Hamilton goal helps TFC tie Impact in pre-season


Toronto FC coach Greg Vanney, pictured above. (Chris Young/CP)

CLEARWATER, Fla. — The Montreal Impact and Toronto FC will head home from MLS pre-season this weekend playing a waiting game with their star strike force.

The issue is more worrying for Toronto, with U.S. international forward Jozy Altidore doubtful for the March 6 opener with a hamstring issue after pulling up at a practice Tuesday. It’s a minor pull but is a concern given Altidore’s hamstring history.

"We’ll see over the next seven days or so how he progresses," said Toronto head coach Greg Vanney.

It’s an unfortunate start for Altidore who rejigged his training regimen and diet during the off-season in a bid to avoid such physical problems.

Toronto also sat out reigning MVP Sebastian Giovinco in Wednesday’s 1-1 tie with Montreal at the Suncoast Invitational. He’s a question-mark for Saturday’s pre-season finale against Philadelphia.

"We hope to have Sebastian ready to go by the weekend but we’re not going to push him if he’s a little sore or anything like that, we’re not going to push it," said Vanney.

"I think he caught a little knock on the nerve on the outside of his leg. It’s nothing more than that. We’re just trying to let the nerve calm down."

Didier Drogba has yet to see action for the Impact after arriving late in camp but there is no concern about the health of the 37-year-old from the Ivory Coast. It’s more a case of getting him game-ready.

"I think he might get some minutes on Saturday (against Tampa Bay)," said Montreal coach Mauro Biello. "He’s been training hard, getting himself ready. Get a few more training sessions under his belt and we’ll see if he can get some minutes on Saturday."

Asked if the plan was to have Drogba ready for 90 minutes in the March 6 season opener in Vancouver, Biello did not directly answer.

"He still needs to get 100 per cent fit," he said in response to another question about Drogba’s minutes. "So we want to make sure he’s in the right condition to play and help this team.

"There’s a lot of travel in this league and we know it’s a grind. We’re going to be able to manage him even in out micro-cycle in training throughout the week and see that he’s fresh and ready to help the team."

A 79th-minute goal by Toronto teenager Jordan Hamilton cancelled out a 22nd-minute score by Dominic Oduro.

The tying goal came after a frantic goalmouth sequence that saw goalkeeper Eric Kronberg make a fine save and an Impact defender clear the ball off the line before the 19-year-old Hamilton banged in the rebound.

Oduro’s goal was the third in two games for the man with the mohawk who used to play for Toronto. Harry Shipp played provider, carving open the Toronto defence with a pass to Oduro, who hammered a right-footed shot past Quillan Roberts.

Wednesday’s game marked the first meeting between the two rivals since Montreal bundled TFC out of the playoffs in 3-0 humiliation at Saputo Stadium.

The teams fielded strong lineups despite resting some marquee names at the Joe DiMaggio Sports Complex, a short drive from the Toronto Blue Jays’ spring training base in nearby Dunedin, Fla., and just across the street from the Phillies’ pre-season home.

Both teams shuffled the deck at halftime.

Only Roberts and midfielder Benoit Cheyrou, serving as captain after Michael Bradley departed, remained on for Toronto. Kronberg, Donny Toia, captain Ignacio Piatti and Oduro stayed on for the Impact.

Even without Drogba, Montreal was able to field an eye-catching strike force, with Oduro’s spiky hairdo matched by rookie Belize forward Michael Salazar’s luxurious afro.

Toronto and Montreal both head home Sunday. The regular season starts March 6 with Montreal in Vancouver and Toronto, which will play its first eight games on the road due to BMO Field renovations, at the New York Red Bulls.

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