So Toronto FC have bought an anthem. We're not too surprised, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, the Reds' parent organisation, have so much money that anthropomorphic ducks swimming through it is a genuine concern. They have money to burn, and they frequently do. For this season at least, John Newman's "Love Me Again" will serve as their anthem. It is an immensely likeable song. It's catchy, memorable, the kind of song you can dance to, and it will get stuck in your head. If you haven't already, we recommend you watch it, and if you do, be sure to listen all the way through. Trust us, it's worth the wait.
Love Me Again draws inspiration from the Shakespearean tragedy Romeo and Juliet. As you're no doubt familiar with that story, we won't bore you with the details, except to call attention to the ending. In Shakespeare's original work, Romeo and Juliet poison themselves.
In John Newman's song, they get hit by a truck.
And that brings us back to Toronto FC. Their new anthem ends in a car crash. If we had tried, we couldn't have made that up. Last year, the Reds spent $16.7 million on players, which was $3.5 million more than the Los Angeles Galaxy, who assembled the second most expensive squad. Los Angeles finished second in the table and won the Anschutz Cup that year. Toronto finished in the bottom half of the table. Clearly, money can buy success, but not when you spend it like Toronto.
During the close season, designated player Michael Bradley controversially took the armband away from Toronto's long time Captain Steven Caldwell. The club also sent the disgruntled Jermaine Defoe back to England, and brought in Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore. But that meant they had too many designated players, so they had to loan Gilberto to Brazilian side Vasco da Gama. Last year they had a similar problem, with Matías Laba being the odd man out. That worked out well for Vancouver, but the same could not be said for Toronto.
With the Bradly, Giovinco, and Altidore, the Reds brass hopes to finally have a squad that can fire them into the postseason. The ninth time is the charm, right? We're understand that is a Toronto saying.
The road to the Anschutz Cup began on Saturday at BC Place when the Reds visited Vancouver Whitecaps FC. Where Toronto had something of a turbulent offseason, Vancouver's was largely uneventful. The Caps signed some academy graduates to homegrown contracts, they added a couple of centre backs, and they brought in a young designated player in Octavio Rivero. This year's Whitecaps look more or less the same as last year's edition. But that's not a bad thing.
There is nothing wrong with tinkering. You don't have to rebuild as long as the foundation is there. Rivero had a fantastic opportunity to open the scoring in the eighth minute when Russell Teibert delivered a brilliant through ball, but the Uruguayan is still getting used to playing on Turf. He got a taste of it down in Portland, but this was his first time playing a competitive match at BC Place.
But it will come. Yesterday, Rivero was the very last player to leave the training pitch at BC Place. He's going to figure it out, and with his work ethic, it's going to come sooner than later.
His strike partner of the evening, Kekuta Manneh, also had some early chances. In the 13th minute, he was given the chance to go one v one with Toronto FC goalkeeper Joe Bendik. The ball was on his weaker left foot, so the Gambian tried to turn it back towards his preferred right, but the turn cost him. He could have gotten off a shot, and even if he didn't score, there might have been a rebound for one of his teammates to collect. But instead, the ball was poked away and the attack fizzled.
Toronto had their chances too. Giovinco came close to scoring in the 18th minute. Jonathan Osorio set Michael Bradley up near the top of the penalty arc, though Jordan Harvey was able to get a boot in the way. The ball deflected through a mass of bodies, landing near Giovinco, whose final effort drifted mere inches from the far post.
Less than a minute later, Octavio Rivero slid the ball through the sprawling Bendik's legs to put the home side up by one. With his drive, determination, and technical ability, it will go down as the first of many.
Up until this point, it was a fairly clean match. There were tackles, some spirited ones to be sure, but there was no malice or forethought behind them. With Rivero's goal, that changed.
It started in 24th minute when Michael Bradley committed a professional foul. The ball was already past him, and soon Mauro Rosales would be too, so Bradley stuck his right leg out, stopping Rosales cold. There was no attempt to play the ball. Bradley wanted to stop Rosales, and he got his man.
