Lewis Morgan needed just 23 minutes in the first half to score a hat-trick as the New York Red Bulls ran wild, cruising to a 4-1 victory to spoil Toronto FC’s home opener Saturday.
Toronto (0-1-1) started well, threatening on offence, but was cut open in transition and found itself trailing 2-0 after 24 minutes thanks to Morgan’s finishing and some slack defending. Jesus Jimenez pulled one back for Toronto but the Red Bulls (2-0-0) were ruthless in punishing the TFC defence, adding two more for a 4-1 lead at halftime.
Captain Aaron Long scored the other Red Bulls goal with Polish forward Patryk Klimala contributing three assists.
The visitors’ threat on the counter-attack was demonstrated by the fact that they scored on four of their five shots on target in the first half while having just 32.7 percent of the ball.
“All gas, no brakes,” read the Red Bulls official Twitter account at the half.
Toronto’s Mexican defender Carlos Salcedo was yellow-carded in the 61st minute for a nasty lunging challenge on Klimala deep in TFC territory, with referee Rubiel Vazquez opting not to reach for the red after reviewing the play on a pitch-side monitor at the behest of video assistant referee, Canadian Carol Anne Chenard.
The score could have been more lopsided had Toronto goalkeeper Alex Bono not made several big saves in the second half. Another Morgan goal, in the 87th minute, was ruled offside.
The announced crowd of 23,121 was the largest for a TFC home game since the 2020 home opener, when 26,171 saw Toronto edge New York City FC 1-0 on March 7. The sporting world ground to a halt the next week due to the pandemic.
While the crowd looked more normal in size, the playing surface was a spotty mess with the patchy grass showing the ill effects of winter with a sting in its tail. It was a breezy two degrees Celsius, feeling like minus-four at the 2 p.m. ET kickoff.
Toronto was forced to relocate to Hartford and Orlando for parts of the 2020 and ’21 seasons, respectively, due to pandemic-related travel restrictions. It faced caps on crowd size when it returned home last July, with many season ticket-holders electing to defer their membership until this year.
Last October, the struggling club drew announced home crowds of 7,552 (Chicago), 7,490 (Atlanta), 8,095 (Montreal), and 5,026 (Philadelphia). The Nov. 7 regular-season finale against D.C. United drew an announced attendance of 11,166 as Toronto closed out a dismal 6-18-10 season.
Saturday marked the home debut for new Toronto coach Bob Bradley, who was in search of MLS regular-season win No. 183. Only the late Sigi Schmid (240) and New England coach Bruce Arena, who recorded win No. 241 Saturday against FC Dallas on Saturday, have won more.
The crowd had little to cheer about. And there were some boos as the half ended.
The Red Bulls went ahead in the 17th minute against the run of play when Jonathan Osorio lost the ball near midfield. Frankie Amaya accelerated past Michael Bradley, Bob’s son, and found Klimala, who sent the ball over to an unmarked Morgan in the middle of the penalty box. The Scottish winger’s curling shot beat Bono.
Toronto’s defence was cut open again in the 24th minute, with Morgan beating Bono low to the corner from just outside the penalty box on what was essentially a two-on-one. Klimala played provider again.
Jimenez cut the lead to one in the 35th minute after a slashing run by Luca Petrasso carved open the Red Bulls defence and found Jimenez. The Spanish striker dribbled past onrushing goalkeeper Carlos Coronel and slotted the ball past two defenders into the goal.
For the 21-year-old Petrasso, it was an assist on his TFC debut. For Jimenez, it was a first MLS goal in his BMO Field debut.
Toronto’s defence was missing in action in the 40th minute on yet another counter-attack after a Toronto corner. Klimala bodied Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty out of the way near midfield and then muscled past Jacob Shaffelburg, setting up a two-on-zero that Lewis finished for his hat trick.
The Red Bulls acquired Morgan in December from Inter Miami for US$1.2 million in general allocation money. Miami will also retain a percentage of a future transfer for the former Celtic player.
It was 4-2 two minutes later as Amaya’s free-kick found an unmarked Long, whose header beat Bono.
Bob Bradley brought off Michael Bradley and Salcedo with 10 minutes remaining, with defender Lukas MacNaughton making his TFC debut.
TFC opened the season last weekend with a 1-1 tie at FC Dallas. The Red Bulls, who finished 20 points ahead of Toronto in last year’s standings, won 3-1 at San Jose.
Bob Bradley made two changes to his starting 11 with centre-back Shane O’Neill and midfielder Petrasso coming in for Chris Mavinga and Deandre Kerr, both of whom were substituted at halftime. O’Neill, a free-agent signing from Seattle in the off-season, made his first Toronto start.
Petrasso started well, combining with Shaffelburg to threaten down the left flank. But Shaffelburg limped off just before halftime, holding the back of his thigh. He was replaced by Ifunanyachi Achara to start the second half with Petrasso moving into left-back.
Kadin Chung came on in the 70th minute for his TFC debut.
Toronto is now winless in eight straight games (0-4-4) in league play dating back to early October. The Red Bulls, meanwhile, are unbeaten in their last six meetings (4-0-2) with Toronto.