Altidore, Toronto FC cruise to first victory of MLS season

Toronto FC forward Jozy Altidore (17) celebrates his second goal of the match with teammate Jonathan Osorio (21) during first half MLS soccer action against the Real Salt Lake, in Toronto, Friday, March 30, 2018. (Frank Gunn/CP)

• Real Salt Lake 1 (Phillips 82’), Toronto FC 3 (Altidore 23’ and 45’, Ricketts 90’ + 2’)
• TFC earns its 1st win, scores 1st goal of MLS season
• Absence of 4 starters didn’t slow down the Reds

TORONTO – That’s more like it.

Shut out and winless through its first two games of the campaign, Toronto FC finally came good on Good Friday, earning a 3-1 win over Real Salt Lake.

Jozy Altidore was the hero for the Reds, with the American international earning a first-half brace before an ecstatic crowd of 28,006 fans on a frigid night at BMO Field. Canadian Tosaint Ricketts also scored for TFC.

Despite its laboured start to the MLS campaign, Toronto wasn’t in panic mode entering Friday’s contest. Last year, they earned just one win and seven points through their first six games. We all know how things turned out in the end.

Still, it had to be gnawing at the reigning MLS Cup champions to see themselves in the basement of the Eastern Conference, even this early in the season when most people pay no attention to the standings. Regardless of the time of year, losses deeply wound the pride of a TFC side that expects to win each time it steps onto the pitch.

“We kind of looked at it as giving the rest of the league a two-game head start,” midfielder Jonathan Osorio joked with Sportsnet.

“I say that because that’s how confident we are. We let two games slide that maybe we shouldn’t have, but it’s part of the season, and the season is long. We know we have a lot of football left to play, and we have a level to reach that we’re not even close to yet.”

Altidore concurred.

“We’ve been stuttering the first couple games of the season, so to finally get some points on the board, it’s positive, right? We’re not in the cellar any more looking up at everybody else,” Altidore told reporters after Friday’s win.

Altidore will garner the headlines on account of his scoring exploits, but this was a balanced and complete team performance. Toronto largely controlled the match, with captain Michael Bradley acting as a reference point in central midfield, and Dutchman Gregory van der Wiel, playing in the middle of defence instead of his usual spot on the right, providing stability and safe ball movement out from the back.

“He’s super comfortable on the ball, and playing out of situations, and dealing with pressure. … He helped us in terms of [keeping possession] and getting attacks started, and choosing great passes,” coach Greg Vanney said of van der Wiel.

TFC was without three key starters against Real Salt Lake in defender Chris Mavinga (lower body), fullback Justin Morrow (calf) and midfielder Victor Vazquez (back). Also, backup goalkeeper Clint Irwin started in place of Alex Bono, making his first appearance since Sept. 23, 2017. Canadian defender Ashtone Morgan earned a rare start.

“We had a lot of injuries today, and a lot of guys playing in different positions. Again, you saw the depth. … Everybody chipping in, it was terrific,” Altidore said.

The first half was all TFC, with the home side dictating the pace of the game, and laying siege upon Salt Lake’s goal through the attacking quartet of Altidore, Osorio, Sebastian Giovinco and Marky Delgado. Giovinco played Altidore in on goal early on, only for goalkeeper Nick Rimando to come up with a big save. Moments later, Rimando denied Giovinco from the penalty spot after Salt Lake’s Damir Kreilach was judged to have handled the ball.

Toronto was awarded another penalty, this time when Justin Glad barged into Altidore on an odd-man break. The American stepped up to the spot and emphatically hammered home his spot kick past a helpless Rimando. Altidore doubled the Reds’ advantage just before halftime, beating Rimando from in close off a pass from Morgan. The goal was Altidore’s 50th for TFC in all competitions.

“It’s not bad. Three years in change, 50 goals. I’m happy with that,” Altidore quipped.

The visitors nearly pulled a goal back just after the break. Luis Silva slipped a ball through to Joao Plata, but Irwin was quick off his line to stop the Ecuadorian. Toronto defender Drew Moor failed to clear his lines, and Demar Phillips capitalized by notching a late goal for RSL to make things interesting, before Ricketts scored deep into injury time, slamming home a rebound off Ager Aketxe’s shot that smacked the crossbar.

NOTES: Real Salt Lake leads the all-time series against Toronto, with eight wins and three draws in 17 meetings. This was the only meeting of the season between the two clubs… TFC hosts Mexican side Club America next Tuesday in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals. The return match is April 10 in Mexico City. TFC booked its spot in the final four of the continental competition after besting Mexican club Tigres in the previous round.

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