It was billed as a night to celebrate the debut of the Montreal Impact’s first designated player.
Toronto FC had other plans.
Torsten Frings, Ryan Johnson and Danny Koevermans scored in the second half Wednesday as Toronto defeated Montreal 3-0 to spoil former Italian international Marco Di Vaio’s first game with the Impact.
Toronto (2-10-2) picked up its first road victory of the Major League Soccer season and remains in last place, but the club looks to be making progress under new coach Paul Mariner, who replaced Aron Winter earlier this month.
“I said to the players ‘Superb performance, thanks very much, but we’ve got a lot of work to do,“’ said Mariner, whose team is 2-1-2 in its last five, including 1-0-2 under his watch. “They responded to me in a spectacular way. I’m delighted for the fans back home and the players.”
The crowd of 14,412 gave Di Vaio a rousing cheer as the former star of Serie A outfit Bologna took the field for the first time in Impact blue. The 35-year-old had some moments early on, but couldn’t find the net and was replaced after 55 minutes by Sanna Nyassi.
Instead of a party, the Impact (5-9-3) sent their fans and the Di Vaio towels handed out at the door home in a sombre mood after one of the worst defeats in their first MLS season.
“I wish it would have went differently in my first game,” Di Vaio said. “I hope it goes better next time.”
The Impact had scored four goals in each of their first two games since moving back into the expanded Saputo Stadium after starting the season indoors at Olympic Stadium. But even with a proven international striker in the lineup, Montreal failed to penetrate the Toronto defence.
Impact coach Jesse Marsch said it came down to effort.
“We were just totally out-competed, in every spot on the field,” he said. “They wanted it more. They fought harder.
“It’s disappointing and it’s a big step backward. Now we have to find a way to recover for a big game on the road (on Saturday at D.C. United).”
With the victory, Toronto matched its total for away wins from last year (one) and also shut out an opponent for only the second time in 14 games this season. The Reds also bounced back after blowing two-goal leads and settling for draws in their previous two matches.
Frings scored on a free kick from 25 yards out in the 52nd minute after Shavar Thomas took Johnson down outside the Montreal penalty area. The big German midfielder hammered his first goal of the season, and first ever with Toronto, past the wall and through Montreal goalkeeper Donovan Rickett’s outstretched arms.
Marsch felt it was a stoppable shot, but Mariner called in “an unbelievable strike.”
Montreal poured on the pressure, but when Toronto got the ball downfield again, Johnson scored in the 72nd as he took a pass from Nick Soolsma, pivoted at the edge of the area, and chipped a shot into the top corner.
The Montreal defence was in tatters six minutes later as Ashtone Morgan slipped a pass in front to Koevermans for his seventh of the season and sixth in six games.
Johnson said Toronto is performing better since ditching Winter’s 4-3-3 system in favour of a more conservative 4-4-2 formation.
“The goals we scored tonight, we caught them on the counter,” said Johnson, sporting a welt under his right eye from a nasty tackle late in the match. “We counter pretty well.
“And we made some good changes, with wide guys coming in to help us down the wings.”
Johnson said he saw Di Vaio play in the Italian league and called him “a great striker.”
“Give him some time and he’ll settle into this league, but he’s going to learn that this league isn’t easy. You have to work hard for it. But I wish him the best of luck in MLS. He’s a great player and I’m happy to see him here.”
The Impact’s best moments came early in the match.
Di Vaio sent a cross that Davy Arnaud headed into goalkeeper Milos Kocic’s arms in the opening minutes and started a play that saw Felipe Martins shoot wide from inside the penalty area in the ninth minute. Di Vaio had a chance of his own that also went wide 15 minutes later.
But Felipe, usually a dynamo at midfield, was tightly marked all night by Frings.
Arnaud saw nothing positive in his team’s performance.
“I thought we started very well, we were in complete control and had a couple of decent looks,” said the Impact captain. “But then it was the same old story — we gave up a set-piece goal and they just sat deeper and deeper and caught us on the counterattack.
“A team that’s tough to play against doesn’t give up as many goals as we’ve given up (a league-worst 29). Tonight was frustrating. To be honest, it’s embarrassing. We’re a better team than that.”
It was also a rough night for Toronto right back Jeremy Hall. He was booted in the face as Montreal’s Hassoun Camara attempted a bicycle kick amidst heavy traffic in the 26th minute and needed treatment on the field. Later in the first half, he took the ball in the face from close range.
He was substituted at halftime by Soolsma.
Notes: A designated player is paid more than the maximum allowed under the MLS salary cap. Up to three per team are permitted. ... Montreal beat TFC 2-1 in their first meeting in April, but lost in Amway Canadian Championship play 2-0 on aggregate. ... TFC made one change from their last outing, inserting Logan Emory on defence for Doneil Henry. Toronto is also without winger Joao Plata (hamstring) and Adrian Cann (knee). ... Montreal started defender Shavar Thomas for Nelson Rivas (knee) and Lamar Neagle for Justin Mapp, who is away for a family matter.