One goal can go a long way.
Victor Vazquez’s first for Toronto FC, a header after tidy set-up work from Jozy Altidore and Raheem Edwards, earned the Reds their first win of the 2017 season.
But it also meant more; it made a success of the three-game road trip to start the campaign, it rewarded the new signing for an excellent cameo from the substitutes’ bench and banished the memory of Toronto’s woeful record against 10 men last year.
If anyone had forgotten - or just buried it in the back of their mind - Toronto spent 207 minutes playing with the opposition a man (or two) down in 2016. They scored one goal and conceded two in that time, with one of the goals allowed coming against nine men in a 2-1 loss to the San Jose Earthquakes.
In the end, it turned into the way to play against Toronto: defend deep and attack on the break. It might have worked for the Montreal Impact in the Eastern Conference final if not for the Reds’ proficiency from set pieces, and the Seattle Sounders had more luck in the season finale.
So while it may seem like a footnote, the way Toronto reacted to Brek Shea’s sending off was a major box ticked. After Vazquez had replaced Armando Cooper - who was frustrating again - the speed of the team’s passing picked up and more runs were made between and beyond the lines, creating overloads in the final third. Edwards, meanwhile, injected pace and width and the switch that saw Justin Morrow drop into the back three to make room for the youngster on the wing could be one we see regularly this season.
For the record, Shea absolutely deserved to be sent off for - you do not need a professional lip reader to establish - aiming a “fuck you” in referee Ismail Elfath’s direction before having the arrogance to follow it up with “yeah, I said it”. It was a second yellow card and not a straight red, for starters, and Carl Robinson’s assertion afterwards that behaviour like that is commonplace is just not true. Players swear, they complain and they can even get away with acting in an aggressive manner towards officials, but direct verbal abuse does not often go unpunished, and nor should it.
It might have cost Vancouver the game, anyway, and increased Toronto’s chances of securing a result that will see them return to BMO Field more than satisfied with their efforts through the first three weeks of the season. The Reds have five goals, five points and two clean sheets and while they may not have faced an MLS Cup contender, the elements made the first two fixtures difficult and unpredictable.
By the second half at BC Place the sun was shining, and as the weather improved so did Toronto’s performance. Greg Vanney’s best players played like his best players; Drew Moor and Michael Bradley turned in their most accomplished displays of the season so far and Altidore, who has been Toronto’s leading man through three games but only had one penalty goal to show for it, will feel a lot better for his turn and blast past Whitecaps debutant Spencer Richey.
The mantra for this team never really changes; defend properly and they will, eventually, score enough to be successful. “Playing on the road is about playing smart, it’s about doing the right thing, staying solid and giving yourself the best chance over the course of the match to find the moments to win the game,” Vanney said. Not every moment has been perfect, but Toronto can now take a step back and look at their start to the new season as a whole with satisfaction.