ORLANDO, Fla. — Captain Michael Bradley scored a goal and helped set up the other as Toronto defeated defending MLS champion Columbus SC 2-0 Wednesday for its first league victory of the young season.
Bradley scored in the 13th minute and Jozy Altidore added an insurance goal in the 87th after Omar Gonzalez headed on a Bradley free kick to the burly striker, who nodded it home.
The score could easily have been more lopsided, with Toronto (1-2-1) hitting the crossbar twice. TFC also had a penalty appeal for handball turned down in the 82nd minute.
In earning his first victory at Toronto's helm, coach Chris Armas got a vastly improved performance from his team. TFC looked far more poised and less error-prone than in its previous league outings.
Toronto came into the game having won just once (1-4-2) in all competitions in 2021.
It was a first loss of the season for Columbus (1-1-2), which was missing a slew of injured players. The Crew arrived unbeaten in eight straight matches (6-0-2) counting last season’s playoffs.
Columbus's last loss in MLS play was a 2-1 defeat at Orlando on Nov. 4, 2020.
Bradley, enjoying more freedom to come forward under Armas, had a fine game with a rare goal and some deft playmaking.
Venezuelan international winger/forward Yeferson Soteldo, who saw 34 minutes off the bench in his debut on the weekend, made his first start for Toronto and looked dangerous in the first half. He was substituted in the 64th minute after a quiet start to the second half, with newly signed Jamaican international Kemar Lawrence coming on to make his TFC debut.
The five-foot-two 121-pound Soteldo, who took turns on the left and right wing as well as behind striker Ayo Akinola, delivered a probing free kick early on, and showed a good passing touch. Skillful on the ball, he promises to be a handful for MLS defenders.
Soteldo almost opened his scoring account in the 26th minute when Nick DeLeon's shot hit the crossbar and cropped in front of the Venezuelan. Soteldo's shot was headed towards goal until a sliding Saad Abdul-Salaam got a foot to the ball, prompting the Venezuelan to look skywards in disbelief.
Bradley scored early, on his second shot attempt after a goalmouth scramble that saw the ball hit at least 10 bodies following a Soteldo corner.
It was Bradley's 13th career goal in MLS and his first since Sept 7, 2019. It also marked just the second goal conceded by Columbus in four MLs games this season.
Armas made one change from the starting 11 beaten 2-0 Saturday at the New York Red Bulls with Soteldo replacing teenager Jayden Nelson. Altidore came on in the 62nd minute and hit the crossbar in the 75th after neatly making room for the shot.
Forward Dom Dwyer, formally added to the TFC roster Tuesday, did not dress.
Columbus coach Caleb Porter made five changes to the team that dispatched D.C. United 3-1 on the weekend.
Both clubs have had to balance MLS and Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League play while dealing with a lengthy injury list.
Reigning league MVP Alejandro Pozuelo (thigh) has yet to feature for Toronto this season but is said to be nearing a return. Midfielder Jonathan Osorio (thigh), another important part of the TFC puzzle, did not dress.
Columbus was without Kevin Molino (hamstring), Aidan Morris (knee), Marlon Hairston (knee), Perry Kitchen (thigh) and Milton Valenzuela (thigh), Pedro Santos (knee) and former TFC defender Josh Williams (shoulder).
Abdul-Salaam and Romanian midfielder Alex Matan made their first starts for the Crew. Columbus dressed just six substitutes, compared to nine for Toronto.
It was 27 degrees Celsius at kickoff at Exploria Stadium, which was hit by a downpour as the teams warmed up.
Toronto 'keeper Alex Bono made a fine save in the 16th minute to deny Zardes from close range after the Crew attacker lost his defender. Bono was called into action again in the 31st, tipping a hard Luis Diaz shot over the bar.
Columbus had more of the ball as the first half wore on but had a hard time penetrating the Toronto defence.
Columbus was saved by a Darlington Nagbe goal-line clearance in the 53rd minute when Gonzalez got a foot to a Soteldo corner. Soon after Bono was booked for taking down a Columbus player with a rash challenge outside his penalty box.
Diaz shot just wide in the 58th minute off a Columbus corner.
Wednesday's game was Columbus’s fourth in 12 days. Toronto was playing its third game in nine days with a match at New York City FC to come Saturday.
Toronto opened the MLS season with a 4-2 loss to CF Montreal before tying the Vancouver Whitecaps 2-2 and losing to the Red Bulls. That marked the first time TFC has begun the MLS season winless in its first three matches since 2012
Columbus played the Philadelphia Union and CF Montreal to scoreless draws before downing D.C. United.
NOTES: Wednesday marked the first time in eight outings in 2021 that Toronto had played in the same stadium … Toronto came into the contest having lost just one of its nine previous matches against Columbus (5-1-3 including the 2017 playoffs) … The game marked the 14th anniversary of Danny Dichio scoring TFC's first-ever goal … Canadian midfielder Liam Fraser, on loan to Columbus from TFC, was unable to play under terms of the teams' loan agreement … Toronto and Columbus play again May 29 in Ohio.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 12, 2021
The Canadian Press