Giovinco scores first goal as TFC held to draw by Atlanta

Toronto FC forward Sebastian Giovinco (10). (Chris Young/CP)

• MLS, BMO Field – Atlanta 2 (Villalba 15’, ‘47), Toronto 2 (Giovinco 20’, Morrow 44’)
• Giovinco scored his 1st goal of the season
• TFC unbeaten in five games, with 4 draws

TORONTO — Atlanta United FC is not your typical Major League Soccer expansion franchise.

Toronto FC learned that first hand on Saturday night after being held to a 2-2 draw by the first-year club in a wildly entertaining affair before 26,812 spectators.

Sebastian Giovinco scored his first goal of the campaign, while Justin Morrow also tallied for TFC. Victor Vazquez had a hand in setting up both goals. Atlanta played the final 15 minutes a man down after Yamil Asad was sent off for violent conduct.

Coached by former FC Barcelona manager Gerardo Martino and boasting a collection of exciting South American youngsters on the pitch, Atlanta has been the story of the season thus far, winning plaudits for an attacking style that is very easy on the eyes. While defensively suspect at times during Saturday’s affair, Martino’s men marched into BMO Field and went move for move with one of the best attacking teams in the league—and they came out on the other side to tell about it, earning a valuable road point.

TFC remains undefeated, with one win in five games, and they’ll no doubt hate having to settle for a draw at home. But the Reds will also count themselves somewhat fortunate to take a point off an Atlanta outfit that seems poised to disrupt the natural order in MLS.

Coach Greg Vanney wasn’t eager to give Atlanta too much credit, though. He bemoaned TFC’s defending on both Atlanta goals, which he called preventable. That was the difference in the game, according to Vanney, although he also admitted his team squandered scoring chances on the night.

“We weren’t good enough on two plays, and we didn’t score more goals … For me, for much of the game it was our best performance of the year by quite a margin,” Vanney stated.

“If you want to dole out credit, yeah, they went for [it] and we should have punished them much more than we did. That’s my honest opinion. … They’re a good [attacking] team, there’s no question about that. Where we should have hurt them was on the other side.”

Veteran defender Drew Moor called Atlanta a good team, but he also agreed with his coach’s assessment, saying, “We weren’t good enough on two plays. That’s really all I felt like they had.”

Captain Michael Bradley was far more complimentary towards Atlanta.

“You give them credit because they have fast, mobile guys in attack. They have good ideas in terms of how they want to move off of each other and how they want to try to create chances. They present some interesting challenges,” Bradley conceded.

With Clint Irwin out long-term (hamstring strain), backup goalkeeper Alex Bono made his third appearance (and second start) of the season. Morrow returned to the starting lineup at the expense of Raheem Edwards after missing last week’s game with a heel injury. Other changes included defender Chris Mavinga (making his first start for TFC) in place of Nick Hagglund, midfielder Armando Cooper for Jonathan Osorio and forward Jozy Altidore for Tosaint Ricketts. Atlanta was without Venezuelan forward and top scorer Josef Martinez (five goals in three matches) because of a quad injury.

The opening half was a breathless thrill ride—end-to-end action played at a fervent pace between two teams dedicated to attacking without fear. Both sides took advantage of the huge swathes of open space afforded them at times to carve out a handful of scoring opportunities. Giovinco could have easily had a hat trick in the first 45 minutes, and Altidore, like his Italian teammate, also spurned a glorious chance.

It was Atlanta who struck first, catching the Reds napping while in transition. Miguel Almiron played a fabulous ball that released Hector Villalba on goal, and the Argentine whipped a powerful attempt past Bono. It was a shot that Bono should have saved, but the TFC goalkeeper was also left badly exposed on the play by his defenders and midfielders.

TFC quickly levelled the score. Vazquez chipped a ball into the box, and Altidore pulled off an audacious back-heel, flicking it on for Giovinco who side-footed it home from in close. From Vazquez’s initial delivery, to Altidore’s sublime touch, to Giovinco’s fabulous finish, this was easily one of the most brilliantly crafted goals ever scored at BMO Field.

The Reds doubled their advantage just before the break. Vazquez showed great patience in picking out Steven Beitashour down the right flank after an Atlanta giveaway. The streaking Beitashour then played a low cross into the box, and Morrow astutely ran across two defenders in front of the Atlanta goal towards the near post to score on a tap-in.

The bustling pace continued right from the start of the second half. Villalba latched on to a fantastic 60-metre pass from defender Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, taking it in full stride as he slipped in behind Mavinga—who didn’t read the play quickly enough to adjust—and slotted his shot through Bono’s legs.

Things turned sour in the 75th minute when Asad was red-carded after he elbowed Toronto’s Eriq Zavaleta in the back of the head in an off-the-ball incident. There didn’t appear to be much contact, but Asad’s elbow attempt was still stupid, and he deserved to be sent off.

“I watched the replay—he comes high with elbow and catches me in the back of the head. In my opinion, it’s not even close—it’s a red card,” Zavaleta stated.

NOTES: Toronto FC visits the Columbus Crew next Saturday. The Reds then return home for three consecutive matches at BMO Field: Chicago Fire (April 21), Houston Dynamo (April 28) and Orlando City (May 3).

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