Referee Kevin Scott was likely unsighted, and that is the only reason that Bradley did not see his name go in the book. At least we hope that's the reason. As Rosales lay on the ground, Matías Laba, Pedro Morales, Kendall Waston, Russell Teibert, and the 21,000-strong crowd implored Scott to reach into his pocket, but he would not see reason.
Not two minutes later, Bradley was at it again, this time tackling Vancouver Captain Pedro Morales from behind. Again, he played the man, not the ball. But whereas it could be argued that referee Kevin Scott was unsighted on the first infraction, this time, he was only a couple of yards away. But no call was given.
On another night, by another player, that could have been two yellows in under two minutes. But not tonight, and not Michael Bradley.
On the other hand, Vancouver committed their share of infractions. At one point, Steven Beitashour grabbed Jozy Altidore's arm and wouldn't let it go. Toronto were given a free kick for that, and rightly so.
Not long after, Giovinco and Altidore would combine to level things at one apiece. Giovinco sent a perfectly weighted ball, and Altidore made a good move to go around David Ousted. With this kind of service night in and night out, Altidore could score a pile of goals in this league.
Kekuta Manneh and Pedro Morales had chances before the end of the half, but Rivero created some of his own out of nothing at all, like when he harassed Joe Bendik. Toronto's goalkeeper was trying to deal with a live ball and Rivero put him under pressure. Nothing came of it tonight, but the next time, it may result in a goal, a corner, or at least a throw in.
No personnel changes were made at half time, and yet it was as if we bore witness to a completely different game. Vancouver had held the balance of the play in the first half, and could have easily scored three or more goals had things gone just a little bit differently.
But in the second half, it was Toronto who were the well organised machine, finding space and creating chances. Toronto FC manager Greg Varney must have given one hell of a half time speech, as his charges took control of the match and never let it go.
In the 59th minute, the Whitecaps allowed Justin Morrow acres of space along the left side. He was able to run almost all the way to the goal line before crossing the ball for Robbie Findley, who got there ahead of Pa Modou Kah, Kendall Waston, and Jordan Harvey. Waston and Kah are still very much a new partnership, but there simply has to be better communication than that. Jordan Harvey almost managed to cover for them, but he shouldn't have had to try.
With the match slipping away, off came Russell Teibert and Mauro Rosales, and on came Gershon Koffie and Darren Mattocks. Although they could be described as like for like replacements, Mattocks offers speed that Mauro Rosales can only dream of, and when Koffie's on his game, he possesses an offensive bite that Teibet just can't match.
Still, it would have been nice to see Nicolás Mezquida given a run out, especially the way he's looked on the training ground when he's been paired with Octavio Rivero.
Steven Beitashour continued his battle with Jozy Altidore from the first half, and while some of the big man's antics may have been questionable, we can hardly single him out. Kendall Waston plays a similar style, using his size and strength to bully those around him.
Warren Creavalle earned a yellow card in the 78th minute when he tripped up Jordan Harvey with an incredibly late tackle. As blatant as Bradley's was in the first half, this one was even more obvious after Harvey went flying. And just like Bradley, Creavalle committed a second foul minutes later when he brought down Octavio Rivero in the box.
Creavalle was a very lucky boy to avoid conceding the penalty, and a second yellow. These kinds of decisions, no matter which way they go, can change a game. On another night, Toronto might have been playing with nine men. Vancouver could have won a penalty. And yet despite this, Toronto still deserved to win.
They had five chances and they buried three of them. Vancouver had more chances, but were in no way clinical. If the Whitecaps are to succeed this year, they will have to start burying these chances. Sven Goran Eriksson often repeated line, "first half good, second half not so good," summed up the Caps night.
The reds withstood Vancouver's early pressure, and they adapted extremely well in the second half. It's only one match, but already Giovinco and Altidore look to be an improvement on last year's combination of Gilberto and Defoe.
Moving forward, Vancouver's defensive issues should work themselves out as Waston and Kah get used to playing alongside each other. This squad is just too good to concede goals like they did on Saturday. And up front, Rivero does exactly what it says on the tin. He's a special player, and he's going to have one hell of a year.
From here, the Caps hit the road for a pair of matches against Chicago and newcomers Orlando before returning home for a Cascadia Cup clash with the Portland Timbers on March 28th. Join us online and pitchside for all the action.