It’s not often that Toronto FC go 210 minutes without a goal.
But after playing out 0-0 draw in a season opener similar, in many ways, to December’s MLS Cup final - only without an ending of crushing disappointment - the Reds remain off the scoresheet since the Eastern Conference final.
Play like they did here against Real Salt Lake and on December 10, however, and more often than not Toronto will win. We have seen enough from Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore to know that this team does not have a problem in terms of taking its chances in front of goal, and the likelihood is this ‘drought’ will end when Toronto take on the Philadelphia Union next weekend.
The key is ensuring the defence holds up well enough to make the goals of Giovinco and Altidore count, and Toronto - despite ending up with 17 shots against in total - looked assured in that regard against Jeff Cassar’s team. Eriq Zavaleta was particularly impressive and put himself ahead in the race to stay in the back three when Chris Mavinga comes into contention.
Behind the defence, Clint Irwin had just three saves to make and was only really threatened once, when Joao Plata’s attempted lob cleared the crossbar after a smart chipped pass from Kyle Beckerman. Vanney will be satisfied with that in a road game against a 2016 playoff team despite some late pressure.
No one is going to claim this was a perfect opening-day display, but all it was really missing was a goal. Toronto, and particularly Giovinco, lacked sharpness in the final third and having failed to find a way through in the opening 75 minutes, they wasted chances to capitalize late on when the hosts sent extra men forward in search of a winner.
When the Atomic Ant picks the ball up in the opposition half, pushes it inside and sets off on a run, good things usually follow - but in this match his shots were blocked, passes were cut out and dribbles subdued. Having already missed a penalty, his day was summed up when he was harshly booked for attempting to get a toe to a ball Nick Rimando just beat him to.
Altidore had more joy, setting the tone early in the first half by drilling a low shot just wide before being denied by Rimando from closer range. His best moment came after the break, when he shrugged off the 6’ 4” Chris Schuler like he was Plata and found Giovinco in the box, only for David Horst to block a goal-bound shot with his head.
The player Toronto hope will prevent repeats of the MLS Cup final, of course, is Victor Vazquez, but while he showed some nice touches in his 30-minute cameo - and played one particularly good long-range pass to Giovinco - he looks short of match fitness and his introduction may have been slightly counter-productive. If not for his desire to get the Spaniard some minutes, Vanney probably would have introduced Tosaint Ricketts in place of Jonathan Osorio and dropped Giovinco into midfield - a potent recipe late in games last season.
That he did turn to Vazquez, however, speaks to the fact that this is day one of a long, long campaign. After six weeks of football in which results were everything, Toronto are now back to prioritizing the process over the outcome. That will take some adjusting to for players and fans alike and this result felt mildly frustrating as a consequence, but there was enough evidence here to suggest Toronto remain on the right path.