Altidore, Pozuelo efforts not enough as TFC suffer first loss

Toronto FC forward Jozy Altidore celebrates after he scored against Seattle on Saturday. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Toronto FC 2 (Altidore 11’, 70’), Seattle Sounders 3 (Bruin 24’, 66’; Roldan 68’)
• Toronto suffers 1st loss; now 3-1-1 on the season
• Altidore bags a brace; leads TFC with 5 goals

Major League Soccer’s newest “Dynamic Duo” was at it again on Saturday.

This time, though, there was no storybook ending for Toronto FC.

Alejandro Pozuelo set up both of Jozy Altidore’s goals on Saturday, but TFC suffered their first defeat of the season after coming out on the wrong end of a 3-2 road loss against the Seattle Sounders.

Toronto drops to 3-1-1, while Seattle (5-0-1) remains undefeated.

Pozuelo continues to impress since signing as TFC’s latest Designated Player last month. The Spanish creator has two goals and four assists in his three appearances for Toronto, proving thus far to be more than a suitable replacement for former chief playmaker Victor Vazquez.

More important, Pozuelo has forged an instant attacking relationship with Altidore that should strike fear into the hearts of defenders across the league. Altidore netted his team-leading fifth goal of the campaign on Saturday, and Pozuelo has assisted on four of them.

Injuries forced Toronto coach Greg Vanney to make a pair of lineup changes, replacing defenders Drew Moor (groin) and Auro Jr. (hamstring) with Laurent Ciman and Eriq Zavaleta. It was Zavaleta’s first MLS start and appearance since last October, as Vanney went with three centre backs in a 3-5-2 formation.

Moor’s calming absence and organizational skills were missed, as too many times Seattle’s pulsating attack easily sliced through TFC’s defence.

“I think it’s frustrating. We’re up 1-0 and have decent control of things. They’re a good attacking team so sometimes we’re going to have to withstand some things in the attack and defensively be solid. I thought we were able to find some moments in possession as well, but that faded as the game progressed and then ended up with us defending a little more,” Vanney told reporters after the game.

Vanney rested starting goalkeeper Alex Bono in favour of backup Quentin Westberg, who made his MLS debut on Saturday after signing with the Reds prior to the beginning of the MLS season.

Westberg looked comfortable in his first league start, and was effective in starting attacking plays with his solid distribution. It’ll be interesting to see whether this was a one-off, or whether Westberg, who was somewhat suspect on Seattle’s third goal, did enough to convince Vanney to continue to play him instead of Bono.

“He’s very comfortable with his feet and he’s looking for passes out of the back. He’s picking out spots. He’s a dynamic, athletic goalkeeper so he’s coming off his line quick. He’s just a different kind of goalkeeper so you want to give him a shot to see what he’s going to add to our team to have him ready. And to create competition as well. I think that should be important everywhere,” Vanney explained.

It took only 11 minutes for Pozuelo and Altidore to hook up. The Spaniard delivered a gorgeous, defence-splitting cross, with two Seattle players looking to close him down, to the far post for his teammate to powerfully head home. Altidore has now scored in four consecutive games.

Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei, formerly of TFC, registered back-to-back shutouts and three clean sheets in five games ahead of Saturday’s contest. Altidore’s goal ended his shutout streak at 232 minutes.

“It was a really good first touch, you just go in the moment when he’s ready to play the ball. I try to go in those moments and make the good movement and yeah, he’s very good at picking out a pass,” Altidore said.

Toronto’s lead was short-lived. Seattle’s Will Bruin feasted on some lax defending inside the box to score on a diving header off a deflected cross past a helpless Westberg. The Sounders bossed the rest of the opening half with their quick play in transition and down the wings, exposing TFC’s back line on a number of occasions.

Vanny made adjustments at the start of the second half, bringing on Canadian midfielder Jay Chapman for Zavaleta, and changing formations by dropping wingbacks Nick DeLeon and Justin Morrow into a four-man defence. Captain Michael Bradley also dropped back to help the defence. Ciman and fellow centre-back Chris Mavinga were called upon to put out a number of fires, as the Sounders laid siege upon Toronto’s 18-yard box.

Seattle’s pressure paid off when it scored a pair of goals within two minutes. Brad Smith delivered a dangerous ball from the left wing deep into the box for Bruin to slot past Westberg, and Cristian Roldan beat the TFC goalkeeper with a shot from in close after a pass by Kelvin Leerdam cut open the defence.

It looked as though the game had quickly slipped away from the visitors, but then Pozuelo played a great through-ball that Altidore latched onto and beat Frei at the far post as he held off a Seattle defender.

Pozuelo nearly equalized for TFC deep into injury time, but Frei came up with a fabulous fingertip save to deny the Spaniard. Moments later, Ciman’s shot from outside the box hit the post, and Seattle held on for the win.

“Obviously, we let things get away from us with a bad [two] minutes in the second half. The response was pretty good to get back to 3-2 and we had chances to get the equalizer. It’s still early. We still feel like we’re going in the right direction. We have some details to look at and brush up on, but now we have to get ready for two difficult games in a row,” Bradley stated.

NOTES: Seattle leads the all-time regular-season series against Toronto with nine wins and two draws in 14 meetings… TFC’s next match is at home vs. Minnesota United on April 19.

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