There’s no better way to warm oneself to new supporters than a double in your home debut.
Javier Martina became an instant Toronto FC folk hero on a brisk, sunny Saturday afternoon at BMO Field, scoring both goals in a 2-0 victory over the expansion Portland Timbers in the Reds’ 2011 home opener.
Martina’s second goal of the day will be a talking point for some time to come — a master-class finish and setup, and a candidate to supplant former captain Jim Brennan’s 2007 strike at Columbus as the best goal in club history.
With Toronto FC sitting on a 1-0 lead in the 70th minute, goalkeeper Stefan Frei, the most unlikely of assist candidates, did well to collect a Portland corner and get to the top of his box to provide service for a quick counterattack. Frei picked out Martina in one-on-one coverage down the right flank and played a perfect dropkick over the top to hit the Dutchman in stride.
The outward-spinning ball met Martina at the top of the box and, on one bounce, the talisman hit with conviction off the far post and in.
Frei or Martina couldn’t have struck the ball better. But it’s the decisiveness of the move and decision to hit on the bounce that will please head coach Aron Winter the most.
“I saw De Ro with a one-one on the left, and I saw Martina with a one-on-one on the right as well,” Frei said. “I know my ball hooks more to the right a little bit so I decided to go with the better option on the right.
“A world-class in the end is what put the ball in the net, so all credit to Martina.”
Martina’s first goal was more elementary. In the 14th minute, Maicon Santos picked up where he left off last week, falling back into a deep position to get possession. Santos turned and connected with Dwayne De Rosario making a crafty run behind a defensive line playing too high — a carbon copy of his service to De Rosario for Toronto’s opening goal in Vancouver.
Instead of finishing, this time De Rosario held the ball well until Martina arrived in support. Martina’s finish was simple: A toe-poke past goalkeeper Adin Brown for a deserved early lead and his first tally in Major League Soccer.
Portland became stronger in possession as the game progressed, but poor movement on and off the ball cancelled out any chance to capitalize on sloppy marking and overall defensive play by Toronto FC.
The clean sheet for Frei goes down as one of his easiest in MLS, rarely challenged with the exception of dealing with high balls and crosses.
Portland won nine corners on the day, but never looked like a threat to score.
Continued mistakes at the back, meanwhile, will be a concern for Winter. More experienced and capable MLS sides would have punished Toronto this day.
But three points are three points for a team with a lot to prove to their hometown supporters — 20,086 was the announced attendance, the first time in franchise history Toronto FC failed to draw a sellout for a home opener. The sub-zero temperatures may have driven off a few, but those attending displayed a truly Canadian attitude, embracing the elements, remaining in full voice.
“Great, honestly great,” said Winter with a smile in regards to his first home match. “Only the weather was not so good.”
Match official Silviu Petrescu’s embarrassing decision to send off TFC’s Mickael Yourassowsky in the 84th minute left Winter less impressed.
Yourassowsky went down injured just moments earlier after coming out on the wrong end of a tough challenge. With Yourassowsky limping and already on a caution, Winter decided to substitute his left back. Petrescu was unimpressed with the pace Yourassowsky displayed leaving the field and showed him his second caution as he approached the touchline.
There have been far more occasions in soccer when a fully fit player has taken his time to exit the field of play. A caution in this case was harsh and entirely inappropriate. And because of the match official grandstanding, Winter is without his first-choice left-back next Saturday afternoon when TFC plays host to Chivas USA.
Winter made two changes to his starting XI from a week ago. Yourassowsky received his first MLS start, with Adrian Cann shifted back to his natural centre-back position. Nana Attakora’s missed the game with what Winter describes as a “slight injury”. Attakora wasn’t listed on the match-day injury report, so his exclusion came as a surprise. He’s expected to play next week.
Winter also handed a debut start to Alan Gordon. The striker was unavailable in Vancouver because of passport issues. Nick Soolsma lost his place in the starting lineup and was dropped altogether.
Toronto FC’s newest arrival, Alen Stevanovic, made an unexpected appearance as a halftime substitute. Stevanovic failed to impress, not surprising considering his lack of familiarity with his team and surroundings, having arrived from Italy late Friday.