It seems the soccer gods wanted to rub it in a little bit. Mere months on from losing the MLS Cup final on penalty kicks, they once again cost Toronto FC a win in their 2017 season opener against Real Salt Lake.
Nick Rimando, the league’s resident spot-kick-stopping expert, denied Sebastian Giovinco and Toronto all three points when the Atomic Ant’s penalty was driven safely into his gloves. Giovinco’s placement from 12 yards is well known at this point; he’s going to go bottom left. This time he wasn’t able to hit it far enough into the corner.
It means Toronto leave Sandy, Utah with just a single point in a 0-0 draw. The Reds could have easily collected two more in what was a solid road performance, but a point at Rio Tinto is always a respectable result.
Toronto, despite being the visitors, outpossessed their opponents with 50.5 per cent of the ball and looked to be the aggressor for the most part, especially in the first half. Both teams had three shots on target, but it is fair to say Toronto’s were more threatening.
The TFC backline did a great job of shutting down Yura Movsisyan and the Real Salt Lake attack. Eriq Zavaleta, in particular, turned in a monster performance for Toronto, recording three tackles, four interceptions, nine clearances and two blocked shots according to WhoScored. Moor, meanwhile, did a solid job of shutting down Movsisyan, who did not have a shot on target.
It is a massive positive to see the backline picking up where it left off last season, when they allowed the second-least goals against in the league. The offence, however, wasn’t quite as impressive. With a few notable exceptions, including the move that led to Giovinco’s penalty, Toronto struggled to transition into the final third.
In that regard all three designated players had forgettable games. Giovinco, aside from the penalty miss, struggled to find space all game. He had the lowest pass accuracy of any outfield TFC player at just 52.9% and his touch let him down, too, being dispossessed three times.
Michael Bradley’s performance wasn’t so much poor as it was bland. The Toronto captain, who went into beast mode during the 2016 playoffs, didn’t register a single tackle against RSL and only had one interception. Altidore was the best of the trio with a couple of solid scoring chances, but his finishing left something to be desired.
Looking to find a way through the RSL backline late in the match, Toronto swapped Jonathan Osorio for the newest member of the team, Victor Vazquez. This is perhaps an early indication of which TFC midfielder will lose his starting spot once Vazquez reaches game shape, but that remains to be seen.
Vazquez was as advertised, with a 87.5% pass accuracy and three of the four long balls he played finding their target. However, he was unable to exert any influence on the scoreboard and it was clear that he is not ready to start matches just yet.
Greg Vanney must have been at least a little tempted to trot out Tosaint Ricketts, who was the club’s most potent option off the bench last year, but in this case it was probably best that he didn’t, instead reinforcing the midfield with Marky Delgado. On the road at this stage of the season, ensuring a point is more important than chasing all three.
Even the best teams in MLS tend to average about a point per game on the road, so in that sense this was a job well done. Saturday did not deliver the barnstorming opening-night performance that has been the norm for Toronto in recent years, ending a three-year run of victories in the first game of the season. But a solid road point and performance is a fine way to start the 2017 campaign, even if it wasn’t overly entertaining.