Skip to main content

Vancouver FC midfielder Mauro Rosales (7), left, and Toronto FC defender Justin Morrow (2) battle for the ball during the first half of an MLS soccer game in Vancouver, B.C., on Saturday, March 7, 2015.Jimmy Jeong/The Canadian Press

In two disappointing seasons with the Premier League's Sunderland – a total of 42 games played – Jozy Altidore managed one goal.

On his debut with Toronto FC, he scored two. Those tallies led to a 3-1 Toronto victory over Vancouver.

The second was a model of cheek. He took a ball over his shoulder, brought it down neatly and was taken to the ground inside the Whitecaps area. Penalty.

Vancouver 'keeper David Ousted jumped early. Altidore lightly looped the ball toward the net – the rarely attempted Panenka penalty. It skimmed under the crossbar and in.

Have you ever tried that before?

"No, that was my first one."

But you've worked on it a few times?

"No. It was kind of spur of the moment."

Once again this year, Toronto FC paid a packet to bring in big names. Altidore was in prime target-man mode – invisible for long stretches, then clinicial with the two good chances he had.

The team's other major signing, Giovinco, was also in fine form. We knew he was a remarkably tricky player. But he also displayed unexpected toughness, running through hard and repeated challenges. The Italian is going to be beat up this year, but it didn't seem to bother him much.

His footwork was largely responsible for Altidore's first goal, as he danced through the final third. All the American had to do was walk around the goalie.

The first time Giovinco looked awed was in the locker room afterward, when the cameras came charging in. His eyes widened and his mouth gaped. He muttered something to his neighbour, Steven Caldwell. Caldwell mimed the number "15" – the press comes in 15 minutes after the game.

Some learning curves are steeper than others.

The play from their stars was heartening, but the real treasure was the way Toronto FC adapted.

Vancouver is a small, smart, quick team. They overran Toronto FC for the first 20 minutes. They should have taken the lead inside the first 10 minutes. Their lone striker, Octavio Rivero, was gifted an open net and had the ball at his feet. He stepped over it.

"I don't know how he missed," Toronto coach Greg Vanney said afterward.

Vancouver went up in the 19th minute – Rivero making up for his mistake. It was 1-1 at the half – a scoreline that flattered Toronto.

But in the second, the tenor of the match changed entirely. Toronto tightened up the middle. They began cutting off Vancouver's forward runs through their backline. Once they'd taken the lead in the 59th minute through Robbie Findley, they choked the game off.

There's never been anything consistent about Toronto FC, but for two things – they are unlucky, and they fold late in games.

On Saturday, they turned both those trends around.

Vancouver is still a class squad. You'd bet more money on them to make the playoffs than Toronto.

And it's very early days.

"Nobody thinks we've done anything after one game," said TFC captain Michael Bradley.

But what it showed was a newfound maturity. If Toronto FC can develop that quality in the weeks to come, they may finally be on to something.