Toronto FC came as advertised Saturday in a 1-1 draw with FC Dallas, a work in progress under new coach Bob Bradley.
Toronto, which has gone through wholesale personnel changes under Bradley, showed good and bad — looking disorganized on defence at times while displaying flashes of a free-flowing attack. And while it had more of the ball and offered some nice attacking buildup play, that did not translate into shots on target.
But thanks to a Jonathan Osorio goal just before halftime, it rallied from an early deficit to emerge from a cool, wet Toyota Stadium with a point in its MLS season opener.
“I think football-wise there are moments in that game where I still expect that we can be sharper and better,” said Bradley.
“But I liked the fact that the group as a whole is showing a commitment to being a real team,” he added. “I felt good about the response after going down. The feeling after the game is that it’s not our best but it shows that we’re going in a good direction.”
Colombian forward Jader Obrian put Dallas ahead in the ninth minute, poking home a low cross from Paul Arriola for a goal that needed confirmation by video review.
The goal came after Toronto fullback Jacob Shaffelburg, newly converted to fullback, coughed up the ball. Four passes later, with the Toronto defence at sixes and sevens, Obrian had the ball in the net after beating Shaffelburg to the ball at the back post.
The assistant referee raised the flag but the goal was given after referee Jair Marrufo went to the pitchside TV screen to have a second look.
Shaffelburg atoned for earlier mistakes with a fine cross that Spanish forward Jesus Jimenez got a boot to, sending it past two defenders to the back post where Osorio was Johnny-on-the spot to tie the score in the 45th minute with TFC’s first shot on target.
It was Osorio’s 49th goal in all competitions for Toronto, good for third-best in the club record book. And it means he has scored in all 10 seasons with TFC.
TFC looked to go ahead in the 67th minute when Spanish playmaker Alejandro Pozuelo went down in a collision with defender Jose Martinez near the edge of the penalty box. Marrufo pointed to the penalty spot but then changed his mind after consulting with the video assistant referee and reviewing the play on the pitchside monitor.
It was one of several plays that involved video review on the day.
Dallas appeared to have doubled the lead in the 30th as Toronto was cut open again. Obrian beat Toronto’s Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty and passed to Jesus Ferreira whose deft touch put the ball past centre back Chris Mavinga. Arriola sent the ball back to the charging Ferreira who beat goalkeeper Alex Bono from close range.
But after another video review, Marrufo called off the goal for offside.
Ferreira had a chance to win it for Dallas as the clock wound down but his shot hit the side of the goal.
“I think you’ve just got to take a point,” said Toronto defender Shane O’Neill. “It was a winnable game but it was also a loseable game. We take the point and we look to improve.”
U.S. international winger Paul Arriola, acquired from D.C. United in January in a blockbuster deal worth at least US$2 million in general allocation money, was a danger man for Dallas all day.
The pacey, elusive Arriola, who had a hand in the opening goal, is worth every penny judging from his 79 minutes Saturday.
Toronto had 56.5 per cent of the possession but was outshot 13-8 (3-1 in shots on target).
“Always the first game is a little bit tricky,” Spanish coach Nico Estevez said after his first game in charge of Dallas.
“But overall we’re happy with the performance because we created enough chances to win the game. We’re not happy with the result because we want to win games at home,” he added.
Both teams are looking to write happier stories this season.
Toronto, runner-up in the Supporters’ Shield race in 2020, finished 26th out of 27 teams last year at 6-18-10 while Dallas was 23rd at 7-15-12.
Seventeen first-team players have left Toronto since last season, with young defender Luke Singh expected to go out on loan to a CPL team.
While Italian star Lorenzo Insigne won’t join Toronto until July when his current deal with Napoli expires, Toronto fielded two high-profile newcomers in Jimenez and Mexican international centre back Carlos Salcedo.
Jimenez was dangerous at times but was off-target with a second-half header from a good position. Salcedo looked solid despite being in the middle of a backline that wobbled on more than a few occasions. The Mexican’s self-confidence was evident in several sliding challenges.
Toronto’s starting 11 featured five Canadians: Osorio plus 17-year-old Marshall-Rutty, 19-year-old Jayden Nelson and Deandre Kerr and 22-year-old Shaffelburg. There were six other Canadians on the bench.
Marshall-Rutty and Shaffelburg, who have both played winger in the past, started at fullback.
Bradley noted somewhat diplomatically that Shaffelburg “didn’t have a perfect start,” but adjusted well. And he said Marshall-Rutty looked “really quite good” in his debut as fullback.
While both players have oodles of talent, it seems a leap of faith to go with two repurposed wingers at fullback. Toronto is looking for help at the position, with veteran Italian Domenico Criscito expected to arrive from Genoa some day soon.
Nelson was the most impressive of the TFC young guns, showing real flair on the ball.
Bradley showed he is not afraid to hook players, replacing Mavinga and Kerr at halftime. Kerr never really got into the game while the mercurial Mavinga did not do enough to satisfy his coach.
“The biggest thing we continue to challenge Chris with is just his ability to stay more tuned into everything that goes on around him,” said Bradley.
Captain Michael Bradley, Bob’s son, moved into a tie for second place with recently retired fullback Justin Morrow for most Toronto appearances in all competitions with 254. Osorio leads at 293.
The Bradleys, who were also coach and player at the 2004 MetroStars, are one of four father-and-son coach/player combinations on the same team in MLS history, along with Adrian and Harrison Heath (Orlando, 2015-16), Robert and Konrad Warzycha (Columbus, 2013) and Josh and Owen Wolff (Austin FC, 2021-22).
Toronto returns home to host the New York Red Bulls next Saturday.