TORONTO — Two games against Eastern Conference rivals. Two wins.
Toronto FC (2-0-0, 6 points) is not the team that won the MLS Cup in 2017 quite yet, but it is much, much better than last year. The Reds have their energy and positivity back — and they have Jozy Altidore.
Altidore scored a late winner to down the New England Revolution(0-2-1, 1 point). Carles Gil opened the scoring for the Revs and later canceled out goals from TFC’s Ayo Akinola and Jordan Hamilton with his second of the night in the 52nd minute, but it was not enough to secure a share of the points.
“To be able to come on and score the winner in a game like this, where we’ve basically done everything to get the three points, is a great feeling,” Altidore said.
Added TFC captain Michael Bradley: “His ability to change games, his ability to find goals, make big plays, and do it all in the biggest moments… every person who comes to this stadium knows what he can do.”
Toronto made the brighter start, but New England struck first. Teal Bunbury smartly flicked a pass past Chris Mavinga to break into the box and in his bid to salvage the situation, Mavinga dove into a reckless sliding tackle that wiped Bunbury out and left referee Ted Unkel pointing to the spot.
Gil stepped up and converted his first in the 9th minute.
Undeterred, the Reds remained lively in possession and hit back within five minutes. Akinola, at one point surrounded by four white shirts, sped past a stationary Antonio Delamea and finished cooly into the bottom corner for his first MLS goal.
Gil stung TFC goalkeeper Alex Bono’s palms from distance and Bunbury fired narrowly over the bar from a tight angle, but by and large Toronto remained on the front foot for the rest of the half.
A reward finally came when Jay Chapman broke behind the Revs defense and squared a pass to set Hamilton up for a simple finish. New England coach Brad Friedel was furious; Chapman was in an offside position when he received the ball from Akinola. Upon review, the video assistant referee appeared to advise Unkel that Delamea’s attempted interception — very much in the grey area between deflection and deliberate play — of Akinola’s pass had played Chapman on.
Cue a lengthy discussion between Friedel and Bradley regarding the merits of the call.
“The discussion was that the way the offside rule is interpreted now, the referee made the right call,” Bradley explained. “I don’t think anybody likes the way that the law is interpreted right now. For me, that should be offside.
“But we’ve been on the wrong side of plays like that. It is what it is. The referee, as far as I understand, made the right call but for a lot of players, a lot of coaches it’s a strange way to interpret the rule.”
When Gil made it 2-2 shortly after the break, he celebrated by imitating the referee’s video review gesture and putting his hand to his ear. The Spaniard bagged his second with a saveable low shot that deflected off both Auro and Drew Moor, throwing off Bono.
Friedel’s switch to a 4-4-2 diamond, with Diego Fagundez joining Bunbury up front, turned the tide in his team’s favor.
Toronto coach Greg Vanney responded by ditching his flat 4-4-2 for a 3-5-2. It helped, and when Akinola again won a free kick on the edge of the box, Jonathan Osorio appeared set to convert from a short routine only to see his effort blocked.
Vanney, though, had his best card still to play: Altidore. The American was introduced in the 68th minute and by the 80th, he made his mark.
Justin Morrow burst down the left and fired a low ball across the penalty area, and with Altidore arriving at the back post, there was only ever going to be one outcome.