A match against the last-place Montreal Impact was exactly what Toronto FC needed to get out of its funk.
Toronto scored early and never looked back, beating the rival Impact 2-0 at Saputo Stadium on Saturday for their first win in five league games, and first road win since April.
TFC manager Ryan Nelsen, whose team was coming off back-to-back losses against Sporting KC and D.C. United, knows just how important a win over a rival city can be.
“I’ve been on the wrong end of a few, and they don’t feel good,” said Nelsen. “It was nice to come into Montreal and get a win. They’re a bit of a wounded animal, and they have some really dangerous players. They have a very good team and a very good coach who knows the league well.
“We’re not celebrating — we didn’t just win the Champions League. We’ll tick the box, and we’ll move on.”
An early strike by Gilberto was all Toronto needed to cruise to victory on Saturday, before Luke Moore added an insurance goal for the visitors in the second half. With the win, TFC (8-7-5) leapfrogged the New England Revolution and now sit third in the Eastern Conference standings.
The Impact (3-13-5), meanwhile, have lost a franchise-high six games in a row. They’ve been in the Eastern Conference basement for four months.
Playing against the team they beat in the Amway Canadian Championship in early June did not give Montreal that much-needed spark.
Instead, the Impact chased much of the ball in the first half, and went to the dressing room at the interval without a shot on target. Montreal made fewer passes, won fewer duels and had less possession than TFC throughout the game. Montreal’s three yellow cards were the product of late and frustrated tackles.
“I thought we would come out with more fire,” said Impact captain Patrice Bernier. “It’s a derby, and you’re playing TFC. They were in a bad spell, and we’re in a bad spell. We lost a lot of the battles, and we found our feet too late.”
Montreal put up more of a fight in the second half, but none of its four shots on target could beat goalkeeper Joseph Bendik.
“I understand that not everybody understands the derby, but some guys have been here for three years,” added Bernier. “You know how these games are intense and aggressive. It’s frustrating and it’s difficult.”
Gilberto scored in the 11th minute when his shot from inside the 18-yard box rang off the crossbar and landed a foot across the goal-line. Impact goalie Troy Perkins smothered the ball, but the linesman confirmed it was a good goal.
Perkins got the start in net, his first match since July 12 when a defensive mistake in the game’s final minute handed Sporting Kansas City the road victory. Backup ‘keeper Evan Bush started between the uprights in the Impact’s following three games — all losses.
Moore doubled Toronto’s lead in the 54th minute, beating Perkins to a loose ball in front of the net for an easy tap-in. U.S. international Michael Bradley got the play going when his stunning through ball from deep in his own half found a streaking Dominic Oduro. Impact defender Krzysztof Krol blocked Oduro’s shot, but the ball fell right into Moore’s path.
“There was a little bit of space, and we all know that Dominic’s strength is his ability to run and get in behind guys,” said the playmaker Bradley. “He did a great job of setting the guy up and made it a really easy decision for me. The movement was good. That was the goal that finished off the game at that point.”
Star striker Jermain Defoe missed the game with a possible sports hernia he may have sustained during Toronto’s midweek clash with D.C. United.
“He’s been feeling his groin for a few weeks now,” said Nelsen. “Remember, he’s been going for over a year, pushing on. It’s just to get these little niggles of your body, being worn down. Hopefully it’s nothing too bad, nothing too major.”
The former Tottenham Hotspur forward, acquired by TFC in January, will undergo a scan on Sunday to determine the severity of the injury. Defoe will likely miss this Wednesday’s Major League Soccer all-star game.
But Toronto didn’t need its leading goal scorer on Saturday, relying on its two other forwards Gilberto and Moore for the goals.
“In some ways, we were a bit desperate tonight,” said Bradley, who finished the game with an assist and two shots on target. “After two games in a row, where for different reasons we didn’t walk off the field with the results that we wanted, we really wanted to make sure that we gave a good performance tonight. The performance reflected that.”
This was Montreal’s first game since a midweek management shuffle that saw sporting director Nick De Santis moved to an administrative role. De Santis’s demotion gave manager Frank Klopas full control of the squad.
On Saturday, Klopas took full responsibility for the loss against Toronto.
“At the end of the day, it’s tough because I know we put a lot into it,” he said. “We were very flat. I’m ready to do what’s in the best interest of the club. Just from an energy standpoint, we didn’t do enough. We did too much, we were tired, the heat - those are all excuses.”
Of the 16,665 people in attendance at Saputo Stadium on Saturday, several hundred donned red and white TFC jerseys and made a lot of noise throughout the match.
“The support was absolutely amazing,” said Nelsen. “If they’ve travelled up from Toronto — or wherever they’ve come from — all the guys and the coaching staff are so appreciative of what they did and they really made themselves heard. When you play on a Wednesday, in hot conditions, that really helps.”
Montreal plays its first CONCACAF Champions League match against El Salvador’s FAS at home on Tuesday.