Defoe scores third MLS goal as Toronto wins home-opener game
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press
Published Saturday, March 22, 2014 6:53PM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, March 22, 2014 9:18PM EDT
TORONTO -- Just two games into the 2014 MLS season, Toronto FC is experiencing new heights.
England star Jermain Defoe is scoring goals as befitting his monster salary. American international Michael Bradley is pulling the strings in midfield. And everyone else is playing their part.
It's early days yet but Toronto, once the MLS doormat, is off to its best start ever at 2-0-0 and drawing a crowd on and off the pitch.
On Saturday, the TFC dressing room was crammed with reporters eager to tell the story of Toronto's 1-0 win over D.C. United in the home opener before an announced -- and enthusiastic -- sellout crowd of 22,591 at BMO Field.
Defoe emerged from the shower in a towel and flip-flops to find a mass of humanity in front of his stall. "I'd forgotten about this," he said with a smile.
The 31-year-old forward, used to reporter-free dressing rooms in England, must have felt like he was starring in "Magic Mike" as he dressed in front of some three dozen members of the media. Canadian midfielder Jonathan Osorio, who dresses two stalls down, had to scale his locker like he was climbing Everest just to get to his gear.
Toronto loves a winner. It's just never seen one wearing Toronto FC gear.
Still manager Ryan Nelsen is preaching caution at this early stage of the franchise's eighth season.
"I don't think we're a top team right now," he said. "We're very well organized but I don't think we've seen the best of us. And you won't see the best of us because we're still new."
"I think we still have a long way to go as a team," he added. "We'll play better than that probably and lose games."
Toronto started six players Saturday who weren't with the club last year.
Defoe, who scored twice in his MLS debut last week in Seattle, could have had four goals Saturday before he finally scored in the 60th minute after Brazilian strike partner Gilberto was sent in alone by a beautiful through ball from Bradley.
Goalie Bill Hamid made the save but the ball was cleared only as far as Defoe, who got the ball out from under his feet and hammered home a right-footed shot.
The goal, which featured all three of TFC's designated players, was a model of efficiency.
Brazilian international goalie Julio Cesar started the play, booting the ball up field. A D.C. United player headed it back towards the Toronto end but TFC captain Steven Caldwell nipped in and sent it to Osorio. The 21-year-old Canadian quickly gave it to Bradley, who lofted a pass over the defence to Gilberto.
The day offered thin gruel for D.C. United (0-2-0), which has yet to score this season after being beaten 3-0 by the Columbus Crew in its season opener two weeks ago.
"I don't think D.C. broke us down very often at all," said Nelsen. "And you look at our chances we had to score."
Defoe's three goals in two games would have tied him for third overall in Toronto FC scoring over the entire 2013 season.
After a brutal winter that included one last snowfall overnight, the ravaged grass at BMO Field made for a choppy game. It might as well have been played on a cowpatch.
"The field was not conducive to playing any sport of football," Nelsen said by way of understatement.
"But that's no fault of the groundskeeper," he added with a smile. "I blame God for that at the moment for the winter he's given Toronto."
In addition to having a predator up front, Toronto is also looking a lot harder this season.
Caldwell has added to the spine of the club since his arrival last season but the presence of Bradley has helped.
The American literally ran over referee Silviu Petrescu in the first half, knocking the official down as he steamed towards the visitors' penalty box.
And he kept playing after a nasty clash of heads in the second half knocked Davy Arnaud out of the game. The shaven-headed Bradley, who returned to the fray with a bandage, was sporting an ugly array of staples to close the head wound after the game.
"You can see now there's a bit of hardness to us, to tell you the truth," said Nelsen, who was tough as nails himself as a player. "That, no disrespect to the past, I don't think we've had."
D.C. United coach Ben Olsen, while noting both teams had to play on the surface, called the pitch "as bad as I've ever seen in the MLS."
Be it artificial turf (last week in Seattle) or just bad turf, Toronto is winning.
Just two games into the 2014 schedule, TFC has already one-third of the victories it collected last season when the team went 6-17-11.
Toronto's previous best opening was a 1-0-1 start in 2009. In 2012, it took the team 14 games to record two victories.
Nelsen's team will no doubt face a stiffer test next weekend at Real Salt Lake (1-0-2).
While the overnight snowfall had dissipated by kickoff, fans had to contend with a partial shutdown of the subway system as well as an AHL game and the National Home Show on the Exhibition grounds Saturday.
The crowd was announced as a sellout, but there were some empty seats.
Defoe called the atmosphere "unbelievable."
"From Minute One, the stadium was rocking."
It was two degrees at kickoff although a stiff wind did little to make it a pleasant afternoon. Neither did the pitch, which started cutting up in the first half.
Toronto's Brazilian midfielder Jackson received a yellow card in the 50th minute for what looked like an elbow off the ball.
"It looked pretty bad," D.C. defender Bobby Boswell said.
Said Nelsen: "I think the referee saw it and he gave him a yellow card. So it's been dealt with, isn't it?"
D.C. United was the worst team in the league last season at 3-24-7 but made wholesale changes during the off-season.
"It's a loss but I think when I look back, I think we will see that we really took some steps forward." said Olsen.