps head coach Carl Robinson said he doesn’t condone a lack of discipline, even though it plagued his team last season, but questioned the decision.
"What (Shea) actually told me he said, and I genuinely 100 per cent believe my player, goes on every single minute," said the former Welsh international. "I used to say it every single game 10 times."
Vazquez, a cagey midfielder who signed with Toronto last month, subbed on in the 64th minute and made the hosts pay in the 76th when he nodded his first goal for his new club off a headed feed from Altidore past Spencer Richey.
"I’m really happy," said Vazquez. "To score goals is nice, but today what’s more important is the win."
The Spaniard played 14 years in the Barcelona system prior joining Club Brugge in Belgium and then Mexico’s Cruz Azul last season.
"We had scouted Victor two years ago," said Vanney. "He’s a very clever player. He finds wonderful gaps around the field.
"He sees passes that a lot of guys don’t see and he can get the ball there quickly. It’s something we needed in our midfield."
Altidore put things to bed in the 80th minute after taking a pass and beating Whitecaps defender Kendall Waston before burying his second goal of the Major League Soccer campaign.
"Last year we let a few games get away from us when we went up a guy," said Toronto captain Michael Bradley. "It was nice to capitalize. You saw a group on the field that understood we still had time and needed to be patient."
Playing a third straight road game, Toronto (1-0-2) opened its schedule with a scoreless tie against Real Salt Lake before a 2-2 draw with the Philadelphia Union last weekend.
Vancouver (0-2-1), meanwhile, is winless through three games after falling 3-2 at the San Jose Earthquakes last Saturday and playing the Union to a 0-0 draw at home in its opener at B.C. Place Stadium.
Both teams were missing key pieces for their only league meeting, with Whitecaps goalkeeper David Ousted suspended and star Toronto striker Sebastian Giovinco out with a charley horse.
"A lot of people two years ago talked about our team being a one-man team in a lot of ways because Sebastian is, in my opinion, the best player in the league," said Vanney. "Our team has come a long way over the course of two years. We have a lot of good players … we’ve evolved."
Canadian international Tosaint Ricketts slotted into Giovinco’s spot, while Richey made his first-ever MLS appearance in place of Ousted.
Alex Bono started in goal for Toronto in place of Clint Irwin, who played the first two games.
Vancouver got the game’s first shot on target in the 61st minute when Russell Teibert tested the Toronto ‘keeper from distance.
The second half had more flow than a forgettable opening 45 minutes, and Justin Morrow forced Richey into his first MLS save on an effort from 20 yards out in the 66th before Shea’s sending off four minutes later.
Tempers started to flare near the end of the match, with Bradley shown a yellow in the 87th after the teams came together near the centre circle.
"If you’re going to make key decisions at key moments, (it has to) be the same across the board," said Robinson. "Watching today’s game, it might not be the case."
After a busy start to the season that included Tuesday’s 2-0 loss in Mexico to Tigres UANL in the CONCACAF Champions League, the Whitecaps will welcome the rest that comes with next weekend’s international window. Vancouver returns to action at B.C. Place against the L.A. Galaxy on April 1.
Toronto, meanwhile, opens its home schedule March 31.
"There’s still a lot to work on," said Bradley. "But through three games to be unbeaten, to have five points … we’re excited."