Photo by Steven Bisig/USA Today Sports
By LEE PRINDLE
SEATTE – Much was made in the offseason about the amount of money Toronto FC spent to revamp their roster.
Toronto’s high-profile off-season signings made their highly-anticipated MLS debuts on Saturday in Seattle and they did so in style as Toronto FC beat the Sounders, 2 – 1, on the back of a Jermain Defoe double. Joining Defoe in his first appearance was fellow designated player Michael Bradley as well as Brazilian national team goalkeeper Julio Cesar.
After becoming president and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, the company that owns both Toronto FC and the Toronto Maple Leafs, Tim Leiweke pledged to win back the support of fans in the only way he could; spending money on high profile signings in an attempt to bring Toronto FC out of multiple seasons of irrelevance. And spend he did, as Toronto reportedly committed over 100 million dollars in the signings of Michael Bradley, Jermain Defoe, and Gilberto. Add to that the out of the blue Julio Cesar loan agreement and the impressive Toronto FC makeover is complete.
One could forgive fans for being skeptical. A look at their past designated players shows a mixed track record with expensive experiments such as Mista, Julian De Guzman, and Torsten Frings. They’ve cleaned house, brought in new players, and seemingly turned a new leaf before. But that skepticism was set aside on Saturday as Defoe led the line in front of Bradley’s calming midfield presence for Toronto’s first season opening victory since 2009. Aside from Clint Dempsey’s goal, Julio Cesar was strong between the posts, making a few important stops in an otherwise routine day.
“We’ve got a vision of where the club wants to be. We’re trying to take steps forward and how big those steps are are determined on days like this. It was a good step forward.” said head coach Ryan Nelsen. Defoe’s signing is a big part of that vision and his talent will be vital to taking those steps. “That’s why he’s been at the level he’s been at because he can do those sorts of things. Once you see it first hand, there’s a reason why he’s scored so many goals.” said Nelsen.
“The most important thing is obviously winning the game, and to score two goals on your debut, it’s a dream.” said Defoe after his man of the match performance. “It was good, it was fast. Different leagues, you have to adapt. It’s an experience that I’ve always wanted. I enjoyed the game, and even more so when you win.”Playing in his first MLS match since 2005, Bradley was elated. “I couldn’t be more excited to be back. To be a part of [days like this] is why I’m here,” he said.“We understand that there’s still a lot of work to do. Nobody knows that more than me, but still everybody should walk away from today feeling good.”
Toronto FC will continue the season with their home opener against DC United next Saturday.