Photo by Jane Gershovich/JaneG. Photography
By JASON MITCHELL
SEATTLE – From David Beckham to Thierry Henry, there’s a long and well-documented history of highly-touted Designated Players needing time to adjust to life in Major League Soccer.
Apparently no one told Jermain Defoe.
Just a week after arriving in Canada, Defoe capitalized on a pair of early Seattle mistakes to provide his new team all the goals they would need, lifting Toronto FC to a 2-1 win over the Seattle Sounders in front of 38,441 at CenturyLink Field.
“Obviously sometimes it takes time to adapt,” Defoe said after the match. “When you’re training with the boys it’s important that you listen to the information and try and see how your new teammates play. It does take time. For some reason today it all clicked.”
Indeed it did.
In only the 17th minute, Jonathan Osorio fed a through-ball into space that left Defoe between Seattle’s central defenders. The 31-year-old striker easily beat a helpless Stefan Frei to open his MLS account.
“The first ball was a great ball,” Defoe said, “and you’ve just got to finish it off.”
Seattle midfielder Brad Evans, injured a few plays earlier, was just limping back onto the pitch as the play developed.
Defoe added a second goal just seven minutes later. Marco Pappa, pressured by TFC newcomer Michael Bradley near midfield, passed back directly to Defoe. The London native took three touches to create space and unleashed a rocket from the top of the penalty area for the 2-0 lead.
“To score two goals in your debut,” Defoe said, “it’s a dream.”
Defoe’s head coach and onetime teammate wasn’t surprised.
“No, not at all,” said Ryan Nelsen, who played with Defoe at Tottenham Hotspur before joining TFC last year himself. “It does take some players time, but I’ve had the pleasure of playing alongside the man and watching him at training so once you see it day-in and day-out, you just know that’s going to happen.”
It was not the prettiest win. But pretty didn’t matter on Saturday, not for a team desperate to leave a disappointing past in the past, not for a team working five new faces into its opening day lineup.
“Every guy that stepped on the field tonight gave everything, left everything out there, and that’s what we have to be about,” said Bradley after putting in a typically strong performance in central midfield. “There’s no doubt in my mind that as the season goes on, we’ll continue to improve and our football will be good, and we’ll play well. But tonight was different, tonight was about the spirit and the mentality and doing whatever it took to come away with three points, and that’s a big step along the way.”
Nelsen was likewise pleased with the effort, even while aware the soccer will have to get better.
“We have got so much to improve on,” Nelsen said. “We’re not stupid. We know we have new players coming in that haven’t played together. Our organization wasn’t too bad, but we can be so much better off the ball. What I like about this team is their heart, their character, their desire, that they want to win. That’s what you hope for, and (you) build your house on that type of foundation. We know we have lots to improve on and we’ll get back to work as soon as we can.”
Clint Dempsey scored his first goal of the season and second as a Seattle Sounder in the 68th minute, stepping into a pass from Obafemi Martins and burying a shot past Julio Cesar to bring the Sounders within a goal.
Seattle (1-1-0) pressed hard down the stretch, but was unable to replicate last week’s late magic, when a stoppage-time goal gave the team a 1-0 win over Sporting Kansas City.
In the 75th minute, left back Dylan Remick found second-half substitute Kenny Cooper alone at the top of the 6-yard box, but Cooper could only send a floating header toward the sideline. In the 84th minute, Cooper found himself with the ball at his feet inside the area, but sailed a cross yards over Dempsey and Martins as the pair charged goal.
That was as close as the Sounders would get.
For Toronto (1-0-0), the win is just its second opening-day victory in eight seasons. It’s also the club’s first win at CenturyLink Field, and just the second time TFC has ever beaten the Sounders. The club is coming off a six win season, and has never made the playoffs in its seven year history. The victory is a sign that the $100 million the team laid out on players like Defoe, Bradley, and Brazilian striker Gilberto (out with an injury on Saturday) may have been money very well spent.
“We’ve got a vision of where the club wants to be,” said Nelsen. “We’re trying to take steps forward, and how big those steps are (is) determined on days like this. It was a good step forward.”
The Sounders, for their part, were left lamenting mistakes.
“(We’re) obviously disappointed, especially since we gave up two goals that were really soft,” said head coach Sigi Schmid. “We gave them two gifts. The first was at a time when (Brad) Evans was off injured and wasn’t back on the field—we didn’t cover the position, so that’s our fault. We didn’t do that well. The second one was a bad back pass. It went right to him.”
Looking forward, both clubs are back in action on Saturday, with the Sounders traveling to Montreal while Toronto hosts D.C. United.
Here are the match highlights: